So you’re stuck with your writing. You should be off writing the next chapter in your novel, but instead you find yourself screwing around on the internet or scrubbing the grout in the bathroom (or starting a magazine) – anything to avoid writing.
You know that this is unreasonable. You’ve read about writer’s block, and read a thousand logical ways to get past it. You know that there’s nothing personal about rejection, that you’ll never get anywhere without persistence, that you have to believe in yourself, that no art is perfect, that you only improve by taking risks and learning. You know how to find support and you know how to find inspiration and you know how to manage your time.
You know all this, and more. So why the hell aren’t you writing?
Good news: it’s not because you’re lazy or broken or not a “real writer.”
You’re not writing because, despite all those lovely logical things you know, the most primitive part of your brain is afraid. It has nothing whatsoever to do with logic, and attempting to solve the problem with logic isn’t going to get you anywhere.
It’s called the flight or fight response. When it kicks in, the sympathetic nervous system takes over and your brain actually stops listening to logic. This can be a good thing: if you are being stalked by a giant robot with death lasers in its eyes, you don’t have time to think. You need to react instantly.
However, it’s not so useful when you’re trying to write a novel. You need to find a way out of the flight or fight response, so that you can listen to reason again. You need to find a way to let your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls rest, balance out the freak-out actions of the sympathetic nervous system.
Luckily, that’s easy.
I’m going to share a breathing exercise I learned in yoga. Alternate nostril breathing is a great way to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
As you get more comfortable with this practice, you can work on deepening and lengthening your breathing – but don’t worry about that to start out. Just breathe at a comfortable pace.
1. Sit up comfortably. Curl your middle and index fingers in toward your palm. Put your thumb beside your right nostril, and your ring finger and pinky by your left nostril.
2. Close off your left nostril. Inhale through your right.
3. Now close off your right nostril and open the left.
4. Inhale and exhale through the left nostril.
5. Close the left and open the right.
6. Inhale and exhale through the right nostril.
Ten or twenty breaths like this should make you feel noticeably calmer – but you can keep going as long as you want.
Now try some of that logic on yourself. Or maybe you’re calm enough now to just start writing.
Bonus! Another Sneaky Brain and Breath Trick
While you were practicing alternate nostril breathing, which nostril seemed more constricted? The difference may be subtle or obvious, but when you pay attention, you’ll notice it.
If the right nostril was more blocked, this is a great time for creativity.
If your left nostril was more blocked, this is a better time to balance your checkbook or update your submission tracking spreadsheet.
Because: one hemisphere of your brain is dominant at a time. This actually switches every 90 minutes (or every 3 hours, in some sources). It’s a lot easier to write when the right hemisphere of your brain is dominant.
The dominant side of your brain has more blood in it. There’s also more blood in the nostril on that side of your head, and this constricts your breathing a little.
I’d love to hear how these techniques work for you. And if mind/body tools like these are right up your alley, check out my other venture, Shivamonster.