The State of Graphospasm - 8 Ways To Combat Writer's Block

Now technically, graphospasm is the cramping of your thumb and forefinger, making it literally impossible to write. However, I like to think of the word in a more figurative sense--as a metaphor for writer's block.

 At first I thought this was a picture of a severed hand, but I think it's probably just like, a fake hand? I don't know though--you tell me.

At first I thought this was a picture of a severed hand, but I think it's probably just like, a fake hand? I don't know though--you tell me.

Lots of people have writer's block. They say they can't think of any words, they don't have any ideas, they don't know what to write. I understand this feeling. But I think it helps to think of writer's block as graphospasm. As a muscle spasm.

What do you do when you get a muscle cramp? You stretch it. You eat a banana. Massage the muscle. Ice. Take a bath. 

Guess what: those are the same strategies for dealing with writer's block!

I know, it sounds ridiculous. But here are my 7 strategies for dealing with writer's block like a pro.

1. Stretch it.

 All the pictures I could find in the Internet archive of people stretching were of white men. Go figure. Uh oh, is my feminism showing?

All the pictures I could find in the Internet archive of people stretching were of white men. Go figure. Uh oh, is my feminism showing?

By "it" I mean your brain. Stretching is less literal when it comes to your mental muscles, but no less helpful. But what does that look like? Simple. It looks like writing something else, preferably outside of your comfort zone. Use an online idea generator or try writing a short story or a poem in a genre you're not used to. Try picking a random word from the dictionary and finding a way to use it in your project. Maybe even try telling your story with a different medium--paint or sketch or sing or build. Stretch your creative muscles.

2. Eat a banana.

 Yes. I know these are pears. Thank you for pointing that out. I couldn't find a banana, okay???

Yes. I know these are pears. Thank you for pointing that out. I couldn't find a banana, okay???

As much as we would love eating to be the solution for everything, I don't necessarily mean you to eat literally. But the whole idea of eating a banana to deal with a muscle spasm is that you are missing a particular nutrient--potassium. So you've got writer's block: what are you missing? Maybe you're story is fine, you're just missing a key component, like a character or a scene or an object. Maybe you're missing knowledge and need to do additional research. Maybe you're missing that one word that will catapult you from not writing to explosive writing. Maybe it's actually something in your environment--go get a cup of tea or a cat. Ask yourself: What am I missing?

3. Ice it.

 It's 3 degrees outside right now--I opted to not go to the office. My bed is warmer and filled with cats... and they are all bathing themselves simultaneously.

It's 3 degrees outside right now--I opted to not go to the office. My bed is warmer and filled with cats... and they are all bathing themselves simultaneously.

One thing I've found that prevents me from making progress with my writing is when I'm writing with the wrong tone. If I'm feeling sad or depressed, that's not the time for me to be writing humor--it comes out sounding flat and boring. When I'm hyper, serious stuff tends to come out sounding absurd or over-the-top cheerful. Consider switching projects to match your mood, or switch the tone of your story to match it's mood. Ice, ice, monster.

4. Massage.

 Braaaaaaaains.

Braaaaaaaains.

Okay, in this case, a massage could actually help. Sometimes, a set amount of relaxation can juice those creative muscles. But for those of us who can't afford to just go out and get a massage whenever we feel like it, it's time for us to massage our brains a little bit. I like to call this the "one word at a time" strategy.

Here's how it works: you're in the middle of a story or a chapter or a sentence. You have no idea what to write. So write just one word. Just one. That's all. Then, write a second word. Easy, right? Now write a third word. Keep writing one word at a time, until you get over the hump. This is the strategy I use the most often, as it's the easiest to use and gets me over my writer's block the quickest. Seriously, try it.

5. Take a bath. 

 I had to decide between this and the Star Spangled Banner.

I had to decide between this and the Star Spangled Banner.

This is a good way to waste time, unless you are capable of actually working while in the bathtub. But what is a bath, actually? It is the process of immersing something in water. So try immersing yourself in something besides your current project. For example, put different music on. Let yourself drown in it. Take your notebook outdoors and write under the stars or the sun (which is just a really bright, specific star). Research a topic that is totally unrelated to your project. Immerse your mind in something and let it help you focus and recharge. 

Note: do not use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any nonsense like that. Do not use random searching. Be smart: focus.

6. Drink water. 

 Does anyone know what the pieces of paper on the milk bottles are for?

Does anyone know what the pieces of paper on the milk bottles are for?

This one is literal. As in, actually go drink water. Not soda. Not tea. Not coffee. Not wine. Not pineapple juice. Water. H20. Sometimes dehydration can make it difficult to think and the best way to cure that issue is to drink water. Waaaaater. DRINK IT.

It is also figurative. The water of a writer is accountability. We all need goals, but we need something or someone keeping us in check and making sure we are working towards our goals. For writer's with fans, sometimes dipping into your fan base is sufficient accountability. For those without a fan base, you might need an accountability partner. I don't recommend using a spouse for this. Find a friend--someone online, someone locally, another writer--who will help keep you moving towards your goals. 

7. Take a painkiller.

 If you need a painkiller, I recommend Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen-- not random bottles you find in an old basement.

If you need a painkiller, I recommend Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen-- not random bottles you find in an old basement.

Once again, not literal. Sometimes if I get burned out on a project, working on it is the last thing I want to do. Even when I try, I feel like i don't have anything to say--i.e. writer's block. So I work on something I'm excited about. It might be a novel or a short story or a poem or a blog post. It might be silly. It might be a random writing prompt. It might be a letter I've been dying to write to my grandmother. Whatever it is, the idea is that it helps reignite my passion for writing--it reminds me what exactly I love so much about it. Then, when I go back to my other project, I feel refreshed. 

The catch is that you still have to get the first project done. Most over-the-counter painkillers only work for 4 hours, so set a time limit and then hit your first project again with new passion and excitement.

8. Go to the doctor.

 My handwriting looks like this too, so it's not just a phenomenon of the medical community.

My handwriting looks like this too, so it's not just a phenomenon of the medical community.

We exist in communities for a reason. Sometimes, it's so we can have someone tell us that yes, that excruciating pain is appendicitis. Sometimes, it's so our mom can roll her eyes as we complain, yet again, about that problem we haven't solved yet. Sometimes it's so we don't have to grow our own food or homeschool our own children or change our own oil. And sometimes, it's so someone else can drag us out of the rut called writer's block. 

If you're having trouble writing, sometimes all you need is to chat with another writer. Or group of writers. Call one up, meet one for coffee, or just chat online. It can be like magic.

Here's what I think.

Writer's "block" can be extremely difficult to deal with. It can be frustrating and overwhelming. But by thinking of it as a mental muscle spasm, then it ceases to be an excuse for not writing, and rather a condition that can be treated and dealt with. Don't let writer's block stop you from writing. Find a solution.

I also recognize that not all of these strategies work all the time. But that's no reason to not do anything. Pick something. Try it. And get on the proverbial horse.

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**All images are from the Internet Archive on Flickr.