3 WAYS TO RESTART YOUR WRITING BRAIN, by Claire Swinarski

When you’re trying to get a story out, you’ve likely encountered it: the dreaded Writer’s Block.

The words sound clunky. Your characters sound like something out of a soap opera. The only way you can think to describe a setting is “cold”.

But if you’re on a deadline, one of self-creation or one that was imposed upon you, you know you can’t just stop writing. Or can you?

Sometimes, pushing through to force the writing out isn’t actually the best option. It’ll lead to burnout, crappy storytelling, and self-doubt. The truth is, writing every single day simply doesn’t work for some writers—myself included—and the best antidote to Writer’s Block is actually walking away.

Here are three ways to restart your writing brain that involve shutting your laptop, taking a break, and giving your brain something else to think about.

Read a book you love in a totally different genre: If you’re a writer, you’re a reader. Is there a story that was absolutely life-changing for you? One that made you see the world in a different light and reevaluate things in your own life? Dive back into it. There’s something there you want to emulate in your own writing, be it the emotional story arc, the beautiful prose, or something else. The trick is to make sure that it’s something not in your genre, though, so imposter syndrome doesn’t creep in or you find yourself accidently plagiarizing! In What Happens Next, a main plot is the idea of redeeming circumstances that seem like lost causes. When I was feeling stuck watching it, I used to watch Star Wars clips. They’re totally different genres—What Happens Next is a contemporary middle grade book, Star Wars is a fantasy—but the message of redemption is so powerful throughout that entire universe, it would remind me of its importance. 

Listen to a playlist designed for your book: Create a playlist that reminds you of your story. Maybe it’s songs from a musical where the lyrics perfectly line up with your character’s emotions, or maybe it’s just some classical pieces that put you in the right mindset, or maybe it’s a twangy folk song you could imagine playing in the background if your book was actually a movie. Going on a walk with that playlist humming through your headphones can do wonders when you’re stuck!

Do something creative with your hands: Do you paint? Bake bread? Play basketball? Find something to do that requires your hands and go do it for a while. Sometimes, shutting your brain off and physically devoting attention to an entirely different task can spark creativity in a way that will help your story. What does kneading cinnamon raisin dough have to do with character development? No idea. But I’ve come up with entirely new scenes while doing so!

Next time you feel Writer’s Block creeping in, take it for what it is: a sign that you need a break. Shut your laptop, set a timer, and do something else for a while. Then, when it’s time to return to your work, you’ll be refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to write.

Claire Swinarski is the author of multiple books, including What Happens Next, releasing May 19 from HarperCollins. She hosts the podcast Making a Middle Grade and lives just outside Milwaukee with her husband and 2 children. 

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