This next installment of the Just One Question Project is about how to handle (and defeat, hopefully) writer’s’ or cooking block, but it’s just getting published now – weeks after I had planned to post it – due to, you guessed it…writer’s block. Poetic.
Before we go on, I’d like to offer a public and heartfelt apology for anyone who tried to make my tsoureki this weekend (and there were many of you, which warms my heart.) I published that post and promptly realized the next day I had left off the butter not in the ingredients, but rather in the directions, where it was to be added along with the wet ingredients. I (thought) I had done the update, then went to make my own tsoureki on Saturday, only to discover that my update had never taken place: there my recipe instructions were, butterless, resulting in a minor freakout here at home, a press of the update button, and a prayer that everyone who was making it hadn’t made it yet.
I was not so lucky: turns out like, almost all of you had started already and had to guess on when to add the butter. The breads I saw photos of on Instagram looked fantastic, but I feel really, really horrible about either having you have to guess when to add it or adding it at the wrong time. I’m a horrid editor of my own work, and I know that, which is why I try extra hard to make sure everything is right. But I don’t usually screw people up, and this whole update/non-update thing really made me sad, because I really didn’t want to mess with your Easter. I extend my fiercest apologies and a plea that you make the bread again, with butter added in the right place, because you will love it. Also, I can’t thank you enough, because I have seen bloggers raked over the coals for things like this (because screw ups can absolutely be frustrating), and it would have been well within your rights to do that to me, but not a single, solitary one of you were anything but completely gracious, kind, and forgiving in your questions and comments to me about my mistake. Could all of you be any nicer? I think not. And I could not be any more grateful for that. Thank you. I mean that.
We can get back to writer’s block now.
I’ve actually done better at it in recent weeks, due to warmer weather, some really outstanding food inspiration from my cookbooks, the internet, and from all of you, and I don’t know: that magical, mystical something clicked into place in my brain again, and things started flowing again. I’ll save my sage advice for the end of this post (because you all hate it when I don’t write my own thoughts on the topic at hand and at least one of you narcs me out every time I do it), but I’ll share a little about how I handled this particular bout of the dreaded duo of writer’s and cooking block.
Every 2 months or so, I pick random cookbooks that I’m drawn to from my shelves and I leaf through them. Page by page, picture by picture, I find my way. If there are sections I’m gravitating towards because of the season, I focus on those. I spend time with each of the books I’ve pulled and make a list of things I’d like to make. Some of them are new things I’m interested in, others are seasonal recipes which slipped past me the year prior. But the process of sitting and just being with these cookbooks really invigorates me for the upcoming season. I make too long a list, complete with page numbers and book reference, so I don’t waste time trying to find where i saw something. Each week I look at that list, figure out what i want to make, and make it.
I hadn’t done that this spring. Why? Because…I don’t know. I don’t have a clear answer for you. Maybe it’s that it was freezing here for a good part of the early spring and I just wasn’t ready to be cheery yet. Maybe it’s because I spent the better part of winter with a sick Wee One (the first year of preschool can jump off a cliff) and I was just tired. I just don’t know. What I do know is that I wasn’t “forgetting” to make my list; I was straight up avoiding it. I knew what I needed to do, I was willfully not doing it – the epitome of self-sabotage – because it was just easier to stay stuck than to move forward. One day, I just snapped out of it: the cookbooks came out, the list was made, the ingredients were gathered.
I was no longer blocked.
But that was this time: it’s not always that easy. Let’s take a look at what you all said in your answers, first in graphs, then in direct quotes from all of you. Some of you talked about why you get blocked:
I threw this into an evenly spaced donut chart simply because I think it would be hard to quantify how many people feel a certain way at any point in time. I think we’ve all felt, currently feel, or will feel all of these things at different stages (I know I have/will), and I think it’s important to give them equal weight. I can relate to each and every one of these being a cause of writer’s or cooking block; I tend to get bogged down with the “too many thoughts” problem because if you saw my notes and lists, you would think I was operating on a 36-hours-in-a-day schedule, with zero other responsibilities than blogging. Blog envy, although I hate to say it, definitely factors in sometimes. I know in my head what I want my own blog to look like, and since it’s not quite there yet, sometimes my blogging takes on a “why even try” attitude. I know quite a few of you work full-time (real-life jobs: such a burden!), or chase kids around, or are currently in school, and all of that can really add up to getting really stuck and not being able to get out of it. To lift yourself out of any sort of block means you have to really take the time out to assess what’s wrong and fix it, and lots of us don’t have the time or the energy to do that in a timely fashion.
