We’ve all experienced it. Whether you’re fresh out of ideas, too nervous to solidify thoughts on paper, or just can’t fathom a way to make a specific topic interesting, the issue of writing great content is as old as the first caveman smashing rocks against a tablet.
Why does it happen? Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined the famous phrase: “Cells that fire together, wire together.” The Hebbian theory describes the concept of how “pathways in the brain are formed and reinforced through repetition.” While there are obvious benefits to repetitive thinking, when it comes to crafting new ideas, those patterns can also limit your creativity. Hellooooo, writer’s block.
The quirky denizens of Austin have proudly coined the term, “Keep Austin Weird,” and I’d like to propose the adage is also the best way to write content that doesn’t suck. By encouraging yourself to step out of your comfort zone--even in small ways--you’re forming new pathways in your brain, which then make space for new ideas (read: neuroplasticity).
I’ve proposed a few exercises to encourage your brain to synapse differently. By practicing them both in and outside of work, you can start to rewire your brain. Some of the ideas are fun, some more serious, and others a bit random. The point is to change your daily routine so you experience the world differently. Here we go!
- Go outside and scream. I don’t suggest trying this at work, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to let it all out. At Harvard, the Primal Scream is a sacred tradition that involves running outside and--you guessed it--screaming your lungs out before finals. Some find it cathartic and others hilarious. Either way, it’s an efficient way to let off some steam and start things right with a new slate.
- Meditate. Try sitting in your car for five minutes before you walk into the office. Find an app like Headspace, a free podcast by Tara Brach, or just close your eyes and listen to a guided meditation or ambient sounds on YouTube. There are also meditation music playlists on Spotify. Relaxing your mind can change hectic thought patterns for a less stressful, more confident writing flow.
- Change your commute. Normally take the highway to work? Get off at an earlier exit. Budget some extra time for the scenic route. Park on a different end of the parking lot. Get a cuppa at a different coffee shop--or go to the same joint and order something new. Even small changes to your routine can cause a shift in your perspective.
- Switch up your work environment. Same concept but a different exercise. You usually write at your desk in your office. Who said you had to? Grab a pillow, find a comfortable nook, and sit somewhere else. What about the couch in the lobby or a spot by the window? Sometimes your brain finds new meanings in different spaces.
- Take a hike! You refresh your browser; don’t forget to refresh your mind, too. After a long day of meetings or struggling to write, it can be helpful to go for a 5-10 minute walk. Studies show walking breaks can “lift your mood, combat lethargy...and even dull hunger pains.” Walking breaks also have the potential to reduce body tension and help employees feel more enthusiastic. Instead of grumping about your next assignment, ditch your desk, stretch your legs, and lighten your load with a walk.
- Remix the format. Not everything you write has to be boring. Every project you’re given is an opportunity to try something new. Turn your blog post into a recipe card. Or a bingo board. Or an infographic. Or a limerick. Or a cartoon. (I could go on.) No matter what it is, inject some fun into it. Even serious projects benefit from lighthearted touches. Don’t be scared to challenge the status quo and enjoy what you’re doing.
- People watch. Uta Hagen, a renowned German method actor and instructor, emphasized research when training. Hagen believed the best acting required an intense familiarity with life. She knew that capturing the nuances of people’s movements and expressions was the foundation for recreating authentic moments onstage. The same could be said for writing. The only way to write authentically is to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. Cultivating awareness rewires your brain to consider everyday situations in a new light.
- Embrace failure. I’m not saying you should give the ground a hug after you fall on your face. I am suggesting, however, that you should cut yourself some slack. Not everything you do is going to be groundbreaking. Instead of setting super high standards before you even get started, begin by jotting down the thoughts in your mind. Bad, stupid, and irrelevant thoughts count, too. The point is to let go of control. Bad ideas are better than no ideas--and sometimes they can even lead to great ones.
- Start over. This one hits home. You’ve been digging your feet into a great idea for a while now, but the deeper you get, the less it makes sense. Don’t torture yourself. Have enough confidence to dump the mess and start again. I promise it’ll be okay.
- Do the thing. Yes, that thing: the thing you’ve been meaning to watch/read/listen to/study for the past few months and just haven’t gotten to. You keep thinking about it... because it’s important. Don’t let it go. Look at your schedule, put it in your Google Calendar, and DO THE THING. It’s not as scary as you think. The act of doing that thing has the potential to change everything else you do, too.