Writers Talk About Writing
21 Ways I Get Out of the Writing Doldrums
I live in a city — Vancouver, Canada — with many fine attributes: the weather is mild, the mountains are beautiful, the beaches spectacular. But for every good point, there are also bad ones. That mild weather often translates into torrential rain and seemingly endless grey skies. (We once had a house-guest from Korea staying with us for the month of February. She didn’t believe Vancouver actually had mountains because the city was so socked in for 28 days and she never had a peek of them.)
We’re having an especially cold and wet Spring this year, so when the grey skies drag down my spirits — particularly my writing spirits — and I need an immediate boost, I know better than to trust “chance” to give it to me.
Here are 21 ways I get out of the doldrums and persuade myself to start writing again.
- Clean my desk: Organizing or cleaning something always makes me feel better. My desk is a particularly welcome target because I end up staring at it when I’m writing, and a clean, well-organized surface always makes me feel cheered and hopeful. But other areas work as well. Some months ago, I thinned and organized my spice drawer. I feel a little burst of pleasure every time I look at my now well-organized collection.
- Go for a walk: I walk a lot, not the least at my treadmill desk, where I also write. But if I’m feeling tired or down, I know that a walk outside — to the bank or grocery store — will give me a jolt of energy.
- Add a book I want to read to my Evernote list: I love reading but sometimes even the anticipation of reading is enough to buoy me up. Whenever I see a positive review of a book, I clip it to my Evernote file so I have a list of books always ready for future reading.
- Read an article: I don’t allow myself to read novels when I’m supposed to be working but if I’m stalled on a piece of writing or feeling totally uninspired, a brief well-written article from the New York Times (I have a subscription on my phone) or a “Talk of the Town” piece in the New Yorker gives me a model of fine writing and a much needed boost.
- Do something for my husband: My husband is a kind, deeply supportive man who was a 100%-involved parent when our kids were young. He has changed my life in so many positive ways. If I can do something for him — whether it’s making dinner or picking up a book at the library for him — it makes me feel great.
- Give myself a tick mark: Every time I finish something on my list, I feel proud and accomplished — even if the task is small. Every day I have a long list of tasks that will take me five minutes or fewer to do. Putting a tick mark beside each one I’ve finished always gives me a jolt of adrenaline.
- Eat a handful of almonds or a tablespoon of peanut butter on a spoon: These high-protein, high-fat snacks work much better than carbs for giving me reliable energy.
- Listen to a piece of peppy music: My son, who holds a music degree and has sophisticated taste in music, will roll his eyes to learn that I enjoy listening to Abba when I need a shot of energy. In case it helps, Duncan, I’ll also listen to musical theatre pieces like Oklahoma, or energetic opera like Ride of the Valkyries.
- Exhale, then take a deep breath: As someone with writing apnea (I now see myself as a person in recovery), I know that our brains require a great deal of oxygen to work. Spending a couple of minutes paying extra attention to my breathing helps my brain get the steady supply of o2 that it needs.
- Drink a cup of coffee: I allow myself one big cup of coffee a day. It’s relatively low caffeine Kona coffee from Hawaii (I special order it.) All coffee drinkers need to be aware that every brand has different amounts of caffeine. For example, a Tim Hortons medium cappuccino has 80 milligrams while a Starbucks grande cappuccino has 150.
- Have a glass of plain soda water with ice: I love my Soda Stream, which allows me to “make” my own bubbling water without having to buy plastic bottles. (I don’t find the plain soda needs extra flavour but if you prefer more taste, you can add a splash of juice.) Even better, the Soda Stream — in combination with some temporary caffeine — helped me get Diet Coke out of my life. I used to drink a can of Diet Coke every day and couldn’t seem to break the habit despite my best efforts. When someone suggested the problem might be the caffeine (each 12 oz can contains 47 milligrams), I decided to drink plain soda instead and dose myself with caffeine pills. (I had to use a pill cutter to get the right amount). I was able to reduce the caffeine a little every day and, over a couple of weeks, wrest myself free from Diet Coke. Yahoo!
- Roll on a ball: I have chronic back pain which often becomes much worse by mid-afternoon. I take a break to roll on a ball, which is fun, relaxing and immediately makes my back feel better.
- Bend forward in my chair for 30 seconds: This not only helps relax my back but it also gets the blood to my head, which helps me think better and which makes me feel more energetic.
- Turn on more lights: I’m sensitive enough to relentlessly grey skies that I have a SAD light I can turn on for 30 minutes a day in the winter. But you don’t need a special light to give yourself more wattage. When you need a boost, turn on all the lights in the area you’re working. The brighter light will help improve your mood.
- Make a to do list, every day: I never just dive into work without planning. Instead, I strategize my day, which makes me feel happier, better organized and more energized. I always plan to do my IMPORTANT tasks first, leaving the urgent stuff for afternoons, when my energy is lower. The urgency of the task is always enough to rev me up.
- Stretch: Stretching my arms above my head and bending from side to side helps me to relax and feel more connected with my body, which is a welcome reminder for those of us who work in our heads.
- Laugh: I have certain friends who always make me laugh but if I can’t talk to them, I satisfy myself by watching an episode of Randy Rainbow on Youtube. Rainbow is hilarious and I love the Broadway show tunes he rewrites so amusingly.
- Pay attention to the temperature: We tend to think that cold “wakes us up,” but, in fact, cold causes our body temperature to drop, which tells us it’s time to sleep. I like to put on a pair of extra fuzzy socks when my feet get cold and I always have a sweater waiting for me on the back of my chair.
- Check my posture: As someone who walks more than the average person, I try to be conscious of how I hold my body in space. The actions we do every day are far more important and influential than those we do irregularly (i.e.: exercising three times a week). When walking, I try to keep my shoulders down, my knees soft and my weight in my heels. When in a chair, I try to sit at the front edge of my sitting bones to maintain my natural arch. Having good posture gives me more energy and reduces my back pain.
- Do a French lesson: Like many Canadians, I studied a lot of French in high school. But after 40 years with almost no practice, I lost it. Recently, I’ve been doing at least one DuoLingo French lesson every day. The software is free, the lessons are fast and effective and they’re like games. I get a jolt of energy from my daily lesson and will sneak in another one when I want a “productive” break from work.
- Do the New York Times mini-crossword: Although I’m a writer, I have never enjoyed Scrabble or crossword puzzles. Go figure. I get far more pleasure from just reading. That said, there’s a wonderful mini-crossword published by the New York Times that I now do just about every day. On a good day, I can complete it in less than a minute. On a bad day it might take me seven or eight. But it’s always fun and I like the way it stretches my brain.
We’re all unique individuals so we’ll each have our own activities that will help us feel happier, more energetic and more like writing. Take the time to create your own list of what works for you. Then, USE that list to help give yourself the boosts you need.