So how do we go about fixing the things which temporarily paralyze our writing or cooking? From reading through your responses, we all have a different strategy to yank ourselves back into our blog worlds, but the one underlying theme, it seems, is that it takes work. Not half-hearted work, but actual dedicated time and focus. Here are some of the ways we get out of our writing and cooking funks:
Seems like the biggest way to solve the block problem is to DO. SOMETHING. ELSE. I totally agree! So many of you mentioned stepping away from things and doing something completely different, and it truly does help: it’s probably the first thing I do to fix my funks. If I’m having trouble writing, doing something fun that allows my mind to wander tends to get me unconsciously thinking of the words I struggled with sitting in front of my computer. If I’m having a bad run in the kitchen, I stop cooking and start cleaning – deep cleaning – because I think the act of having a sparkly, organized kitchen makes for better recipe creation and execution.
Along that same line, I think channeling your creativity elsewhere is a version of stepping back too, and can work wonderfully. Starting with photos can really stimulate memory and get the juices flowing, as can reading over notes for the recipe (if it’s something you made weeks back and just can’t summon the words for.) For those of you who said that you try to push through it and write anyway? BRAVO, ladies, because wow; you’re all better people than I am: I’ve never been able to really force myself to write, so that’s truly a talent. I loved the suggestion about reminding yourself why you started the blog and why you love what you do: I would bet that we don’t do that enough, choosing to focus on the struggle more than the underlying gratification we get from this thing that we do, and switching up your perspective can work wonders. After all, I think most of us do this on our own time, by choice, and without much – if any – income, so we must love it, right? I think so. It’s like the cat who you have to constantly remove from behind drawers or really high window ledges: annoying? Absolutely. But there’s a reason you don’t quit the cat.
Listen, all of you did a fantastic, truly thoughtful job of answering this question and I really appreciate it, given that most of us have been struggling recently with our own bouts of writer’s block. Take your time and read through some of your colleagues’ answers here (after all, we do sort of all work together in the same virtual office, right?); there’s some excellent strategies to employ when you get your next round of The Dreaded Block. As usual, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite parts of each of your answers.
Here’s the next question, which I will email out to all of you in The Project: I’m going to switch gears a little bit so your brain doesn’t go into full revolt.
When looking for new blogs (food blogs and otherwise) to subscribe to/follow, what do you look for/what catches your eye? Do you have any “pet peeves” when looking for new blogs which would make you NOT follow them (i.e. too many ads, hard to read, bad photos, writing, etc)? Conversely, what would make you unsubscribe/unfollow a blog you’ve previously committed to?
And now, your lovely and exceedingly helpful answers. Thank you.
Brianne, Documenting Our Dinner:
I’ve stopped blogging for a few reasons before: going home for the holidays, temporarily living in a place with no internet, writing my Master’s thesis, but my posting frequency has generally taken a hit since I started my PhD program. It’s like there’s not enough space in my brain for work and fun, and we all know work’s gotta be #1! I wrote about how my brain’s been expanding and how that’s impacted my blogging recently. There’s angsty creative energy in there that’s been hard to put into words for a blog post, so I’ve been trying to express my creativity in new ways. I dug out my sketchbook that I’ve had since 2010 and drew a picture of a flower. I don’t draw. The drawing didn’t turn out terribly. It was CRAZY. I’ve been learning HTML and CSS so I can do more with web design. I’m going to beekeeping school. Blogging used to be my only hobby. Now I’m trying a few more hobbies, and it’s been really rewarding! I’ve also found new sources of inspiration. Lately I’m really into Jessica from How Sweet It Is and Tracy from Shutterbean. They have all these life tips and tricks that I can get into, and their passion for what they do is contagious. I used to think that expanding my horizons would make my problems worse, but so far it has really worked out for me!
I hope you don’t call me a liar when I say I’ve never had writer’s block! My mind is always thinking about a thousand things, all of which are incredibly exciting and thrilling (to me). If we were to talk in person, I could easily ramble on in a stream-of-consciousness fashion about at least two dozen of these things, weaving them together into a questionably fascinating nonstop narrative. So when it comes time to write, there’s always something dancing around on the edges of my fingertips, waiting to be pounced upon and devoured.
I should add in here that of the similar stories I’ve told IRL, many of them have been received with a sort of slow clap, or the disappointing addendum (from someone else) of ‘and then I found 20 bucks.’ Sooooooooo, perhaps this means my storytelling is best left to the internet, where such sarcastic feedback isn’t quite so welcome.
I often have lack-of-time block, poor-lighting/poor-photographer’s block, or real-life-keeping-me-from-the-internet block, but if I make the time to write, I always have something to say. And granted, I only post a few times per month tops, so there’s that.
Blog burnout is real and can be overwhelming. I have endless cooking/recipe ideas. So many, that I keep a journal with ideas and drawings. I love my colored pencils as much as my spatulas! I get tangled in the writing, the words to go with the recipes and photos often get frozen, stale and brittle. My heart cramps at my lack of imagination. There are so many words to choose from, why can’t I find the right ones? Here’s what works for me. If I am frozen to the spot, can’t move, paralyzed with dread I move away from the computer and do something that gets my hands moving. Chores, cooking, gardening, crafts, something that draws me into the present moment yet allows my mind to drift and wander. The activity of my hands unfreezes my mind to search for the words I seek. If my words seem stale, dull, boring I stop what I’m doing and go for a walk, a bike ride, take a drive. Outdoor motion and action with fresh air revitalizes the stale boring rut that was my companion. Often fresh words arrive without much effort. Brittle is a close cousin to vulnerable and a fragile place to reside. This is the demon of comparison and envy and must be banished before all manner of dread and the loss of self-confidence replaces the motivation to blog. When brittle threatens to invade it is time to find gratitude and remind ourselves why we started blogging and why we wish to keep on going. Whatever the reason, when I start writing again, I just write and write. Let it rest overnight and then sharpen the knife to cut and refine. Finally, at the risk of sounding crazy, I advocate taking a vacation from blogging. Why not? It’s amazing how a break in the routine recharges creativity!
Mellissa, I Breathe…I’m Hungry…:
I struggled a bit with how to answer this one (why are you always making me THINK and stuff all the time?!?!) Partly because since managing the blog has become my full-time job, I don’t really have the luxury of just taking a break from it. That means I have to suck it up and keep going. Some things that help me not go completely postal are:
Not putting too much pressure on myself to write a riveting, witty, novel with every recipe. I admire all of the other participants (yourself, Rachael, Katherine, etc) that bust out entertaining prose every time, but for myself I just can’t. If I ain’t feelin’ it I try not to beat myself up about it – I just move on, say less, and let the recipe and photos speak for themselves.
- I try to keep it fresh by giving myself permission to do whatever I want to sometimes – I started Foodless Fridays so that I could post something that wasn’t food related if I felt like it. That way people aren’t like “why is she posting this DIY laundry detergent, I thought this was a recipe blog?” because I put it right in the title. IT’S “FOODLESS” FRIDAY, MORON – THAT’S WHY! (Sorry, I’m still cranky from Daylight Savings Time. I’m so tired. *sob*) Having that slot available (even though I don’t always use it) leaves me an out when I need to be inspired by something other than a recipe.
