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When is the last time you sat at your computer, excited, enthusiastic, and ready to write? The feeling is so strong – it says “write, write, write.” Then you sit down, and…………….you don’t write. You do everything BUT write. You read old notes, play games, sigh, run your fingers through your hair. Your elbows callous over.
You actually want to write – really. But you don’t. You’re frozen inside. Some people call this immobilizing state Writer’s Block.
You could be more specific and call it the “I Can’t Write My Opening Scene Block” or maybe the “Help! I Can’t Come Up With Any More Stuff to Put in My Book Block” or maybe even the “I Will Never Be Able to Write Another Book As Long As I Live Block.” You may even call it “Chronic Procrastination” instead of Writer’s Block. However you choose to label it, the reality is – you aren’t writing. At least not the way you’d hoped, or maybe not at all. Why? I don’t think it has anything to do with the Mysterious Muse grabbing its sacred bag of toys and going home, or the lack of Feng Shui in your writing room. I think it stems from a basic problem we all have – fear. Fear of letting go and digging into that creative spot where no man (or woman) has gone before, fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of success. And speaking of fear, I was actually afraid to write about writer’s block. I didn’t want to discover anything else about it because I was fearful I’d pick up a new variety, a sort of writer’s block hypochondria.
But let’s define the word blocked. If you look up ‘block’ in the dictionary, one definition says “a sudden interruption in speech or thought because of a deep emotional problem.” Block can also mean obstruct, deaden, hinder. I think writer’s block can be all of these things and more, triggered frequently by vast hinterlands of unknowing-ness.
There are lots of tips on dealing with the plague of writer’s block. Here are five strategies I use:
*1 Write with your computer monitor off. Can’t see the words, can’t critique the writing. At least not right away. Click away on that keyboard and let yourself write whatever you want to write – either for the scene you’re working on or whatever pops into your head. You’ll be surprised. Something good and original will come out.
*2 Write longhand, skipping lines, on a yellow legal pad. Yellow energizes the mind and studies have shown it can call forth long-forgotten memories, feelings, and experiences. And by skipping lines, it will look like you’re writing a LOT, which is great positive reinforcement for the brain. Also, writing longhand is less hurried, less immediate. It gives you time to gather your thoughts as words flow onto the page. Hemingway wrote longhand. J. K. Rowling did, too.
*3 Interview your character. It’s a great way to get to know her/him/it and maybe break out of a slump. Also, you might try interviewing yourself. (I know, that sounds a little out there, but it can work.) Here’s a quick example of an interview I did with my main character (I’ve taken out specific details):
Me: I think I’ve figured out why I’m having trouble with this story. I don’t feel very emotionally drawn to you.
MC: What does THAT mean? You don’t like me?
Me: I like you, but I think the story needs more emotion. More of who you are, rather than just incidents that move you through the story. I’m not sure I can figure out how to do this, but it will definitely make the story better.
MC: So I have no gut feelings about anything? Great. I’m a cardboard character.
Me: What do you have strong feelings about?
MC: Everything. My… (fill in the blank). The fact that everyone thinks…And my parents treat me like…A whole bunch of stuff, but not in any particular order.
(More Stuff Here)
Me: Could you take over for a while?
MC: Move over and let me sit down.
*4 Educate yourself about writing. Read Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser. It’s an older book, but still a goldmine of information – all about the creative and editorial process of writing. One particular section on writer’s block is titled, “Resistance Always Has Meaning.”
*5 Stay connected. Repeat after me. Critique groups, critique groups, critique groups. Writers often feel isolated. Critique groups can help a writer feel less so, and at the same time, serve as a springboard to improve your writing. Critique groups can act as Teacher, Editor, Psychologist, and most importantly, Friend and Supporter. Be selective when you choose your critique group. Make sure it is a good fit.
And don’t forget the importance of showing up daily for the words:
Meaning to Write from Michelle Cleere; Cow Writer’s Block from tamrika; Umm from Matt Tauber; Universe from news.softpedia; How To Cure Writer’s Block from writersadvice.com
WHY I WAKE EARLY
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety —
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light —
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
I love Mary Oliver’s poetry, especially this poem. To me, the words sing the unfolding of a new day. Beautiful!
