Archives

Breaking the Writer’s Block

Three o’clock in the morning, and I’ve been staring at the monitor for hours, unable to get anything coherent written. Banging my head on the desk doesn’t help, although it does dislodge a stack of papers exposing a CD I’ve been missing for months. I pop the CD into the player and wait for inspiration. And wait. And wait.

Nothing! Screaming in frustration, I shut down the computer, throw a temper tantrum and cry. I’ve got it for sure, Writer’s Block. We all go through it. The nightmare, the bane of a writer’s existence, the dreaded words echo through my brain like a trailer for a bad “B” movie. Sometimes, if it’s bad enough or late enough, the words dance in a circle like “Ring Around the Rosie” mocking me with their mere presence. They laugh and point their fingers, making me sink deeper into my depression.

Writer’s Block is normal. Though frustrating, at times infuriating, it is a fact of a writer’s life. Sometimes you just ain’t got it! I find this is especially true if I’ve just finished a book or am trying to finish one. Somehow, the last few pages of resolution don’t want to be typed. Like pulling hen’s teeth, (an expression which here means something which is completely impossible), I try to get the words to flow, but the dam is firmly in place. Nothing goes anywhere. It’s constipation of the brain.

I have a science fiction series I’ve been writing the last three years. I’ve completed five of the books, but book six is giving me fits! I have sub-plots that need resolution. I have major plots that need extension. I have characters who need something to do and others who are embroiled in turmoil up to their eyebrows. They are all sitting and waiting for me and I can’t help them.

Banging my head doesn’t help, screaming and crying do no good whatever. Eating a candy bar, though tasty, serves no purpose except to put a few pounds on my hips. So what do I do? Every writer you talk to will tell you something different. All I know about is what works for me.

First, I take a break from writing. I read a good book, watch a few movies, participate in mindless video games and otherwise do things to distract myself.

Next, after an unspecified period, ranging from hours to weeks, I sit down and try to write something. ANYTHING! It doesn’t have to be connected with the book, usually it’s better if it’s not. Long or short, good or bad, I write. Sometimes just embarking on the composition process is enough to break the block.

Doing short writing exercises can help. When I taught high school English, one thing I had the students do as a class writing project, was write thank you notes for ridiculous gifts. Each student chose a gift at random drawing a slip from jar.

The rules for this exercise are as follows:
1. Must be sincere.
2. Mention the gift in the first paragraph.
3. Site at least two uses for the gift (or plans of where to put it if it’s decorative).
4. Must be at least three paragraphs of two or more sentences each.

Suggested gifts:
Umbrella holder made from an elephant’s leg.
Bookends decorated with miniature loaves of bread & shocks of wheat.
An incredibly fuzzy pair of house slippers.
A really ugly sweater.
Something impossible to identify.
A painting with dogs playing poker. (I know, some people think this is cute.)
Clothing that is too small (too large, hideous color, wrong gender, etc.)
Music CD that is of a type you abhor.
A movie you hated and never wanted to think of again.
(The list can go on forever. Don’t only use my list, make your own. Sometimes just generating a list helps get past that pesky creative blockage.)

Sample note:

Dear Aunt Fanny,
Thank you so much for the really interesting gift you sent! I can’t imagine what I’ve done without it all these years. It will add a great deal to my decor. I can’t wait to find a place for it in the living room.
I showed your gift to my friends and they were speechless. What an unusual gift! They wanted to know where on earth you found it, several of them would like one for themselves.
Again, thank you so much for your incredibly amazing gift! I shall treasure it always and remember you every time I look at it.
Your Loving Niece

There is no set cure for writer’s block. Sometimes the creative well simply runs dry. The key is to accept it and try to move on. Fighting yourself, screaming and carrying on like a cry baby are pointless and unprofessional. Find what works for you.

Driving with the Top Down

I belong to a small, informal writer’s group which meets every Wednesday.  We have a weekly writing prompt and the one for yesterday was ‘open windows’.  Since spring is in the air, I got to thinking about some of the crazy stuff we did as kids to celebrate spring.  Some of the following is true, some is from my spring fed imagination.  Dellani

 

 

It was a lovely, sunny day in early spring of 1976. I gazed out my window with a smile, glad that the air was a balmy 50 degrees, the vast expanse of the west Nebraska sky was blue, the wind was blowing, the snow had melted. Perfect day for a drive!

The Christmas break of 1975 had been pretty grim and gloomy, sporting the worst blizzard in nearly a century. We laughingly called it Bi-Centennial Blizzard and teased one another that we were reenacting Valley Forge as we tromped around town. Cars were iced in, roads impassible, people were going to work on cross country skis. I couldn’t remember a time I had been so cold!

But today it was officially over. The weather man said it was supposed to be warm and sunny all week. Since it was Saturday morning, my friends and I decided to go for a drive. Jeff had a convertible and could be persuaded to go for a long drive given the right incentive of gas money and a Pepsi. Ever the instigator, I gave him a call.

“Jeff, hi!”

“Hi! What’s up?”

“Not a lot. I was thinking it’s such a pretty day, why don’t we get some people and go for a ride.”

“I don’t have any gas.”

“We’ll take a collection and buy some.”

He wiffled and waffled a moment, then agreed. It helped that he liked me. I could usually get what I wanted with very little effort. What I wanted was to go for a ride in his rattletrap old convertible with the top down. The car would now be considered a classic. Back then, it was a dented up old piece of crap Pontiac with faded paint and no air conditioning.

Fifteen minutes later, Jeff pulled up at my house. I said goodbye to my mother and dashed out the door with my jacket, scarf, warm hat and mittens. It might be warm standing in the sun, but riding in a convertible in 50 degree weather got cold!

Jeff’s best friend, Danny, was sitting up front. He got out and gallantly let me slide in the middle. That was another condition. I had to sit next to Jeff. We made three more stops picking up other people to go for a ride. We pooled our money, filled Jeff’s gas tank, bought him a can of Pepsi and took off to the lake about 30 miles away.

Part of the fun of driving with the top down was how many people we managed to fit into that crummy old tank of a car. Three of us up front, four in the back and three who sat on back of the back seat. Once the top was down, it formed sort of a semi-circle of metal and heavy fabric – or maybe it was vinyl. Only the very brave sat there because going sixty down a back country highway in a convertible isn’t the safest thing in the world. If our mothers had only seen us!

Once we got out of the city limits, Jeff shoved his Black Sabbath “Paranoid” tape in the tape deck. He cranked up “Iron Man” and took off. We made the drive to the lake, looped around it and headed back to town. Our celebration of spring was almost complete. The last stop was the Dairy Queen where we all sat down and had a tall, frosty glass of limeade. Nothing like freezing yourself inside and out!

I never will know why the cops didn’t stop us for doing something so dangerous and so incredibly dumb! I guess it was the luck of the insane. That may have been quite a few years ago, but I will never forget driving with the top down.

To Outline or Not to Outline?

I continue to be amazed by people who make outlines of their stories, know where the story line is going and most of all know the ending before even writing the book. Who are these godlike folk and why am I not like them? I am a very off the cuff writer, I don’t know where the story is going to go, although I like to have a general idea before I begin. I usually start with an idea or, more often than not, a sentence that seems to resonate in my mind until I get it down on paper. Novels and short stories start the same way, a compelling first sentence.

I read an interview with Tim Powers with fascination. He talked about outlining everything in careful detail, knowing exactly where the story is going before he even begins writing. He stressed how important, vital, necessary this was. I read snippets to my husband asking him (like he knows), “How can he do that? How can anyone do that?” Outlines? Those are things you write after the term paper is written and only because the teacher requires it. If they had a crown for that, I’d be Queen.

I rarely know where my stories are going. I don’t always know what I’m going to do with a character after I’ve introduced him, but I know he’d not be there if he weren’t important in some way. For me, writing is an exploratory process. I can’t sit down knowing what will be, I have to let it unfold. I think the idea of outlines is very intimidating for some writers, especially new ones. To know everything in advance takes some of the fun out of my process. Don’t misunderstand, I think it’s marvelous that some people can do that. I find it incredible that they are organized enough to work their way through the entire book before actually writing it. It is a matter of preference and personality.

Having tried the outline, I can honestly say it doesn’t work for me. I can’t even write a short synopsis of a book because I put in too much detail. I got half way through my first outline and thought, “If I am going to spend this much time on it, I might as well just write the book.” The outline hit the trash and I put all that creative energy into the novel instead.

What I think I was trying to say when I started is this: Don’t be intimidated by the idea that you must outline. Don’t think you can’t start the novel you’ve been dreaming about because you have no clue how it’s going to end. Go with what is comfortable for you and find your way. By all means, try outlining because it is a wonderful tool, but don’t lock yourself into the thinking that you have to follow it once it’s there. Nothing is cast in stone, everything is malleable. Then when the creative juices flow and the words pound at the inside of your skull demanding to be set free, you can give them the outlet they need, hammering away at your keyboard or pouring from your pen. Whatever you do, just keep writing and let the outlines take care of themselves.