- Keeping up with Social Media helps change it up a bit too – I interact with people, pin fun stuff, share interesting finds on FB and Google+, and when I feel like writing I do it – even if inspiration strikes while I’m in the middle of something else. For some reason, having all of those different venues and people to hang out with keeps me from getting too sick of staring at my own space – so when I go there to create a post it’s like coming home when you’ve been gone after a long day – it feels comfortable and I’m happy to be there again. Is that weird? Probably…
Finally, I sometimes (but rarely) schedule a few posts out for a week or two and then I feel like I have time off – even though I usually spend an hour on social media in the morning regardless. Occasionally I unplug for an entire weekend and then I feel horribly disconnected. Also if I spend too much time away, it makes getting back in the swing of things so much harder. I’d much rather maintain a low level of momentum than constantly stopping and starting up again, which makes me resentful. My lazy nature enjoys laxity too much. Also ice cream. And cupcakes. I’m starving, can you tell?
Looking forward to hearing how all of you honest to goodness writers do it! Please teach me your ways Obi-wan(s)!
Mellissa, I don’t always say it, but you’re one of the few of us who really does do blogging as a job, and you really excel at it. I know you mentioned me, Katherine, and Rachael in terms of being able to just pop in with stories, but we aren’t posting every day like you are. That’s WORK, lady. And you do it well.
Amrita, The Sweet Art:
I have much more of a writer’s block than a ‘cooking block’. I find it far easier to put together a recipe than to eloquently put words to paper (screen). I feel like with the expanse of the internet and having so much information that is constantly updated it’s getting harder for me to sit down and give proper attention to a blog post. I somehow eventually find the time, but my mind is often swirling with thoughts on various current events and I continually get distracted by all sorts of things–more so now that I’m more active on social media.
The best thing for me to do is find some quiet time, i.e. walk my dog. I usually go for about forty minutes or so, and I use that time to reflect on ideas. Usually, I already have the recipe in mind and I’m mostly trying to think of the content to write around it. I like to tie something about myself into each post that is also relevant to the recipe at hand (although sometimes I’m not sure I succeed).
If you’re really struggling with writer’s block, I would suggest reading more books and essays about anything and everything (in addition to finding some quiet time). Reading always puts me in the mood to write. In terms of food topics, I especially love ‘The Best Food Writing of 2013’ essays (there’s one for each year going back several years), the Lucky Peach magazines, or posts from my articulate and clever fellow bloggers. Although I must admit that sometimes I can feel a bit intimidated by all the great writing out there, it’s still the most inspiring catalyst that leads me back to my own blog.
I love your reading suggestions, Amrita!
Sarah, The Cook’s Life:
I don’t have any easy answers, but I have been going through the same thing. I took a few weeks off at Christmas and then had a hard time getting started again. I realized I didn’t want to start again. But I felt like I was letting people down if I didn’t. And I wasn’t ready to give up blogging, when it came right down to it.
I think the first step in burnout/writer’s block has to be admitting you have a problem. It sounds cliché, or over-dramatic, but it is real. For me, I had to realize it wasn’t just a lack of time. Or a lack of inspiration. Well, it was those things, but it was also a case of too much self-imposed pressure to post. I needed to pause and step back. Truly stop and reflect, without guilt that I wasn’t posting. I also had to look at why I was really blogging. What was my motivation? What were my goals?
After my reflections, and a lot of procrastinating, I started writing posts when they felt right and posting them when they were ready. I have settled into posting about once a week, if I can make it happen. If it doesn’t happen one week, then so be it. I have been on my break for a couple of months now, and I think I am seeing the light. Blogging is starting to be fun again, though I am still taking it slowly. I’m not sure if I’ll eventually post more than once a week, or if I am happy with the new schedule. I am good right now with taking a wait and see attitude.
Jennie, The Messy Baker:
Writer’s block–such dirty words. Yes, writer’s block is for reals. I wish it didn’t exist, but, the fact is, it does. Sometimes I get in to a funk; we all do. I find myself jabbing at the keys of my computer only to find the phrase “I like big biscuits and I can not lie” typed on my screen. Funny? Meh. But, it’s definitely not my best. And, yes, this phrase really happened the other day.
When I find myself in one of these funks, I usually try to power through it. By power through it, I mean search the Interwebs for cute shoes and quirky t-shirts that say “Every day I’m trufflin'” with the picture of a cute little pig plastered on the front. Yes, I own such a shirt. After several hours pass and major bucks are spent on random crap, I get peel myself from my desk chair (aka my kitchen chair) and go vacuum.
