I see a lot of posts on social media about writer’s block {audible groan}. If you google “what to do about writer’s block” you get a hearty list of blog posts, charts, Pinterest ideas, memes and articles—some boasting as many as 25 ways to snap out of it and another that claims writer’s block can last up to two months. Two months! What can you do?

Every writer experiences writer’s block. We sit down with our coffee or tea and a fully-formed idea in our heads (it’s been floating around inside our brains for weeks, months or longer) and nothing happens. Nada. Why? For me sometimes there is a disconnect between the idea and writing it down. I’m ready to hit the ground running—the idea is still getting dressed, eating breakfast, tying the shoelaces. The idea is just not ready. Things need to percolate and it is instinct that lets the writer know when the idea is ready for words—we just know. 

When I have writer’s block, there are 2 strategies I use. The first is I listen to music—an idea that is heralded as a way to break through the block and one I believe this really works. That said, when I use music as a way out, I do not listen to my favorite tunes—ever. No Ray Charles or Van Morrison, no Rolling Stones or Billy Joel, no AC/DC or Rihanna or Eminem. I get out of my comfort zone and I listen to classical music, Celtic tunes, Latin music, French music—music in another language can do wonders. And when I do, it’s like a different part of my brain is accessed, and I am able to unlock something in my language center. This is especially true with classical music. It really works. Most of the time.

The other thing I do is exercise, also touted as a way to break through writer’s block. At first, I thought it was the fact that I am getting my blood flowing—I’m getting rid of cortisol (stress hormones) and replacing it with serotonin (happy brain chemical) and that might be it, but there is something else going on. I’m at the gym when I exercise. Here is a place where people of all ages, genders and nationalities come together mostly for the same reason, and the people watching is extraordinary. It’s rich. People at the gym are vulnerable —they are dressed in fitted clothing, often revealing clothing, they are sweating and breathing heavy. You are able to see how fast they are, how strong or weak they are, how they interact with others, if they are listening to music, if they are listening to the hum of equipment or gym chatter. I am, more and more, convinced that it is more than just my blood flowing—it is also the act of people watching that inspires me to sit down and write. Maybe I see something that inspires an essay or poem, or something that sparks a thought about my protagonist in my work-in-progress. But inspiration is lurking at the gym. 

So, if you’re in a block, sweat it out at the gym. Listen to some music from another time and place or in another language. Free write in the interim. Step away from your work-in-progress, give yourself some space and write something different—a short poem, an essay, or develop a character. Finally, cut yourself some slack! Allow ideas to percolate and wait patiently for your writer’s gut to give the green light.