Breaking the Writer’s Block

Three o’clock in the morning, and I’ve been staring at the monitor for hours, unable to get anything coherent written. Banging my head on the desk doesn’t help, although it does dislodge a stack of papers exposing a CD I’ve been missing for months. I pop the CD into the player and wait for inspiration. And wait. And wait.

Nothing! Screaming in frustration, I shut down the computer, throw a temper tantrum and cry. I’ve got it for sure, Writer’s Block. We all go through it. The nightmare, the bane of a writer’s existence, the dreaded words echo through my brain like a trailer for a bad “B” movie. Sometimes, if it’s bad enough or late enough, the words dance in a circle like “Ring Around the Rosie” mocking me with their mere presence. They laugh and point their fingers, making me sink deeper into my depression.

Writer’s Block is normal. Though frustrating, at times infuriating, it is a fact of a writer’s life. Sometimes you just ain’t got it! I find this is especially true if I’ve just finished a book or am trying to finish one. Somehow, the last few pages of resolution don’t want to be typed. Like pulling hen’s teeth, (an expression which here means something which is completely impossible), I try to get the words to flow, but the dam is firmly in place. Nothing goes anywhere. It’s constipation of the brain.

I have a science fiction series I’ve been writing the last three years. I’ve completed five of the books, but book six is giving me fits! I have sub-plots that need resolution. I have major plots that need extension. I have characters who need something to do and others who are embroiled in turmoil up to their eyebrows. They are all sitting and waiting for me and I can’t help them.

Banging my head doesn’t help, screaming and crying do no good whatever. Eating a candy bar, though tasty, serves no purpose except to put a few pounds on my hips. So what do I do? Every writer you talk to will tell you something different. All I know about is what works for me.

First, I take a break from writing. I read a good book, watch a few movies, participate in mindless video games and otherwise do things to distract myself.

Next, after an unspecified period, ranging from hours to weeks, I sit down and try to write something. ANYTHING! It doesn’t have to be connected with the book, usually it’s better if it’s not. Long or short, good or bad, I write. Sometimes just embarking on the composition process is enough to break the block.

Doing short writing exercises can help. When I taught high school English, one thing I had the students do as a class writing project, was write thank you notes for ridiculous gifts. Each student chose a gift at random drawing a slip from jar.

 

The rules for this exercise are as follows:

1. Must be sincere.
2. Mention the gift in the first paragraph.
3. Site at least two uses for the gift (or plans of where to put it if it’s decorative).
4. Must be at least three paragraphs of two or more sentences each.

Suggested gifts:

Umbrella holder made from an elephant’s leg.
Bookends decorated with miniature loaves of bread & shocks of wheat.
An incredibly fuzzy pair of house slippers.
A really ugly sweater.
Something impossible to identify.
A painting with dogs playing poker. (I know, some people think this is cute.)
Clothing that is too small (too large, hideous color, wrong gender, etc.)
Music CD that is of a type you abhor.
A movie you hated and never wanted to think of again.

(The list can go on forever. Don’t only use my list, make your own. Sometimes just generating a list helps get past that pesky creative blockage.)

Sample note:

Dear Aunt Fanny,
Thank you so much for the really interesting gift you sent! I can’t imagine what I’ve done without it all these years. It will add a great deal to my decor. I can’t wait to find a place for it in the living room.
I showed your gift to my friends and they were speechless. What an unusual gift! They wanted to know where on earth you found it, several of them would like one for themselves.
Again, thank you so much for your incredibly amazing gift! I shall treasure it always and remember you every time I look at it.
Your Loving Niece

There is no set cure for writer’s block. Sometimes the creative well simply runs dry. The key is to accept it and try to move on.  This is only one solution.  

Another idea is to take five words at random.  Either generate them yourself or use a word search or crossword puzzle to help you.  After choosing the words, try to put them all in a sentence.  Use whatever other words you need to complete it, they need not be the only words you use. 

For example, the words are lanky, study, fashion, romance, clock.  Below is the sentence I wrote using these five words:

The lanky college student could not decide if she should study fashion design or romance writing, so she took up clock repair instead.

Or this one.  The words were elevate, nude, collapse, candy, hatrack.

Candy, the nude model, had to elevate the hatrack so it wouldn’t collapse.

The more disconnected the words, the more interesting the sentences.  The sentences don’t have to make sense, but the words do have to be used properly.  You can change them slightly by adding prefixes or suffixes, but the nature of the word should stay the same.

Whatever you do, keep at it until the creativity returns.  It will come back when you least expect it.  Try not to fret, because stress encourages writing deamons, helping them latch on.  Relax, listen to some good music and remember – you can do it!