I realize that sounds ridiculous, and maybe it is. Here’s my theory: If I choose a mundane task that requires little to no thought, I’m freeing my mind and allowing creative thoughts to churn around in the empty space. You know what? It works. I’ll go do dishes, laundry, scrub floors, or scoop the litter box. All of which require no actual thought, just action. During those periods of manual labor, I begin to think about random crap. Once that random crap is formed in to a cohesive thought, I quickly run to the nearest note pad (I own a hundred) and write my thoughts down. My writer’s block slowly slips away.
STILL laughing at “Every Day I’m Trufflin’.” Like the dumb laugh where you’re snorting.
Rachael, Movita Beaucoup:
This was a tough question, as I have been so discouraged with blogging lately that I’ve been thinking about walking away. As in: I’ve considered it every day for two months now. I’m in a nose dive and can’t seem to pull up. I’ve been pushing through, but to be honest, I regret it. I should have stopped, even if just for a few weeks, as I’m very unhappy with my blog’s content at the moment. Helpful, right?
I have fallen victim to blog envy. I was so confident that it would never happen to me, that I was completely blindsided. It has been an incredibly difficult path to traverse, and I haven’t fared well. I have blogging depression.
I will say that I have lots of writing on the go. I keep lists in Evernote. Lists of recipe ideas, of course, but more importantly: story ideas, recollections, commentary I hope to develop. Hundreds of little nuggets just waiting to emerge. Sure, none of it has made it to the blog yet, but it’s there, and it gives me hope. I try to write something every day.
I’ve also set up structured schedule for my days, and that schedule is posted on the refrigerator. It has helped a lot. I do a lot of my work from home these days, which comes with perks (writing in pyjamas) and pitfalls (getting distracted by chores and friends who want to grab coffee). Having a set schedule gives my work value, which is important when you’re running in place, sweatin’ profusely.
I hoping these coping mechanisms will help me navigate this rough patch. If not, I will take a break, as it would give me time to learn how to play the ukulele. (I hear it’s making a comeback.)
Rachael, you touched upon some upcoming questions i have listed for the Just One Question Project: blog envy and blogging depression. Not even kidding, I have it too right now, and I want to get into the topic more.
Willow, Will Cook For Friends:
I’ve fallen into a series of ruts lately, so you would think I’d be an expert on pulling myself back out… but I’m not. It’s a challenge every time.
For me, there are a lot of different factors that can contribute to writer’s block. Sometime’s it’s burnout (feeling like whatever I write isn’t good enough, or thinking my life is too lame to have anything worth saying), sometimes it’s stress, or being overwhelmed with other parts of my life that are demanding my attention. Sometimes it’s just an overall lack of inspiration.
Generally speaking, I try to power through whatever’s getting in my way. I sit down, and give it my full attention for as long as I can stand to. I’ve been known to stare stubbornly at a blank page for hours.
That doesn’t always work out for me, though. Sometimes when I sit down and force myself to write, I have a little breakthrough, and things start to come a bit more easily. More often, though, I end up trudging through every single paragraph, and end up with a piece of writing that is, “eh, okay,” but not great. Sometimes sleeping on it, or having someone else look at it and offer suggestions, helps, but sometimes not. I’m ashamed to say, I’ve hit publish on those pieces more than once, in the name of getting things done on a certain schedule.
If sheer force of will doesn’t work, I try to back off, and give myself some space. I find that my creative juices only flow in one direction at a time — I’m either really inspired with photography, or really rocking it with my writing, but not very often both at the same time — if I know my attention is being pulled in another direction, I try to go with that for a while until I can come back with a clear head.
I think giving myself space actually works best for me, but it’s easier said than done. I find it really hard to step away from something. I tell myself “that’s okay, I’ll write it tomorrow” but then tomorrow comes and I’m still just as stuck, and I start to get frustrated with myself, and begin panicking that I’m not getting it done fast enough… but if I can actually let go, take a deep breath, and walk away from it for however long I need (maybe a day, maybe a week) without beating myself up over it… then, whatever block I’m having tends to go away on its own. Not all at once, usually, but the fog slowly starts to lift and after a while, I can see where I’m going again.
