Here's a categorical statement: Time spent not writing IS writing time. This Zen-ish conundrum speaks to some core truths about creativity:
Remember being kind to yourself? (More on Chocolate below!) Consider: Would it detract from a vacation to find a book to read on the plane? If you don't resent preparing an itinerary for a trip, why beat yourself for "not writing" if you spend time editing, doing research, reading for inspiration, or mulling over your characters' conflicts?
writing is putting one word in front of another
The creative brain thrives on detours. Once I endured days of frustration because I had the time and inclination to write a short story, but no ideas. It was like constipation, only worse. Then I happened to watch The Darjeeling Limited. I think the movie's off-center dialogue jogged the non-linear part of my brain. An idea for a story came to me in the theater, and it had nothing to do with the movie (except that 2 main characters are Indian). It was an emotional connection.
There's hard science behind this anecdote. Livia Blackburne is a brain scientist and Young Adult fiction writer. In a 2010 guest post for Problobber on brain function and creativity, Livia briefly explains their science. Her Brainy Writer's Blog is inspiring because of how she unpacks the creative process.
When you're stuck, change gears. Let go of your current direction.
1. Walk away from the work. Let go of the urge to "fix" it. Concentrate on physical tasks; clean out that awful closet. Changing focus may feel dreadful. You may think you'll never write again. This only proves that you care too much ever to quit. Or take micro-breaks. Look away from your work environment (out the window, at pictures on the wall). Don't try to accomplish anything. Just observe. There's more going on in your field of vision than first appears.
2. Catch yourself slant: Keep notebook and pencil around; catch yourself at unguarded times: On waking first thing in the morning, or when you emerge from a completely non-writing task. Write down whatever comes to mind regarding any potential solution to your writing problem. Don't censor. Keep this up for a week or two. See what emerges.
3. Have the courage to trust yourself.
4. Read out of your genre. If you're intimidated by poetry/science writing or avoid biography,
dive into them. Try reading out loud. Confuse your habitual mind with new information. Marisel Vera, in a post on She Writes, describes how painful criticism of her "workmanlike prose" led to a practice of reading poetry that deepened her language and understanding of her characters...and led to the publication of her first novel, If I Bring You Roses. Kudos to Marisel!
Marisel Vera's First Novel
5. Chocolate! Reward yourself after a period of work with a meaningful treat. Don't worry about whether you met your original writing goal. Did you put in the time?
What do YOU find helpful when you're stuck?