The Only Cure for Writer's Block...

by Nina Myers McCammon


...is not writing.

Y'heard me! Step. Away. From. The. Computer. And go do something. Anything. I chose the Croton Dam on Monday afternoon (the rush of water is so cathartic and energizing), but our options are endless.

One of my favorite spots in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. "Croton is a dam town."

I recently spoke with Katie Thurmes, one of the founders of Artifact Uprising, who told me the irony behind her successful Instagram/blog series "The Road Knows," is that it was inspired during a bike ride through the mountains near her home in Denver, Colorado following a near-burnout period of working on her start-up photo book company. It's so easy to sit in front of the computer and wait for inspiration to strike, and yes, sometimes that works, especially if you're on a very tight deadline, but the daily grind inevitably catches up with us if we're not careful. We begin to feel low on ideas, stale, and tired, so we inevitably procrastinate; not by stepping away from our screens, but by clicking over to something lighter, say, a photo of a shirtless Leonardo DiCaprio frolicking in a field with a water gun (!!!!!) Although we're laughing at him, it's hard not to envy a guy who's outside enjoying the hell out of his summer.

The only way to be successful is to experience life away from your desk, because authentic experiences lead to relationships and moments of eureka. This doesn't have to be anything major. You don't even have to go very far—sometimes a nice hot shower will do it. I read an article this morning about how sudsing up (aka "casually occupying yourself") can increase the quality of your ideas, something psychologists have appropriately named "Incubation."

"Thoughts incubate in the back of your mind before popping into your awareness as fully formed ideas. But this process doesn't seem to happen while we're actively concentrating on trying to find a solution. Instead, you need some element of distraction to properly incubate."

The article goes on to say:

"It's the same reason that 'sleeping on it' helps with a major decision: Even if you're not actively weighing the costs and benefits of buying that car, renting that apartment, or taking that job, neuroimaging shows that your brain is still working on the problem while your attention is otherwise occupied. With its trademark mix of warm water and familiar routine, showering provides an activity where you just barely have to pay attention to what you're doing—the perfect setting for incubation to bear fruit. Even if you're not actively weighing the costs and benefits of buying that car, renting that apartment, or taking that job, neuroimaging shows that your brain is still working on the problem while your attention is otherwise occupied."

Being "selfish" and taking time for ourselves is hard though, especially when we always have to be available and tuned-in to a certain degree, even on weekends and holidays. Many Americans are now working 6-7 days a week with no break, and all this does is lead to resentment, sheer exhaustion, and the odd stiff neck, AKA a costly, time-consuming trip to the orthopedist (not the break you might've been hoping for!) It's so important to be unforgiving about taking small breaks and you're the only one who can make it happen. Your boss won't likely suggest you eat lunch in the park or take a walk around the block. So what's the worst that could happen? You lose an hour of your workday? Yes, possibly, but you gain a clearer head, and, if you're lucky, your next great idea.

Above photographs = recent breaks of mine. Clockwise from the top left: American Museum of Natural History, One World Trade, Robert Moses Beach, The Bronx Zoo.