To Overcome Writer’s Block, Paint (or Draw or Sculpt or Sing) Instead

I’ve mentioned here and there on the blog that, when I find myself hitting a wall, one of my favorite ways to get over it is to put down the pen or close the computer and play with my story in a new medium for a while.

The first time I encountered this strategy was in a playwriting for young audiences class in college. The professor handed us each some Play-Doh and told us to build a scene we were struggling with. I was skeptical at first (I’m often skeptical at first), but as I started to work with the Play-Doh—even before I tried to build anything specific—I found myself thinking in a little freer way, approaching my tough scenes with a more open mind. And after a while of building and smashing and rebuilding, I felt like I’d really unlocked a door.

Since then, my go-to when I’ve been stuck is to go at it from a totally different perspective. I wasn’t sure of the psychology behind it—I just knew it worked for me, more often than not. So when I started reading Deb Norton’s Part Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance, and she made this suggestion for authors who found themselves stuck waiting for inspiration, I felt validated:

Keep yourself in finger puppets, bendy toys, Play-Doh, Sculpey, or crayons and large lengths of butcher paper. What do you do when your mind’s gears start grinding? On my desk, I have a finger-puppet monster perched on a bottle. He’s red and yellow and his skinny rubber arms are open wide, like he wants to run at me for a hug, like he hopes to be tickled, like he wants to give me the old razzmatazz. He says, “Draw the feeling that you’re trying to describe. What color is it? Grab a crayon!” He points frantically to the hunk of modeling clay and urges me to “just think about the story and make a shape.” He says, “Get me off this bottle and let’s improv the scene!” He really is a ham. Sometimes we just need a monster around to remind us that there are lots of ways to get over ourselves and get it in gear.

Maybe it’s about a new perspective or using a different part of your brain. Maybe it really is just about opening yourself up to play—after all, when we take our work too seriously, we can quickly give ourselves tunnel vision. 

Whatever it is, it works. So next time you find yourself stuck in a scene, unsure what happens next, whip out your crayons or your modeling clay, and go to town. 

What’s your favorite medium for unclogging your writing brain?