Custom Navbar

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Little Off Topic: How To Overcome Writer's Block

This blog is supposed to be about our penny pinching journey to debt-free living, but there are many other parts that make up who we are, parts that are bound and determined to, at some point, show through.

One of the parts that makes up me is that I'm a writer. And I hate saying that. I always thought it sounded conceited: "I'm a writer." But inside I'm thinking, "No, I'm a clumsy word masher-upper. J.K. Rowling is a writer. John Grisham is a writer. I just smush together words." Anyway...

I've mashed together three books in my lifetime, and am working on others—though only the voices inside my head know why. Publishing is a miserable business these days. It's hard to break into. And even harder to make it monetarily worth it. For me, I have to write. It's almost like there's this hyper-active kid inside my brain who really, really, really needs a crayon because if he doesn't get to scribble on a wall soon he's going to wet himself. So, every now and then, I sit down in front of my computer, give the kid a crayon, and start mashing words together. Sometimes they make sense, other times I revisit my writing months later and ask, "What in tarnation was I thinking?"

I began my word-mashing career as a journalist after I wrote a Letter to the Editor that was apparently so mind-blowingly awesome that it landed me a job at a local paper. (True story). A month later I was a full-time journalist. I hated it. I loved the writing, but I hated the grueling hours, the late nights, the boring meetings, and all the self-important people who thought that the drama happening in their lives was worthy of front page news—"Yes, I'm sure your kid did awesome in the homeschool talent show, but I'm afraid the eleven people who attended do not necessarily qualify this as 'public interest.'"

The one good thing about working for a newspaper is that if you have a problem with writer's block you won't for very long. Well, you may, but then you won't have a job. In the newspaper industry when the editor wants words, you give him words. It doesn't matter how boring the meeting was, or how few people were at the homeschool talent show. If your editor needs 1,000 words you milk that triviality for all its worth. And you've got ten minutes to deadline! There's no time for writer's block at a newspaper, so you learn to get over it quickly or you get out.

Here are three of my own personal tips for overcoming writer's block that I employed while working as a journalist. They worked for me then, they work for me now. Hopefully, with a little practice, they'll work for you, too.

  1. Just start writing. Come on, you can do it. Just start punching letters on the keyboard. The secret to this is to sometimes begin with a completely irrelevant topic. Are you stumped on that oceanic research piece? Start writing about what irritates you about getting soap in your eye. Heck, start writing about why you can't write! Words are like water behind a faucet. Sometimes you just have to turn it on to get them flowing.

  2. Take a tour of your house. Go to another room. Do something different for 10-20 minutes, but no longer. Sometimes when your writing is blocked it's because your brain is too busy. You need to focus your thoughts on one thing in particular to calm your mind, so choose a brief activity that you can start and finish in 20 minutes and then immediately return to your writing.

  3. Talk it out. This is especially helpful with fiction writing. Get up, pace back and fourth, and talk about your story. Work out the plot as though you're explaining it to a friend. Sometimes the reason you're blocked mentally is because your subconscious knows that you're not ready to write about this. You've got plot holes or inconsistencies and your brain needs to think about it first. As you work out the problem you'll be energized to sit back down and write again.

In some cases overcoming writer's block is just a matter of being more disciplined. Doctors will tell you that if you have trouble falling asleep at night to make sure you don't do anything in your bed other than rest. This conditions your brain to associate your bed with sleep. After six months or so you should be able to lie down in bed and doze right off.

This same principle can be applied to almost anything. If you can condition your brain to sleep, you can condition your mind to write. Try picking a "writing spot" in the house and only go there to write. Perhaps pick a certain time of day to write, or a specific type of tea to drink. Discipline your brain to understand that "When we do this _____, we're going to write."

Honestly, these things don't work for me all the time. Sometimes I'm just too tired or distracted or emotionally busy to be able to write. It's important to be able to recognize these times so that you know when to take a break.

Do you struggle with chronic writer's block? What has worked for you in overcoming this problem?

Keep pinchin' :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment