Let’s face it, writer’s block is a thing that we’re all susceptible to in varying degrees and forms at one time or another. Sometimes the muse calls in sick or just fails to show up entirely, and one thing you can’t force is genuine inspiration. But that doesn’t mean you need to take it sitting down (literally—try standing up, the increased blood flow will likely help). If you’re struggling to put the words to the page or just feeling like your creative edge is duller than usual, here are some research-based methods to boost creativity that you can do in the moment and see immediate benefits.
1. Manufacture Psychological Distance from Your Project
An article in Scientific American described how psychologists in 2009 determined that arbitrary abstract mental distance from a problem, such as thinking that the problem itself is geographically or chronologically farther away, increases a person’s ability to solve the problem with flashes of insight called “a-ha moments.” In one case, participants in Indiana performed more creatively even when they were merely told that the people who prepared the task were from Greece versus Indiana, though the tasks were the same. To apply this to writing, you might try imagining your project in completed form, having long been published, and you are looking back on it and evaluating it from your imagined future successful vantage point. Or try to get outside your own brain and imagine reading your piece as a person from another country. Even the artificial mental distance may give you insight to things you might have otherwise overlooked.
2. Enhance Your Mental Performance with a Hot Cuppa…Sage?
Scientists from Bristol University in the UK tested the effects of consuming caffeine versus fudge, chewing gum, sage, and slight electric shocks on alertness. Surprisingly, regular caffeine users with a jolt of caffeine only performed as well as non-caffeine users without caffeine. If the caffeine users didn’t get caffeine, they performed worse. The only thing that improved performance was the sage, in this case, pills containing sage. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as news, given the herb’s august history and linguistic associations. Word is still out on what forms of sage might be best to consume (teas, capsules, tinctures, etc.), and you should always check with a doctor to see if any herbal supplement is safe for you, but if you’ve done that, it might give you an easy, invigorating change in your routine.
3. Start by Cultivating a Good Mood
Okay, I know that’s not as easy as it sounds. To be creative, first, be happy! But neuroscientist and researcher John Kouinos explained in an interview with The Washington Post that a positive mood promotes creative thinking. Everyone knows what works for them, whether it’s yoga, a run, or even a short break for a candy bar. Whatever keeps you from feeling tense, grumpy, and threatened will help improve ingenuity in your work.
4. Goof Off
No really, this will actually help you. Kouinos also found that what we’d ordinarily think of as lazing about, such as taking a break, sleeping, taking a shower, and even doing nothing all help stimulate inventive thoughts. So rather than squeezing each word out of your brain with torture instruments of force, try just going out and sitting on a park bench. You’ll probably get a lot more done when you get back to your desk than you would have if you’d just kept glowering at the white space on your screen.
Researchers from the Netherlands found that a kind of meditation known as open meditation, in which “the individual is open to perceive and observe any sensation or thought without focusing on a concept in the mind or a fixed item,” provides measurable benefits to creative thinking versus focused-attention meditation. There are plenty of apps these days for taking short meditation breaks, and since taking breaks also helps creativity, why not combine them? Just remember to do the more mind-wandering kind of meditation when working on creativity instead of focusing intently on a particular concept, which might be great for your brain in other ways, but doesn’t seem to help stimulate innovative thoughts.
6. Lower Your Inhibitions—By Working Harder
You can take all the breaks and daydreaming sessions that you want, but there’s also research from 2015 in Cognition that suggests you can stimulate creative impulses by overworking as well, which lowers your mental inhibitions and allows for more unique ideas to bubble up to the surface. So yes, for those momentary bouts of writer’s block, take a break and go for a walk, but eventually you’ll have to get back to the page, and if you’re butting up against a stubborn problem in a particular work, it may ultimately help to just write, and write, and really, seriously write your way through it until you’re completely exhausted. Then, rising from the pile of drool on your laptop after you awaken from a creativity-boosting accidental catnap, you may just find the ending to your novel waiting for you. Who knows? Lightning could strike...
Had any great moments of revelation while writing? Share them in the comments!