One thing I’ve found incredibly helpful, recently, has been asking myself why I do what I do. Why do I even like blogging? Why do I bother with this thing that requires so much time and energy? Why did I start doing it in the first place? What do I have to offer? Thinking about those things reminds me why I’m passionate about food and writing, and helps me see the path I’m on and where I want to go. I think when you do something over and over again (like tell people how totally incredible this sandwich is, and how they so have to go make it!) you can start to lose sight of why you do it, or what the point is. I’d say that’s my best piece of advice (if you can even call it that). Ask yourself why you care about what you’re writing. Why do you want to write it? What is the point of it? If that doesn’t help, step away from it, and focus on other things for a while. Then come back and try, try again.
First, I’m not exactly the most credible source for overcoming burnout or writer’s/cook’s block since I haven’t been blogging much the last several months. But I thought I’d offer my plan for pulling myself together and for how I deal with writer’s block when trying to write for school.
For burnout from doing too much and for writer’s block, my plan is to first try to push through once or twice (if it’s more of a short-term, just-that-day burnout). But if it’s still not happening, take a little bit of a break and do other things you love. It’ll relax you and help rekindle your creativity. Write down ideas when they strike, whether they’re recipe ideas, things that interest you (food related or not), or things you have been longing to do (like make a Momofuku cake or grill all by myself). Post every week or two, even if it’s just a brief hello and something interesting (a link, a photo, a story about something you did recently). I haven’t done this (oops), but I would like to in the future to help keep me connected to my blog without any pressure to post like normal.
Another tactic of mine is to just start writing something. Anything. It doesn’t even have to be a whole post. Just start writing (in sentences or in bullet points) to get your mind and creativity working. You can either revise what you’ve written or discard it entirely – I do both a lot.
In general, just be nice to yourself! You do this cooking and blogging thing because you love it and can’t resist being in the kitchen. You need breaks for your sanity (no one can go balls to the wall or on a strict schedule 100% of the time. Life happens. Roll with it.) and to keep yourself passionate.
Elizabeth, Eating Local in the Lou:
I don’t often have trouble getting the words to flow but I sometimes struggle when there is no real story behind the dish. Sometimes it’s simply just a good recipe and there really isn’t a spectacular back story. In that case, I try to describe the flavors and give detail on the nutritious components of the dish.
Elizabeth noted in her response to me that another blogger (Lindsay at Pinch of Yum) had recently written about her own struggle with writer’s block and her perspective on it, which I thought would be helpful to include. You’ll find Lindsay’s very insightful post here.
Elizabeth, The Manhattan [food] Project:
I get cooking block sometimes, but honestly a good way to get over it for me is to pop in an episode of a favorite food show and usually my funk drifts away. If that doesn’t work, I start pulling out cookbooks and eventually I’ll find something that strikes my fancy.
Writer’s block is an entirely different beast. For me, I have to march through it and write some crap in order to emerge on the other side, but the problem is that I get way to overly conscious about how bad that writing actually is, and then I stop, and then things back up. So maybe I’ll take a bit of time to not think about food or writing at all and then sit down and start writing something, anything, on a Sunday morning (for whatever reason that time has been really creatively fruitful for me lately).
Getting out of my normal routine often helps too–I think if I get too entrenched into any routine and don’t have any way to shake things up my creativity goes down the tubes.
Abbe, This is How I Cook:
I don’t usually have writer’s block. I usually have a photo block! Since I always try to tie my food in with my life, I don’t often have a problem. And since I’m a stream of consciousness person, I can go for a while. The bad thing is that I tend to repeat myself and don’t always edit very well. Rarely do I sit on anything unless it is something very personal.
My hardest part is the first sentence. Once that comes, I’m usually good to go. If I can’t come up with something I resort to research on the food. I try to find something interesting that way. Or something funny about an ingredient-or a song that reminds me of the food. I love quotes so maybe that will give me a spark. Many food bloggers that I read just post a recipe and not much else. Yes, it takes time this way, but I don’t let it get me down. I figure after writing over 200 of these things that by now I’m entitled to say that all of them may not be that good.The writing that is. I don’t usually post a recipe unless I think it is pretty good. But I love having a great photo, so, ahem, there may be a few that slipped through the cracks!
