Like many who feel compelled to put pen to paper, I sometimes struggle with “writer’s block.” For months I had been struggling — not just writing for my #phd dissertation, but everything, manuscripts, blog posts, and articles. It wasn’t my classic writer’s block, though; it was more than that. Merely thinking about writing made me feel great displeasure. If I’m being honest, I’d been struggling in general (#BurnoutIsReal), but the burnout affected my life most significantly through my writing (#phdlife).
I am one of those writers who needs time for inspiration to spring forth — and when it does, the words flow onto the page like magic. Unfortunately, that is not how academia works; I can’t just wait for the words to flow like a firehose onto the page. I have deadlines to meet and a dissertation to finish. That type of pressured writing is hard. So here are the five things I discovered that inspire me to write.
1.Write with a Buddy. I need a community of writing buddies to keep me motivated. I am thankful for my friends and colleagues who are always writing something, which means I am rarely at a loss for a buddy. Due to my writing burnout, I decided I needed a self-imposed writing retreat with friends; I first went to Pendell Hill, a quaker writing center and retreat just outside of Philly. I was looking forward to what was billed on their website as a “community” of writers and artists; sadly I interacted with almost no one the entire time. Luckily I had planned for my friend and colleague to meet me there for a day of writing. She kept me honest by keeping writing.
I ended up leaving Pendell Hill a day early and met up with my go-to writing buddy, my sister, for another day of writing at one of our favorite coffee shops (Cafe Ole). Because of them, I accomplished more than intended!
2. Change it up. A Change of Scenery is Key! As much as I love working from home — and I really do — the monotony of writing and working in the same space daily, week after week, does not inspire creativity. I have always been a person who needs a change of scenery to get the juices flowing. It works 100% of the time and is the most straightforward writing tip I’ve ever received. Therefore, my second writing retreat lead me to an Airbnb deep in the woods of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
3. Let Nature Inspire. No question, being surrounded by nature has inspired humans for millennia, and its effect on me is no different. My best writing occurs when I am out in the natural world — listening to the symphony of birds and the babbling of brooks; feeling the sun shining, smelling the sweetness of flora and fauna, and being inspired by the wisdom of the trees — it is a sensory boost that never fails to kick start the brain! Nestled in the West Virginia woods, with my friend and writing buddy in tow, I enjoyed two days of woodland inspiration.
As a side note, it is tough to focus on writing when you are really into birding, and all you want to do is go out in nature and look at birds! #thestruggleisreal which is why breaks are key!
(You can check out all of my pictures of nature and birds on my Instagram @marionleary).
4. Take a Break. Yes, we all have more to do than time allows, but permitting our brains and bodies to reset prevents and disperses burnout and promotes a healthy work-life balance. For that reason, after my week of writing, I took the next week off to play and visit with friends. I planned trips to NYC and Western Connecticut, two completely different environments that gave me the break I needed to feel like myself again. With these friends, I walked and ate and talked and birded and created. I enjoyed nature in urban and rural environments, appreciating both places’ beauty and uniqueness in different ways.
5. Be Creative. Yes, writing is an outlet for creativity, but sometimes one’s brain (mine especially) needs fewer words and more visualization. Similar to my relationship with writing, creativity sometimes needs to flow out of me and onto a page. For me, it is easier to be creative when I am relaxed, which is why I was thrilled to end my vacation with two dear friends in the beautiful western Connecticut town of Falls Village. There we were treated to a meditative art session called Kabbalah, “an intuitive art process” created by Miki Raver. Miki guided us to create a collage inspired by The Tree of Life. It was an experience I didn’t know I needed until it was over.
I am happy to say that I accomplished exactly what I needed to and more during my week of writing and my week of pleasure. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to switch up the environment one is in and the medium by which one creates in order to inspire words to flow Bird by Bird.