Walking Past Writer’s Block

When my bandmate and I were working on our very first project together, we got a horrific case of writer’s block.  We were composing a song for a charity album to raise money for the American Cancer Society.  We wanted the lyrics to be meaningful—particularly because of the target audience—but we were stumped.

Conventional wisdom told us that the solution to our problem was “ass in chair:” if we wanted to get through our block, the only thing to do was write more.  We had to keep working, keep banging our head against the wall until we had made something worthwhile.  

We tried this advice for weeks.  We would meet almost every night in front of my piano and work for hours, brainstorming lyric ideas and trying out snippets of melody lines.  All we got for our effort was increasingly frustrated.  Out of desperation, my bandmate recommended one afternoon that we should take a walk.

My bandmate had been using walks to clarify his thoughts since college, so he thought the change of scenery might help us as well.  But we soon realized that our walk was much more than a change of scenery: it had turned into an adventure.

As soon as we got out of the studio, we started rediscovering the world around us.  We found a neighborhood horse and several cats to befriend.  We went hunting for the strangest color mushrooms and fungus we could find after it rained, and found honeycombs scattered across the ground from an old hive shattered by the storm.

All of these small details reminded us about what we noticed when we were kids, and soon we were rediscovering our childhood as well.  We explored old abandoned buildings and planned pranks.  He taught me how to skip rocks for the first time in the rain-swollen river. 

The more that we explored and discovered, the more we realized that we were also discovering and exploring the theme to our song.  The lyrics that had previously kept us stuck became about remembering as an adult what we missed about being a kid.  We wrote about lost innocence rediscovered and the feelings of home.  We finally had something to talk about.

*     *     *

There’s a well-known quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”  I had always liked the quote, but I had never thought to apply it to writer’s block until my we literally walked our way into the same solution.  

Now when I get stuck on a creative project, I have two options.  First, I can put my butt in a chair and hope that I create something worthwhile through my hard work and dedication.  Sometimes working through a block really is the best option—just not always.  I find it only works when I’m struggling with implementation, but I already know what I want to do.  

Second, instead of trying to power through, I can inspire myself with new ideas.  I can go on an adventure.  Whether it’s just a walk or some other type of experience entirely, I can go do something worth writing about.