What to do when you’re stuck…

As a writer, searching for the routines and habits that help us develop our craft and get our ideas on paper – which is our job – can be a struggle. I’m one of those people that thrives on order. I need routine. I need a plan of action for every day. I need a hearty breakfast, a brisk walk outside with my pooch, coffee – obviously – and I need to spend the majority of my morning with my office door closed, clacking-away at my keyboard. And when my routine is broken – all bets are off. How will I ever write again? I think to myself. How will I ever find the discipline to ignore these distractions and focus on my story? All is surely lost!

Melodrama aside, my point is: I understand the importance of routine. But despite my affinity for establishing regularity in my life, I have found that my focus is cyclical. Some days my mind is sharp and other days it drifts. So I’ve stopped fighting this inclination when it occurs.

Now, I’m not saying throw all learned traits and established habits to the wind or abandon all hope the first time a little writer’s block creeps up and bites you on the behind. No, first try to reorder yourself or diligently shoo the pest away. But if you cannot, embrace the change. Pick it up, cradle it, see where your wandering mind wants to go. I’ve come to accept this bit of unpredictability in my life as necessary. And not a pesky necessary evil, but as a truly helpful part of my writing cycle. Really what I’ve learned is that sometimes my routine makes me myopic in my craft. So when my routine is broken or I feel the nip of writer’s block, I turn to other arts.

My first stop is usually music. I put on something I haven’t heard in a while, close my eyes, and I listen to it like it’s the first time I’ve ever heard it. If that doesn’t work then I ask a friend for a new recommendation. If I’m feeling particularly stifled and I feel the need to jump out of my chair, out of my office, and into a new environment, I might head to a museum.

Visual arts are incredibly inspiring to me. I know nothing of painting techniques or multimedia sculptures, but I don’t need to in order to feel inspired. Chicago is full of some of the most amazing art in the world, so getting a healthy serving of inspiration is easy. I let each piece wash over me, and when I feel something amazing I think to myself, I can do that.

But sometimes I don’t need to go as far as the Loop to feel inspired. Sometimes I don’t even need to leave my apartment. Sometimes I only need to go as far as my kitchen. I’ll open a cookbook to a dish I’ve never made – or even seen – and say I can do that. And in the act of creating something that’s new (to me) and delicious (hopefully), I find myself once again inspired and ready to return to my routine.

S. Baer Lederman is a MFA candidate at Roosevelt University and a part of the editorial team for the Oyez Review 42.

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About Oyez Review

Oyez Review is the literary magazine of Roosevelt University's MFA Program in Creative Writing. We publish high-quality fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and art from all over the nation and the world!
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