Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Write On: Getting Past Writer's Block

To be honest, this is not usually a big problem for me. Indeed, I have trouble shutting my brain down and letting the ideas stop for the moment. However, it does happen. Sometimes it is that excessive flow that caused the block -- much like a log jam on a river. Here are some of the ways I have found to move beyond the block:

Blank Page Syndrome: I love the blank page. It is so ripe with possibilities. Because of that it is easy to get intimidated. What to do? Where to start? Basically this is similar to the fear of failure. You always want to write your very best and looking at that blank page reminds you of this. Keep in mind that you will write crap. Lots of it -- and it doesn't matter. The blank page is there for you to explore all of the possibilities it can hold. Mess with it. Write anything at all. I knew an English teacher once who had his students do "jottings." This was an exercise to connect them with their right brain and let the words flow. To get going it doesn't have to be on what you are planning to write, just write. Prime the pump. Once you have the words working, then you can turn to your story. Nothing has to be perfect on that blank page once you get to your story. Just get it down. You can fuss over it and tweak it later during editing and rewriting. You may find that what you thought was the beginning is really somewhere in the middle. That's okay. It's all okay.

Where Do I Go Now Disease: One of the problems with being a writer is that we see a great many possibilities for every action. We can easily get stymied by which course of action that our character  should take next. We can lose ourselves considering our options. What if? What if? What if? You need to get out of this loop. Get up and walk away. Do something else for a bit. Preferably something that gets your hands working and not your brain. No TV, no music, no reading. During the warmer months I garden and I get a great deal resolved while working with the soil and the plants. Ideas and resolutions abound out there. During the colder months I will knit, crochet, or do cross-stitch -- nothing complicated. Somehow keeping the hands moving does something to the brain making it work better. I discovered in high school that working on my home ec crocheting under the desk in history class made me remember the teacher's lecture extremely well. It is a shame that the standard school system frowns on multitasking or we would have a larger bunch of kids who are far more well-educated. Find your Zen activity and make use of it. If all else fails I resort to actually cleaning the house.

The Road Block Condition: You've been racing along with your latest manuscript and all of a sudden you are stopped in your tracks. Traffic is at a standstill. You don't know for sure if there is a wreck ahead or if there is just a family of skunks crossing the road. Whatever the block here is, you need to get things moving. This is a great time for brainstorming. There are many techniques out there that have you drawing lines and making circles and such. I just make lists. If there is a specific topic I need to write to for an assignment I start with that topic. You can start with whatever it is you are needing. For example, say I need to write about cowboys. What do I think of when I think of cowboys? Horses, bridles, reins, hats, chaps, jeans, lasso, Roy Rogers, cowboy songs, Bonanza, Ponderosa, the wide-open range, tumble weeds, boots. . . Invariably something in the brain starts to move. I go from single words to phrases, to ideas. The progression eventually takes me into actual ideas of where to go with my subject. I used this method to write many cowboy poems when that wasn't my sort of things. Though this method I managed to pair the idea of the armchair quarterback with cowboys and wrote a series of three poems about The Armchair Cowboy, all dedicated to my father.

The No Clue Infection: For most writers who stick to fiction, this is rarely a problem. Most of the fiction writers I know have more trouble turning the idea machine off rather than trying to get it moving. If you write articles, blogs, columns or essays, you can sometimes be coming up empty. When I wrote for the Colorado Daily newspaper I would occasionally resort to browsing the yellow pages in the phone book. Usually not the big ads, but the tiny little entries that no one notices. This led me to finding a school for Santa Clauses and a great seasonal article. That was back in the days before I had regular Internet access. More recently I have stumbled across some great ideas while surfing the web. Did you know that a Jewish dog can have a Bark Mitzvah or that you can adopt a bee? Taking some time to just wander can provide some great material. It is up to you to find your own angle if it is a subject that is popular. Find one that isn't so popular is a true gem to add to your writing resume.

Just remember that writing can be extra difficult if you aren't feeling well. Take care of yourself and get plenty of rest and fluids. Don't forget to exercise. That is a great Zen for getting your brain working.

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