Unlocking Writer’s Block Sideways

by Angela Yeh
published in Reading

Writer’s block happens to every writer at some point. Creativity slows down. Your words feel like they’re stuck to your insides. If you’ve never experienced that bone-dry-whistling-wind-through-a ghost-town desiccated feeling of writer’s block, just wait.

We talk about getting back into the “flow,” feeling like an idea dries up, sometimes that creativity rushes and overwhelms, or drip-drip-drips when we want it to gush. Instinctually, we seem to realize that creativity, and expressing that creativity, is as essential to our wellbeing as water is to our bodies. Sometimes facing blocks is best-done head-on. For me, getting to the root of the problem is quickest when I come at it sideways.

Lucky for us—I have read (or am reading) two books that will open our minds and blast open our blocks, if you are brave enough to join me. Are we ready to be brave? Excellent. 

Creativity Is Mysterious

First, I will admit that creativity’s source is mysterious. Like water, it feels like it is all around us in the air we breathe and buried in the ground we walk on. Creativity can feel like it is only reliably accessible to a select few who know where to dig or who know when it will rain and are in the right place at the right time.

Poppycock and fiddlesticks. Creativity is open for all. And those doors never shut.

Second, I will also admit it’s possible that reading about writer’s block is another form of procrastination. 

BUT…these books I am recommending aren’t writing craft books. 

There is a good reason for that. I don’t go looking for books that will help me with writer’s block because I refuse to admit there is a problem. That is the first step to recovery, right? Completely refuse to admit there is an issue? No? Well, it’s my first (and only) step. Huzzah for denial! Works all the time! (Kids don’t try denial without adult supervision.)

Usually what happens is I am reading a book for some other reason—like I think it might help me deal with my anxiety about the future, or it seems interesting. Honestly, there doesn’t need to be a reason except I liked the book jacket. (I DO judge books by their covers!)

Those books are the ones that end up unlocking creativity knots I didn’t even know I had, and that is exactly what happened with the two books I am about to tell you about.

“Every now and then one’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Future Forecasting for Combating Writer’s Block

Stretching our minds is going to be so much fun! 

Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything – Even Things that Seem Impossible Today by Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is a future forecaster and game designer. I am already so intrigued, flipping over and reading the side flap.

I am about a third of the way through, and doing her “future imagining” exercises sounds terrifying after the last two years we’ve had, but it has unlocked a blind spot in my creativity I didn’t even know was there. McGonigal mentions these exercises help with creativity, but, honestly, I scoffed at it. 

I am not scoffing anymore. No scoffs! 

I have had three vivid dreams since I started these imagination exercises. Dreams in which I was an ancient Sumerian King fighting for his doomed kingdom, a small girl in India pitched against a global corporation, and finally, last night, I dreamed I was satisfied with everything in my life and utterly content. (Crazy right!?)

In completing the future scenario exercises, something has worked loose deep in my subconscious. There is something wonderful about tapping into your creativity while not thinking about writing. I used to paint when I was stuck on a plot point or scene, and now I know why. I needed to dip into that creativity well from another angle. Einstein used to play his violin. 

How Neuropsychology Is Catching up to Buddhism

You don’t have to be a Buddhist or a neuropsychologist to read book number two. The brief chapters are written in an easygoing style that is both straightforward and fascinating. 

No Self, No Problem: How Neuropsychology Is Catching Up to Buddhism by Chris Niebauer

Full disclosure: I have listened to this book about 4 times. There was such relief and joy in the support of right-brain thinking and a call for creativity that I felt bolstered and lifted as a creative when I read this book. 

Western society puts so much pressure on creatives needing to make money to be taken seriously, as if the art itself wasn’t the entire point. These judgments are left-brain perceptions. 

The premise of this book, that the “self” is in fact a myth created by our judging, pattern-seeking left brain, seems radical, nonsensical even. And so, I love this book. 

In the end, it isn’t whether the author’s premise is something I agree with or, frankly, even really understand. It’s the idea of my “self” as a concept I made up to explain the world has opened my mind.

Thomas Dewar said it best: “Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.”

Open Minds, Defeat Writer’s Block

I encourage you to open your mind, open your heart, and see what happens to your creativity. 

This is a trigger warning for many people: you may have been told that opening your mind is dangerous. I can assure you from experience that this is not the case. 

You will not be lost if you are brave. You might be alone for a little while, but you won’t lose anything except that writer’s block. Keep learning, keep questioning, and stay curious. 

Be curious about your blocks, and come at them sideways with a book like the two above.

Is there a book that has pushed the boundaries of reality for you? A book that made you question yourself and your role in the world? If so, how did that affect your writing? Please tell me all about it and I will add them to my TBR list!

Tell us in the comments: What books have helped you break out of your writer’s block?

Angela Yeh is an East Coast Canadian native that lives and works in the great state of Texas. Angela is a black belt wanna-be who loves to garden, write about magic, and eat cake. She is the proud author of her debut YA fantasy novel, A Phoenix Rises, a finalist in the Dante Rossetti Book Awards for YA for 2021. She lives with her husband, two lovely human children, and three cranky fur babies. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram or on her website.

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