Getting on track. I really find that the more I post, the easier it is to write. Sort of keeps my head in the right spot. I know not everyone is like that.
Natalie, Wee Eats:
As I am currently in the middle of writing a post while battling my writer’s block, seems like a good time to analyze how exactly I cope with this crippling affliction with a simple 7-step solution…
Start with the pictures. If I can’t think of anything at all to say, I will start with the pictures. Selecting which pictures to use sometimes helps to inspire me to make words…
- But, sometimes it doesn’t… So then I look over my notes – Sometimes writing can be especially hard if you’re doing it after the fact, a couple of days, a week, a month…. however long it has been since you actually created and enjoyed your recipe, no doubt you have forgotten some of what got you there. I like to look over my notes – why did I make the recipe? what did I think about it? can I mentally go through the recipe-making (and enjoying) process again? If not, I might have to re-make the recipe to remember why I loved it enough to want to write about it in the first place.
- FOCUS – Once I get into any sort of groove, I don’t let myself take a break. Not for a glass of water or even to pee, just … keep… going……
- No luck? Forget about #3. Go take a walk, do something else, get some fresh air and clean your mind. My ideas usually come to me as I’m falling asleep and I have to resist all of my urges to get up and write and instead tell myself I will remember it long enough to write it tomorrow (I usually don’t).
- Still nothing? Try another recipe. Maybe today just isn’t the day for chocolate chip cookies, but blueberry muffins really get ya gabbin’. Just because it’s not what you “planned” doesn’t mean you can’t write about it.
- Give up. It happens. Type up some not great words to accompany my recipe/photos. Let the food do the talking and I can yammer on about my cat or a trip to the grocery store or even about how I have nothing to write about.
- But don’t really give up. Try again. Keep going. It’s like running through a herd of zombies (do zombies travel in herds? packs? gangs?) – it will slow you down but once you fight your way through it and get to the other side – relief. Can you tell I watched a lot of Walking Dead over the weekend?
Shannon, A Periodic Table (just me, heeeey!)
So, writer’s block and cooking block: both things I deal with on a semi-regular basis, which means I have quite a bit of experience fixing both problems. Cooking block is easier for me to accept, which makes it easier to fix. If I’m failing miserably or just simply can’t think of what to make next, I superclean my kitchen. I mean the whole nine yards: I clean and organize cabinets, I scrub countertops, I move things around. Anything to make my kitchen feel like a fresh start usually does the trick. If i can’t think of what to make, I pretend my cookbook bookshelf is a library and I browse. I pull a few books I’m gravitating towards, and I sit down with them, along with my notebook and a pen (typically a Pentel R.S.V.P, medium point, but who’s obsessive? not me). I read through the books I’ve pulled and write down anything that strikes me, along with the book I found it in and the page number. If my mind wanders and I think of something random on my own? I write that down too, along with a brief description of what popped into my mind and any recipes that i could reference to build it. Cooking block or no, I do this routinely every 2 months (3-month “seasons” tend to be too big a time span for me in terms of seasonality/cravings) to re-invigorate me; sometimes even just to remind me of what i haven’t had the chance to make yet.
Writer’s block is more difficult to tackle; it’s my trained profession, and basically what I went to school for, so I believe it’s harder for me to admit I have a problem with something which should come easily and is my chosen vocation. Besides, i’m prone to dramatics, and I tend to get really writerly about the whole thing: have I lost my talent? Am I no longer interesting? IS THIS THE END?!?! *swoon* It’s all very troubling, and that’s part of the problem: I tend to force it, fail, overthink, then become self-conscious because it just seems so easy for others, then feel bad about myself…and so it goes. Here’s what helps me fix things:
Step back for a minute – or a day, or a week, or whatever. Just make yourself a little vacation from writing and do something else. As I mentioned above, I find that activities where I can not write but allow my brain to wander and “write” unconsciously are the best way to jumpstart things. Keeping a notebook hanging around helps too, because if something pops into your brain you want to remember as it relates to writing or your blog, you can jot it down and go back to what you were doing.
