So you are a poet. You do not just call yourself a poet – you are a poet. You’ve got notebooks stacked on notebooks full of scribbling, drawings, and lines on lines of poems. The Notes app on your phone contains mostly poems. You are not the person people would suggest the phrase Writer’s Block to apply to.
Yet, here you are, not going to slams, and if you do go to slams you’re not open-micing unless it’s a poem from years ago. If you’re slamming, it’s That One Poem. Sometimes while you’re at work or school the thought occurs to you that you might be a One Poem Wonder.
Does this describe you, even a little bit?
You might be suffering from Writer’s Block. It’s common – it affects virtually every writer, no matter how prolific they seem, and it does not mean that you are a One Poem Wonder. It means that your brain needs a bit of a refresh. We live in a chaotic, hyperconnected world that discourages us from stopping to think. Every poet has writer’s block more than sometimes, but they write by refreshing their brain. You definitely can, too. I’ve outlined some ways to get your brain refreshed and your ink flowing again.
1. Get Time Alone
By alone, I don’t mean a Saturday night date with DoorDash and a Netflix binge of the most recent show release. Those are good and called for often, but by alone I mean disconnected from technology. Picture yourself for a moment without your phone or your computer, just…alone. Can you think of the last time this happened? If not, do not worry. We’re encouraged to do this by our smart watches, phones, and our jobs. There is something special in getting time with yourself, and it does connect you back to your voice.
There are a variety of ways to do this. Many people go hiking or go on runs without headphones. Others prefer to disconnect in a quiet room before school/work or after their commute. Still others take quiet walks at night or meditate. Whichever avenue you choose, the alone time is good for you and will get you connected to the voice inside of you that has crowds going “YES POET” when you get on the stage.
Free-writing is a powerful tool. Not only is it therapeutic, but it can spark poetry. This does not have to include fancy pens or expensive journals, but I do recommend writing or typing, or trying out both methods. Different writers get more out of different methods. Start with how your day was, something you noticed from the day, or what you ate that day, and not necessarily in the calorie counting sense.
Did you eat anything that made you want to only eat that food ever again? Write about it. More often than not, a poem will come. Don’t worry about ruining the free-writing experience. Follow the poem where it leads.
3. Try Other Art Forms
Novelists are often advised to read poetry to improve their work. The advice has a sound basis for the same reason that hockey players are advised to try figure skating – iron sharpens iron. Your brain is stimulated by different activities and it improves the art form you are perfecting. Perfection is not the goal here – nurturing your brain is. Sing, even horribly. Paint, even if it’s finger painting, and even if it does not look like the painting of an artist at a gallery (spoiler alert- if you don’t practice painting already, it will not look like an artist at a gallery).
Write a screenplay. Do you find yourself on Tumblr in the evenings liking fan theories of [insert name of pop star/actor]? Write some fan fiction. Try out knitting. Go to a life drawing class. Do a ‘Photo-a-Day’ challenge on Instagram, or try out polaroids. All of this is art, equally as valuable as poetry. Think of art like skating. All of the art forms mentioned (even skating) are the blades, swish swishing on the ice. Painting, as an example, is to poetry what figure skating is to hockey. Iron sharpens iron.
4. Read Other People’s Poetry
Go to slams, even when you are in a dry spell as far a your writing goes. Read books put out by different poets, modern and non-modern. Watch poetry on YouTube. Subscribe to the daily poets email at poets.org.
Whether or not your writing is going well, experiencing the art of other poetry (and also, other forms of art) should be high on your priority list. You truly never know whose poetry is going to open something up inside you and spark a poem, or a flood of poems.
5. Get Exercise
Mileage varies on this one – bodies are made differently. Some people are disabled and some are not, and exercise that benefits your body will mean different things to different people, but exercise remains important to not only your health but your creative life. Your brain is nourished by exercise and you will be more able to create.
So go swimming at your local gym, catch an early morning run, put in a session on the elliptical, go to a kickboxing class, do CrossFit, or simply go an evening walk. You will see benefits to your poetry and feel the writer’s block come off in your sweat.
6. Eat regularly.
Food is a necessity for creative energy. One of the reasons restrictive diet plans fail 98 percent of the time is that the failure to nourish your body hampers your ability to think, to create, and to solve problems. We all need to be creative in our daily lives whether we are accountants or poets.
We need creativity to problem-solve, which is something commanded of us at either work or school, or even just at home. Food, like, exercise, is variable person to person. Eating in a nourishing way will depend on who you are. Still, if you are a human, food is vital to poets.
7. Check Your Mental Health
This is a sneaky one. You may have been raised on the myth of the troubled artist whose mental illness spurred their art. This is indeed a myth, dear poet. Mental illness actually hampers your ability to do the work of creativity. Manic energy may make the simple act of writing easy, at times, but does not make the work of writing regularly, even when it’s not what you want to do or it is not 3am, easy. Art is work, just like other work paths. It is labor in the same way that being a nurse is labor – you solve problems, you think creatively, and constantly use your brain.
Unless you are a nurse/poet hybrid, you don’t deal with as many bodily fluids belonging to other people, but the principle is still the same. If you have depression, talk to a medical professional and/or a therapist. If addiction is an issue for you, seek out recovery. I promise your art improves as you recover, not the other way around. If you are in a creative rut, make sure your brain is not in one, either. If it is, be gentle, and take steps (even small ones!) toward healing. This does not mean that you go from bad to good, but it means that steps you take will help you write.
Writer’s block comes to us all. It’s frustrating if you write for work that this is true, because it’s not possible to just give up on it. If you want to write, but find yourself unable, try some of the suggestions listed above and see if it helps get the ink flowing again.