Have you ever had writer’s block? I mean, have you stared at a piece of paper for three days and just can’t figure out what the heck to start writing? I have a cure: take a trip!
My desire to start writing again started about three years ago. I had recently started a “job swap” with another manager at work, and we were sent together to a conference in New York City. It was hosted at one of the deluxe high rises that was literally down the block from Grand Central Station, so in between sessions I had a chance to roam the concrete jungle (and I never thought I would use THAT phrase in a sentence with the word “I”!). This was my first trip to the Big Apple, so everything was new and wonderful. The sights, the sounds, the smells… yes, the smells. The smell of a cool breeze blowing between the buildings after a rain. The smell of a bakery near the entrance to Grand Central Station. The smell rolling out of a delicatessen with steamy windows. The smell of pipe tobacco that was hanging in the air in the wake of a fellow walker, mixed with cigarette smoke from office workers standing on the street on a break. The smell of electricity coming up in the steam rising from a street grate. The perfume from an older lady that was just a bit too loud. And the smell of fresh pretzels hanging on the pretzel man’s cart. For some reason I just had the compulsion to start writing down each of these as I sensed them, needing to record them so I could remember them later. The conference materials included a nice leather-bound notebook, so just started jotting down these observations as we walked along.
After a few minutes of this I started noticing the people. As I am in my mid-40’s (ok, late 40’s!) I noticed first that most of the people walking around me seemed younger than me. They seemed mostly like office professionals, though there were a number of blue-collar types in the mix. There were runners trying to get in a couple of miles on their lunch hour, darting through traffic. There were tourists, easy to spot, walking slower, many of them looking up at the tall buildings in amazement, taking pictures. I saw a young woman in her 20’s who reminded me of how my mother looked when she was that age, with a face full of determination and grit. There was a man talking on his cellphone to a would-be girlfriend with a smile on his face: “So I was in your dreams last night?”. There were beat cops talking to each other at the edge of the Bryant Park, drinking coffee to stay warm. There was an older lady with a British accent who asked me “Which way to 5th Avenue?”, and we laughed together when I told her I from out of town, too.
So what does all of this have to do with writer’s block? In less than a half hour of walking about I picked up weeks worth of material. What a fantastic way to recharge the creative process! A city is a non-stop, infinitely large lazy susan of ideas in the form of faces, stories, places, and smells, and trying to imagine the endless possibilities as a writer literally made me grin! Perhaps all of those smug NYC journalists have a reason to feel superior, but I believe their dirty secret is that the city is the real muse, feeding them with a constant flow of ideas that they can cherry-pick and develop at will. Certainly it was working for me!
The lesson for the would-be writer with a block? Break your routine, step out of your rut, and do something completely different that takes you in a new direction, if only for an hour, and write about it. For me, a trip to the city was a turning point; what will yours be?