- Work on another aspect of blogging – Natalie mentioned starting with the photos and using it to segue into writing: that works wonderfully, especially if it’s been a little bit since you made the recipe. Editing photos is easy, you’ve already done the hard part and taken them, and if you found you took a killer photo somewhere in there, it can really facilitate writing. Or work on another “little” thing: maybe throw the photos into the post in the order you want them, or type the recipe up from your notes, or set your tags and categories, whatever. You’re making the post easier to write once you DO get to the point where you want to write, and I think that helps make things seem less overwhelming. Most of the time, my work on each post consists of three separate sessions (not counting recipe development and execution): typing the recipe, typing the post, and laying everything in with photos and finishing up. For me, breaking up the work makes me fear it less because there’s just less of a time commitment.
- Notes, notes, notes – seriously, all the notes. I’m a big listmaker, and lots of you are as well. I think I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but I’ve upped my note game (and made my own writing easier) by keeping a notebook on the counter as I make a recipe, because I tend to do my best writing about something as I am doing it. Since I’m not going to type with flour fingers, that’s the best way to jot down ideas, or tips, or random things you thought about while making the recipe, and let me just tell you: as much as you think you’re going to remember something after you finish cooking, you won’t. And if you’re like me, it’ll haunt your dreams. It does double-duty too, because sometimes those notes remind me of how much I enjoyed the process of making the thing, and writing about the experience comes much more naturally.
- And a schedule helps too – basically my schedule exists so I can’t lie to myself and say I’ll work on something later, because I won’t. Setting aside to write is crucial; notes can be done on the fly, but the actual assembling of a post really should be done at a designated time, if at all possible. I’d suggest picking a time of day where you feel at your most alert and creative (mine is early morning to lunchtime) and also a time when you have the least amount of distractions (the Wee One helps out because she’s in preschool in the morning). Typically, my schedule for writing (recipe development happens anytime, anywhere) is Monday thru Thursday from whenever I can form a coherant thought (about 6 am) through 12 pm, when I retrieve the Wee. Fridays she’s off, so i make that a “fun day” for us and i try to not focus on writing. Weekends are deadline-dependent, and I sometimes get things done, but most of the time that’s only if something strikes me. Sounds like a pretty sweet schedule, right? Right: but like college, “15 hours” of classes on your schedule per sememster doesn’t mean that’s all the time you’re spending during the week. My schedule is for writing, editing, and work-related emails only: all the photos, development, testing, research, grocery shopping, and anything else gets done at some magical other time outside the schedule.
- Find a blog BFF – You know, it’s hard out there for a blogger. The one thing that office work has over what we do (and the one thing I miss about working in a larger office) is that you form friendships through your work. Those friendships span cubicles and extend into non-work hours, and there’s lots of work talk, but there’s lots of non-work talk as well. At my own former office job, those extracurricular bonds actually improved my productivity. It’s harder to form those bonds in this particular “office” sometimes: we’re not physically in front of each other, we live across the country and across the world from each other, and we all have “real lives” to attend to. What I value most (yeah, I’ve said it 3,482 times now) is the friendships I’ve developed away from the blog with some of you. Some of us talk sporadically, some of us more often than that, one of you I talk to basically every single day. All of you help me get my work done, because you get it: blog friends get that blogging isn’t just “some little dumb thing” or “super easy” or any of that. They understand why you do it better than anyone else does, because after all, they do it too. And you can bet your pumpkin cheddar muffins that if you’re having writer’s block, they will help you out of it. So find a blog bff: someone you can bounce ideas off of, discuss True Detective and Game of Thrones with (and Fargo, amiright?), and who just generally helps you take the pressure off yourself. Everyone needs one, and it’s one of the best thing you’ll do for yourself.
…And what they said – look above mine: I don’t want to duplicate answers, so read through everyone’s comments: I’ve employed almost all of those strategies when dealing with my own blocks, and any of those suggestions are great fixes to the problem. Thanks again to all of the bloggers in the Just One Question Project, because this time you actually took the words right out of my mouth.