From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Getting Stuck in My Head/Not Going Stir Crazy

So, there are a couple of quirky weird challenges that come up pretty much every day I sit down and do some serious writing. After a few hours I feel like two things happen-sometimes one or the other, sometimes both-and they're kind of related.

One thing that sometimes happens is that I feel like I get stuck in my head, and by that I feel like I get in this sort of monotone, bland rut. I feel like I lose any uniqueness and excitement in my voice and start feeling like everything is starting to sound the same.

The other thing is that I feel like if I don't see the face of another human being I might go crazy. Probably not a good issue to have as a writer, but it happens. I feel like I've been sitting by myself for too long and need to shake myself up a bit.

I may be the only one with these problems. (If you have them too, please comment so I know I'm not alone :). But here are some things that work for me to get rid of these congested feelings:

Reading. This helps a lot especially when I feel like I'm getting stuck in my own head. All I need to do is listen to someone else for a while and it blows a fresh breeze through things. What I've actually been reading for this lately is the 20 under 40 New Yorker short story collection, and that has been great. Lots of fresh voices there.

Get outside. Just go out, look at the sun, jump on the tramp, see if you can see some faces.

Exercise. Go to the gym. Walk the dog. Do jumping jacks.

Eat. Get some lunch. Give yourself some brain food.

Anyway, these things sort of help me in this situation, but what are your ideas? The more ideas the better, because then they don't get old. What do you do to shake things up when you feel stuck? Do you feel stuck, and what does that feel like for you?

Sarah Allen


  1. You're right, Sarah, in diagnosing a classic problem. A writer's daily life seems to require that one be an extreme introvert. Since I'm pretty introverted by nature, I like to work alone at my desk, most of the day. But even introverts need to see people on occasion. An excellent counter-balance is teaching; it doesn't matter what, teaching anything that gets you interacting with a class of people. If the teaching happens to be about writing or literature, so much the better.

  2. With any activity, a person needs "breaks," for sure.

    Two thoughts I'd share:
    1. I work 8 hours, M-F: I go in an hour early,and sit in the break-room and write. That way, I see other people. Sometimes I stop writing to engage in conversation. Other times, conversation doesn't occur, but there's still observation, a sort of "company" -- people passing by, conversations & brief comments overheard or tuned out, whichever I choose.

    If you don't have a work-place situation where you can do this, you could sit in a coffeehouse or at a restaurant, and write, for a chance.
    Then it's like -- you're "in your head" but also out with people, simultaneously.

    2. Writing time itself is divided between different practices / exercises, for me. That way -- I feel like I get a "break" from one type of writing activity, but I'm still writing -- practicing -- improving, hopefully.
    a) Writing Practice
    b) Reading / NOtes
    c) Story
    d) Style / Notes
    e) Blog
    f) Project Journal

  3. Wow, thank you both for the fantastic comments :) Teaching is a wonderful suggestion, and writing at a cafe or some-such is one of those obvious answers I hadn't thought of yet. Thank you!


  4. Hey Sarah

    I face exactly the same two problems :-) I think it's a writerly thing, something that comes with the territory.

    I treat my reading as a break. Sometimes I take my book to an open-air coffee shop and take in nature and people.

    I tried writing in a cafe, a park and other outdoor venues, but found that I had a roving eye that was more interested in observing people (all the time thinking 'characterisation'). So, now I only go to a cafe to either read my own work or a book, hardly ever to write.

  5. Thanks for the added perspective. I can see myself being easily distracted as well. I'll have to try a variety and see what works. Which was the point of getting all the feedback, so thanks everyone!


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