Seven Tips for Relaxing into the Story

Kicking-back-4We all know the feeling: sitting at the computer, arm wrestling words, hammering away at drafts that aren’t working, feeling stuck, threatening to throw our computers off the nearest bridge.

This is the stuff of WRITER’S BLOCK.

Two metaphors come to mind when I think of writer’s block. One is the legend of Michelangelo, chipping away at a block of marble, removing all the marble that isn’t part of the image he perceives to be hiding within the larger block.

The other is of pregnancy. Stories are initially conceived within the womb of memory and mind. The initial draft of a story is akin to a newborn babe, requiring lots of tending and shaping before the child emerges as a self-sufficient individual.

Here’s some good news. While as with chipping away marble or birthing a child, a certain amount of energy and toil is required, you can keep it to a minimum. How?


You may have heard of the concept of writing in a state of flow, where your creative powers are at peak potential. Relaxing into the story is one way to achieve a flow state. The decision is yours, and with practice, it gets easier. Use the following tips to thaw the line when your creative flow freezes up.

Take a relaxation break. It doesn’t have to be long. Get up and stretch. Move around the room, or better yet, go for a walk. Take several slow, deep breaths, focusing and your breathing and feeling your body relax as you release them. Relaxing your body and distracting your mind, even for a few minutes, can loosen the flow of new ideas.

Take a shower. Dozens of writers confirm that the flow of warm water over bare skin turns on a fire hose of creative insights and solutions.

Switch writing modes. Take a section that baffles you and draft three or more questions about it, for example

  • What am I trying to say here?
  • What really matters in this section?
  • Why am I feeling so stuck about this?

Write the question at the top of a sheet of blank paper or journal page, and write the first thing that comes to mind. You may be surprised at the answers that pour out of your fingers.

Switch to free writing about your draft. Before you begin, take five or ten minutes to sit quietly with a simple meditation exercise of your choice to clear your mind. If you don’t have a favorite, try focusing on your breathing. Then start writing with your story in mind but no agenda and see where the story goes.

Take Anne Lamott’s advice and “write a shitty first draft.” This is a great way to start, because you’ll know it can only get better.

Play with the story. Revert to childhood and play “Pretend I’m a writer.” Since you are “only pretending”, you aren’t accountable for results, so you can really let ‘er rip. Write wild and crazy, even if your story is real, and even if it’s as serious as a funeral. You may end up tossing it all out, but more likely, you’ll find most of the material is good. You may toss of a great fiction story as a by-product.

Put your feet up. Take a tip from the picture above. If you don’t have a laptop to work on with your feet up, try writing by hand on a clipboard.

You may have observed from the tips above that relaxation is a key component in each. If stressing isn’t working for you, just quit stressing. If you can’t quit stressing, maybe you need to quit writing for the moment. When you feel more relaxed, have another go at it.

Write now: find a draft you’ve abandoned because you got stuck. Pull it out and use the tips above to get it out of the mud pit. Or start a new story about a challenging topic and use the tips to get it rolling.


Sue Mitchell said...

Sharon, I absolutely love this post! Getting into creative flow is one of the greatest joys of life, and these are all very effective ways to do it.

A new one for me was to "pretend" you're a writer. Not only will that break down resistance, but activating the part of your brain that plays make-believe will boost your creativity for sure. I'm going to share that one with my elementary students, but it might be even more effective with adults who are stuck in logical/critical mode.

I'd add to the questioning idea that you don't actually have to answer the questions right away. You can plant them in your mind as "seed questions" for your subconscious to work on while you're doing other things.

Again, terrific post. I'm going to print this one out to keep handy as a reminder.

Sharon said...

Aw, shucks Sue, those are especially meaningful words coming from a creativity guru. Thanks a bunch.