A Healthy Approach to Writer's Block by Marj Ivancic

The empty page awaits, a vast and terrifying blank landscape. And the longer it remains without script, the more intimidating it becomes. Sometimes, it’s writer’s block preventing us from tattooing that white wall. Other times, it’s that scene. You know the one. The chapter you’ve been dreading since the moment you realized your beloved story couldn’t live without it. 

Dammed up by apathy, indecision, or revulsion—it doesn’t matter—the words aren’t making an appearance anytime soon.

What to do?
I read a blog post in which the author plucked advice for such a conundrum from fifteen published writers. After getting over my initial dismay that three of them opened their quotes with some variation of the dreaded “try and…” grammatical error, I did glean some valuable guidance: write something else; find where the story drifted off course; get over the fact that the first draft will suck. But I was disappointed that not one of them touched on—dare I say it—exercise.

Wait! Don’t run away yet! Hear me out.

Pick up any health-related magazine or journal—heck, Google it—and you’ll find an article touting how physical activity helps prevent Alzheimer's, manages diabetes, and lowers risk of heart disease. But it’s the benefits to the brain that makes putting the body in motion so important to writers.

We’ve all joked about the grey mush between our ears, but did you know there’s white matter in there too? And it’s responsible for getting information from one grey iceberg floating in the cerebrum to another. According to the PsychologyToday.com article “Why Is Physical Activity So Good for Your Brain?,” physical activity strengthens those communications highways, resulting in faster cognitive processing. Considering language and communication are two of the primary functions managed by the cerebrum, white matter plays a major role in powering a part of the brain writers rely on to get their story from thought to page.

Want a little proof?
The Stanford News website published an article about a 2014 study that showed walking improves both creative thinking and inspiration.   At its core, the experiment compared walking to sitting, but its scope spanned a variety of those states: walking outside, walking on a treadmill, walking on a treadmill facing a blank wall (Ugh!), being pushed in a wheel chair outside, sitting outside, sitting inside, to name a few. 

While in these conditions, the 176 participants completed four creativity tests. One focused on their ability to construct “complex analogies” in response to a simple prompt. The more deeply associated to the root of the prompt the response was, the better. The other three tests centered around the ability to devise creative uses for common objects, also known as “divergent thinking.”  The results of all these tests showed that the walking segment scored highest.

Did you hear that? I’ll say it again—the movers out thought the sitters. 

When you’re standing (or sitting, as it were) in the writer’s block desert, sweating and thirsty, wouldn’t you love to get a little inspiration, to be able to devise a cunning plot twist, or craft a few lines of thought-provoking prose? 

A wee bit of moving around doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?
The benefits of exercise don’t stop there.
Physical activity aids not only our minds but our souls as well. Take a complaint of depression or anxiety to any doctor and one of their first questions will be about your exercise regimen. The chemicals produced by a good sweat are as potent as fairy dust for fending off those I’m-a-terrible-writer blues. 

The Mayo Clinic listed the following benefits of regular exercise: 
Gain confidence
Take your mind off worries 
Get more social interaction
Cope in a healthy way

I don’t think anyone is saying exercise will turn you into a grinning idiot who never has a bad day. But if you put a little effort into getting out of your chair, you’ll be better equipped to stand up to those whispers of negativity. You may even find yourself able to recognize the toxic in your life, both people and situations, and find the strength to cut free of them.

So, the next time you’re feeling bullied by that empty page, let your body be your muse—and walk away. Literally.

  1. Christopher Bergland, “Why Is Physical Activity So Good for Your Brain?,” The Athlete’s Way.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201409/why-is-physical-activity-so-good-your-brain  

  2. May Wong, “Stanford study finds walking improves creativity,” Stanford News, Stanford University Communications, http://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414/ (access 17 August 2016).

  3. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms,” Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495 (access 17August2016).

Photos courtesy of free downloads at Pexels.com and the MS.org sites.


  1. Marj, I love this! I'm so guilty of sitting for hours at a time only to put away my work when the words won't fliw from my brain to the page. Thank you so much for sharing your insights.

    1. Thank you, Grace! I invested in a cheap ($35) standing desk/table to help me split up my writing time between sitting and standing. I recommend it. I don't stand for long periods, just enough to stretch the back & hamstrings!
      P.S. - I appreciate you allowing me to be a part of this fantastic project!

  2. What a FABULOUS entry!! OMG! LOVE it!! Thank you for sharing!!!!! And for some much needed advice!

    1. Thank you, Darlene! So glad you enjoyed it! I think the next blog might need to be about how dinner with the girls also helps with writer's block! ;o)

  3. One of my favorite books is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey. Amazing the effects exercise has on the brain!

    1. Hi Kristine! I have heard of that book, but I have not read it. I may need to put that on my To Read list :o) The brain is fascinating! And to think, we barely understand half of what it's capable of!!!

  4. Exercise is essential for me to be productive. Thanks for the reminders. Great blog!

  5. Thank you, Jacquolyn! I'm right there with you. If I'm not being active on a regular basis, I notice a difference in my mood, my anxiety levels, my apathy, my creativity...Keep at it and never stop!

  6. Thank you for sharing, Marj. Lots of great information to remind me to get out and walk.



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