Hello, SCBWI! I’m Ash, your guest writer for the next few weeks. I’m a queer, neurodivergent, Arab-American, disabled author and poet, mental health advocate, and overall wild creative. To learn more about me, check out the bio at the end of this post!
Today’s topic - rituals for busting through writer’s block. I’m sure you’ve heard a plethora of advice from wise authors and creatives on this topic, including the time-honored command to “sit your butt in the chair” and just write, which is a kind of ritual in itself.
Why rituals for writer’s block? A ritual is any action where you purposefully follow a routine or pattern but with an air of intentionality, even sacredness–motions you move through as an entry point into something grander. Science has shown that ritual “buffers against uncertainty and anxiety… [and] guides goal-directed performance by regulating the brain's response to personal failure.”
Sounds like the perfect antidote to writer’s block, yes?
But here’s the twist. What if you aren’t a neurotypical writer? What if you have mental health struggles? What if you have ADHD or are autistic? What if you have chronic illnesses that make your everyday levels of motivation and stamina unpredictable?
Whew. That’s the question for the ages. How can we bust through creative blocks, when our brains and bodies don’t work like everyone else’s?
Over the next few posts, this question is going to come up quite a bit, and I hope that my experience as a neurospicy, chronically ill, trauma-savvy creative can perhaps give you some ideas for your own writing practice, along with a heaping ladle of affirmation.
And it all starts with this simple but radical statement… You aren’t alone.
Although no one has lived your unique experience, and no one has your exact brain, body, or untold stories, you are not the only creative to ever face these challenges along with the “standard” writer’s block struggle. In fact, we creative types seem to be more prone to this particular flavor of life challenges… or more honestly, just more prone to creativity.
All that to say–you’re in good company. So release a deep sigh, relax your shoulders, unclench your jaw. We’ve got this.
My first tip for busting writer’s block as a neurodiverse, disabled human–stop. trying. to force it.
Wait up. Doesn’t that fly in the face of the tried-and-true “butt in the chair” mentality? Fake it till you make it? Run at the writer’s block brick wall headfirst?
I’m aware; it does seem counterintuitive! But honestly, I wish someone had told me this trick a looong time ago. It would have saved me countless hours of beating myself up internally, banging my head on the proverbial keyboard, wondering why the words just won’t come out right.
I needed to give myself permission to write awfully. Yep, you heard me right. Give yourself permission to write crap. And I really mean it–stream of consciousness that ish. Don’t stop and fix grammar, or punctuation, or spelling. Just barrel on, blindly trusting that something good will come out of the flow.
And let me tell you, this method has almost never failed me. Either I will end up getting into the groove and writing good material, or I’ll finish the session feeling a little sheepish, only to later discover not-so-hidden gems amid the rubbish.
And at the end of the day, any time spent writing is time spent well.
So, how to turn this into a ritual?
Begin each writing session with a brain dump. Sit in your chair. Roll your shoulders. Allow the first thought that floats into your mind to bleed onto the page. No criticizing, no shaming. It doesn’t matter if the thought is as mundane as “What should I eat for lunch?” Just begin to write what you think, and how those thoughts attach to feelings. Allow your subconscious mind to lead you in a childlike dance.
And when you can recognize that you’ve entered that state of flow, like a new pen finally rolling smooth, you can turn your attention to your story.
Tip number two: the vibes matter.
As someone whose brain focuses intensely on my environment–minuscule sounds, the shade of the lights, the itchiness of my chair–I have found that cultivating a purposeful atmosphere greatly aids in conquering writer’s block.
What lighting helps you feel the most in flow? What colors help you sink into your creative self? What sounds and textures create a space where your brain can stop being so hypervigilant and instead tune into your subconscious and enter your characters’ minds?
Now, I know most of us aren’t the most affluent. You can make any space work for you in this manner. Whether it’s an office, a desk, a corner of a room, or even part of a closet, the goal is simply to find an environment you can tailor to suit your unique vibey needs.
How to turn this into a ritual? When you enter your space with the intention to write, pick a few things you always do before beginning. Whether that’s making a cup of Earl Grey tea, lighting a candle, or spraying lavender essential oil, pick sensory actions that help you feel the most grounded and ready to create.
The cool thing? Eventually, your brain will associate those particular sensory experiences with the act of writing, and your body will even more quickly slip into that oh-so-coveted writing flow space.
Last but not least–accept that some days are not good days.
Some days, no level of “tricking” your brain is going to cut it. Some days, the pain or fatigue or flashbacks or buzzing distraction is just too much. It’s easy to feel defeated–like circumstances outside of your control are sabotaging your creative process.
But here’s the thing–writing is about so much more than just stringing words together and arranging them on a page. Every good storyteller knows that a story begins long before you ever think to write it. Each one synthesized from your experiences, ponderings, memories, and wanderings. In order to write good stories, you have to experience good stories.
So next time you have no more tricks up your sleeve–here’s a ritual for you. Take a moment to be still. Soak in the world. Every single tiny detail. Your inner world, your outer world. Whether you’re sitting or lying down or taking a walk, let your attention settle. Focus on your breath. Bring the world into clearer view. For these are the details, the moments, that make our writing sing and cut true.
Next time you come to the page, you’ll bring all that richness with you, that you would have otherwise missed.
Because that’s the greatest secret I’ll leave you with–
For a writer, your whole life is a creative act. Don’t sell yourself short. Even your breath is a miracle of your own making.
Ashley Wilda is an Arab-American, neurodivergent, queer, disabled writer and mental health advocate living in eastern Virginia. Their debut novel The Night Fox, a YA magical realism tale written in poetry and prose about mental health and nature, was published in 2023 with Penguin Random House, and her following YA contemporary novel, Cleave, will be published by Penguin in 2026. They hold an MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition to writing, they love rock climbing, exploring the mountains, creating art, and adventuring with their husband, Ethan, and rescue pup, Phoenix. Find Ash on Instagram: @ashleywilda_ or at www.ashleywilda.com.