Writer's Block Solutions for When Your Muse Just Isn't Showing Up

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When writer's block hits, it hits hard. The sky goes dark, the walls begin to team with termites, your computer is suddenly infected by a virus, and everything in the fridge is covered with mold. What's the point anymore? The world is clearly ending. All you want to do is dive-bomb your bed and watch movies forever.

Shake your fist at the sky all you want, but writer's block is a fact of life. Sometimes the words just aren't coming. Sometimes the words are coming but they're too horrible for — words. (Somewhere, somehow, my Muse just went on a hunger strike.)

I've found that it's useful to work around writer's block, instead of tying yourself to your chair and refusing to eat or drink until you've written two thousand brilliant metaphors. Because sometimes writing is the absolute worst, and there's no point kicking and screaming about it. Sometimes your Muse refuses to show up, sometimes your apartment is dirty, sometimes your neighbors are loud, sometimes you find yourself wishing you went to law school instead. But your inspiration hasn't dried up forever, I promise. Your Muse isn't dead, she's just flirting with you. Get up from that chair right now and chase her down.

Basic Tricks

For triggering inspiration in time-honored ways.

1. Go on a really long walk.

I find this trick so consistently effective, it's crazy. There's something about the gentle, consistent motion of a walk that lulls your mind into a relaxed and contemplative state, and once you get away from your computer and your dirty dishes and your daily stresses and being to move, new ideas always bubble to the surface. Make a playlist, bring a notebook if you want, but focus mostly on the walking, and don't be surprised if you find yourself getting inspired about something other than the original project: a different plot, a new ending, a stranger turn of events. (I've found it's helpful to set a slightly far-off coffee shop as your end goal.)

2. Clean your apartment like a crazy person.

Squash the frustration of writer's block with a massive, thorough, obsessive-compulsive, cathartic apartment cleaning. Scrub out the bathtub, do all the dishes, sweep, mop, wipe off the top of the refrigerator, donate your old clothes, dust off the tops of your books. Sure, dirt and chaos seem bohemian, but usually, they're just distracting. Creativity thrives in order. And even if you don't write another word that day, you'll still have accomplished something tangible and satisfying.

3. Fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole.

I hesitate to recommend the internet for curing writer's block, because I think it's mostly just a massive, mind-numbing distraction. HOWEVER, there's no place like Wikipedia for intriguing the bored writerly mind. Hunt down non-fiction subjects to write about, bizarre places to set your novel in, and freaks of nature to help you contemplate the nature of good vs. evil. I have my pet searches on Wikipedia — black metal cannibalism, Colorado ghost towns — and reading about weird and odd and wild is often enough to get me revved up about the strange corners of the world again.

4. Take a long shower.

Turn your mind off, spend some time exfoliating your knees, sing a song or two. Plus, you've been sitting in front of your computer for weeks. You need this.

5. Try another genre.

I guarantee there's some freaky subgenre of writing you haven't tried yet. Spy fiction? Dark fantasy?Screenplays?!

Artistic Tricks

For those who get inspired by being around other forms of art.

1. Go to the art museum for the people.

Hang out in the lonely museum café. Notice the types of people who go to art museums. Are they pretentious, lost, searching for inspiration? Do they actually like art or do they just feel like they should?

2. Crash an outdoor concert.

Take a blanket and a flask and a notebook and zero friends. Listen to the music and do some freeform, stream-of-consciousness writing.

3. Make an art installation on your blankest wall.

Pick one bare wall in your apartment and decorate it with something that's not framed. Thumbtacks and string? Chalk? Single earrings and buttons? Think texture, think 3D, think something that won't make you lose your security deposit.

4. Film a tiny movie.

The great thing about smartphones is that their basic photo/video capacities helps everyone delude themselves into thinking they're a pretty decent photographer/cinematographer/auteur. Indulge it. Film a bunch of odd clips on your iPhone and toss them together in iMovie. Spend some time editing, adding voiceovers, adding music, then upload your masterpiece to Vimeo (it's artsier than YouTube).

Weird Tricks

Because sometimes a long walk just won't do it for you.

1. Do something extremely awkward.

Ask someone if you can take their picture. Keep a conversation going for longer than it should. Tell your waiter a secret. Or just go to a coffee shop (aw, cliché), order a cortado (hint: it's tiny), sit alone without a book or a phone, and force yourself to drink the whole thing, very slowly, for 20 minutes. People will stare. You'll stare back. Push yourself out of your comfort zone.

2. Go into the suburbs.

There's something sinister about a perfect suburb, and that contrast can be wildly inspiring. I spent a fantastic afternoon last fall in a gorgeous, tiny, utterly unruffled suburb, where I ordered a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, pulled my floppy black hat over my eyes, bought used books at the sweet local library, and loitered like a high school kid.

3. Stay up way late.

Drink a huge cup of coffee at 8 P.M. Dance off the initial rush of energy with some ska punk, then sit down at your computer with all the windows open. There's a particular kind of thrill that comes from the night breeze and the knowledge that everyone else is going to sleep while you're settling in to battle your Muse until dawn. It can result in some odd, midnight-tinged prose.

4. Eavesdrop on people who seem boring.

Forget about the dramatic lovers arguing on the street corner. Eavesdrop on a group of businessmen at lunch, or a mom talking quietly to her toddler. Just like in the suburbs, the biggest secrets often come from the most ordinary places.

5. Pretend you're buying a house.

Go to a real estate open house. Walk through the glamorous emptiness, admire the stainless steel, inquire about the neighbors. Let yourself experience the weirdness of a sales pitch.

6. Crash an abandoned building.

There's an abandoned candy factory somewhere in my city and I know that if I could brave the ghosts and mass murderers hiding there, it would be the most inspiring outing of my life. Grab a friend (preferably a big, tall, burly friend) and a pair of flashlights and go looking for spooks. Whoa. Did you just see something white out of the corner of your eye? Must have been the edge of your Muse's long, flowing, Grecian skirt.