Beating Writer’s Block

Written by Chad Echakowitz


I don’t think there is anything more frustrating. You sit down, cup of coffee to your left, your notepad and pen to your right. Microsoft Word is open on your screen and that little black line just sits there, blinking at you, tormenting you to write something. Blink. Blink. Blink. Still waiting for words that just aren’t presenting themselves. The silence of the room around you becomes evermore present and somehow your brain is completely blank. There is a clear lack of signal from the station of inspiration and your mind produces a fuzzy screen of snowy nothingness. I would wish a lot of things on my enemies, but Writer’s Block is not one of them.

Everyone gets Writer’s Block. It is so prominent that it has it’s own term and everyone knows what it means. It’s not just writers who get it either: musicians, dancers, mathematicians, artists; we all suffer at some time or another with the inability to produce something from nothing. And that’s okay. That is totally fine – it happens. What is not okay in any way, shape or form, is to give up.

If you feel that what you’re creating is pure garbage or you can’t think of anything new to produce, you may be tempted to just throw it away or stop working on it and turn to more constructive tasks. Bad idea. It is the biggest waist of potential that there ever was, or will be. Though what you write may be terrible, it is still you who wrote it. In the history of the world, no one has ever sat where you sat, and strung those words together. By throwing it away, you never complete the task and you waist that unique moment. Even if that doesn’t inspire you to keep going, just think of your accomplishment once you’ve finished. Once it’s done, it’s done. No one can take that away from you. Besides, sifting through the garbage is what the editing process is for. No diamond sparkles as soon as it is lifted from the ground.

A new study shows that when a person is being creative, the medial prefrontal cortex (which is linked to learning association, context, events, and emotional responses) is activated, and the part of the brain which is used for executive tasks becomes largely inactive. This is similar to our brain activity when we are asleep. This shows that we are at our most creative when we are relaxed, and not going about functional tasks, like problem-solving, planning and other executive functions. However, this is not all that is needed to be creative. Neuroscientist Alice Flaherty says that dopamine, the chemical associated with happiness, is also necessary. The more dopamine released in the brain, the more creative a person can be. Dopamine is often released when we do things that are relaxing and that we enjoy doing, such as exercising or taking a shower. But dopamine cannot work alone to bring about creativity. Studies have shown that the brain needs to be distracted from the task at hand in order for the problem-solving abilities of the subconscious mind to come to the fray. The subconscious is always solving problems, but it is harder for the subconscious to create solutions to the problem while the conscious mind is focused on that problem. When we let the mind wonder while we’re exercising, or we’re taking a shower, we allow the subconscious to solve the problem (in this case, Writer’s Block) and provide us with creative ideas.

Personally, when I have Writer’s Block, I like to stare out the window and think. I look at the trees and think about the direction the wind is blowing the branches. I look at the man in the red shirt walking down the road and I wonder where he has been and where he is going. Then I’ll check my Facebook and, eventually, when I feel guilty enough for not fulfilling my personal quota of contributing to the uniqueness of the world, an idea will usually come to me. Other times, I go running. Some of my best ideas have come to me while my legs are aching and my breathing, hard. The point is you have to figure out what works for you. I have given you the science, now you have to apply it. Go for a run, do a pushup or ten, try yoga or something.

It is very hard to be creative. The act of creating something new is getting harder and harder as the years go on, and that makes sense. Two Million years of human existence we have told stories in one form or another and so, by now, in 2017, creating something new is difficult. But it is also beautiful. Whatever you do, do not give up. Being creative is important. You have a duty to the furtherance of mankind to be creative. We all do.

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