In one of the entries for my book, S is for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet (illustrated by David Geister), I told the story about Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes and his legendary bath. In 256 B.C., after several frustrating and unsuccessful days of pondering a problem, Archimedes visited the public baths. As Archimedes lowered his body into the water, a solution to the problem seemingly appeared out of nowhere. As the story goes, Archimedes ran down the street naked yelling “Eureka!” (I’ve found it!), leaving us all with a memorable visual of the moment.
You’ve probably had an experience similar to Archimedes’ – hopefully not the running naked down the street part, but maybe a Eureka moment of your own when you are in the shower or running on a treadmill or walking in the woods and suddenly you see with extreme clarity the solution to a sticky problem – an elusive twist in the plot of your novel perhaps, or a way to organize complex information that moments before seemed obscure. At those Eureka moments, the brain seems to be operating on its own without conscious direction.
As writers we all face difficulties. Words fail, passages disappoint, ideas flounder on the page, and no matter how hard we try – writing and rewriting – we seem stuck in the mire, spinning our wheels in frustration. The phenomenon is so common that we have a name for it – writer’s block.
At these times, I find it helps to remember Archimedes and how he eventually became unstuck. Step aside. Leave the writing be. Engage in a mind-freeing activity (physically demanding ones work best for me). Trust the brain to figure it out, and then let it loose to unravel the thorny knot.