“If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come.”
I love this old Chinese proverb. I think I will leave it at that.
I’m a detail person. Definitely. I love keying in on things around me. It makes me happy when I do this, but sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down and do it.
For writers, paying attention to details is crucial. Details bring story to life.
To help me in preparing my grad lecture this past summer at VCFA, I used a wonderful book called Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. Regarding details, she says, “Sweat the Small Stuff. Without the small stuff, no large stuff can follow.” She goes on to say when we give careful attention to the things of the story, our reader will be fully engaged. When a reader is fully engaged, he not only takes in the information intellectually, but he responds to it emotionally as well.
So how can we reach the reader like this using details?
First, think in terms of specificity. Consider all the parts when constructing details about a person, place, or thing – what Checkhov calls the “little particulars.” McClanahan uses a tangerine as an example: it consists of rind, juice, seeds, fruit, pulp, grainy membranes, stem, blossoms, and leaves. Any of these things could be a powerful detail given the right placement in the right story. Take care in naming, also. Is the name you give your detail correct and precise, and does it resonate within your story?
Second, think in terms of relativity. That is, think about those things associated with whatever (or whomever) you’re describing. For instance, if you’re offering details about a tree in your story’s forest, think about not only its parts, but its function. A tree provides a home for forest creatures, casts shadows of protection, holds together the earth beneath it.
And last, think about what the object is NOT, what McClanahan calls the “backdoor technique.” About this she says, “Describing details through negation opens up physical spaces otherwise closed to characters, narrators, and readers.” Description-by-negation. How interesting to think of constructing details in terms of what you don’t see, hear, or feel.
Pardon me, but I need to rant a little. About the news.
Why does everything have to be so nauseatingly sensationalized? Dirty, horrific, outrageous, terrifying, shocking?
When I signed on to my email server today, which shall not be named here, the following headliners appeared, and these are just a few, mind you:
Executive Suspected of Murdering His Wife
Star Reveals Hollywood Horror Story
Amish Girl Accused of Bizarre Act
Intersection Called Corridor of Sin
Harmless Prank Went Horribly Wrong
What Mom Buys for Son is Killing Him
Man Claims Creature Stalked Him
Monster Said to Live in This Lake
And here are a few more, from random popular news sources:
Doctors Intentionally Concealed Decapitation of Baby During Delivery
Bumble Bee Tuna Plant Worker Cooked in Steamer Identified
Man Stabs Grandmother 111 Times, Slits Her Belly, Removes her Organs
I didn’t have to search for these type stories. They’re everywhere. The news is saturated with them.
What is going on? Are we not a people of intellectual integrity? Do the news powers that be have to report on every vile, despicable act? Is this what we want to read as news? Oh, please.
Where’s the uplifting news? The stories that make us appreciate, smile, relish the infinite positive possibilities? Where’s the good stuff?
Give me the good stuff.
Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day. ~Author Unknown
I hope to get back to blogging on a regular basis soon. Until then, I leave you with this thought:
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. ~ Ben Franklin
I visited a 130 year-old, four-story courthouse today. It has been restored completely, down to the paint color on the walls. During the restoration phase, a tunnel was discovered that connected the courthouse to a bank. It’s no longer there, but I thought this was very interesting information. The building is a grand old place and helped me get a visual for my wip which also involves an old courthouse in a small town.
Here’s a picture of the main courtroom on the second floor.
The picture doesn’t do justice to the scope of this amazing room. Here’s another picture that shows the original balcony.
I loved exploring this incredible building. I peeked into heavy steel vaults with hand-painted doors, climbed amazing winding staircases, and examined original hardwood flooring from the year 1885. I stood and closed my eyes and breathed in the smell and now I’m home and ready to transfer into my story some of what I learned and felt in this charming place.
I went to an estate sale with a friend today. Here is a sampling of what the house looked like:
I felt a jolt when I walked into this house, like I had taken a giant step back in time. And like I always do when I attend things like this, I wondered about the people who had once lived there. I wondered about the stories each room held. The small framed pictures on the wall, the tiny knickknacks spread around. Who had placed them there? Who had touched them last? Story can rise from the tiniest images if we pay attention.