Quite often I am asked how to deal with writer’s block, and here is what I always say.
I don’t believe in it.
The fact is, you can always write something, it might not be a pulitzer prize winner or a smash bestseller, it might not even be anything very coherent, but you can write something, and everything leads to something else.
I’ve been exceedingly fortunate in my life to have had a number of exceptional teachers. Ice skating, schooling, early creative writing, and acting. Ice skating taught me how to physically correct, that hard work brought results, and how to emotionally function with some kinds of fear. Schooling and writing taught me to think outside the box, to learn to love variety and wonder at words. Acting taught me about myself. The best acting teachers are, without always knowing it, actually parent substitutes and therapists who help you find the deepest triggers in yourself.
Let’s start with skating. I’m working on a double axel. That is jump where you take off from a forward ‘outisde’ edge, spin two and a half times in the air, and land on the opposite foot, backwards. Unless of course, you don’t make it all the way around. In that case, your right foot touches down, and instead of going backwards, you go sideways.
I would go for months with a bruise on my right thigh the size of a frying pan. In skating, you have to analyze the physical results of your movements. If you tilt your head to the side in mid-air, your body will follow. A good coach will tell you to correct to the left, and low and behold, you remain up right, land on that right foot all the way around, and glide on into the next step.
In my creative writing classes, you are given exercises to ‘think outside the box’ to use words for a sunset besides ‘red’, to describe the feeling rather than the fact, to delve deeper.
In acting, the human spirit is engaged. Every memory, physical sensation, and emotional barrier is plowed, examined, and exposed. On top of that, you have all the technical information to take in and use. Trust is huge here. An acting coach who makes you feel unsafe is a bad one. I was lucky.
And here’s the most important thing I ever learned…
How to learn. That, in itself, is the most liberating part of the whole process, and it never, ever, ever, ends. We do this in life, everyday, if we’re smart and attentive.
Back to building those writer’s blocks. Your brain is the most complex thing in the known universe. The stats on bites per second are staggering, you have more neuro-connections firing simultaneously than there are stars in the milky way.
I’m pretty sure you can come up with something.
So look at where you are in your process. Need an idea for a book? Make a list, what do you love? What do you like to read? What moves you on a daily basis? What kind of person inspires or angers you? Don’t worry about the entire book outline, start with some scenes that might be interesting in it. Even just one. Can’t come up with a hero? Invent a side-kick, or a friend, and it will inform you about everything else.
Maybe you have an idea for a book but the characters just won’t flesh out. Make up a daily schedule for them. What do they think when they get up in the morning? Have for breakfast? Do for fun? What was their worst day in 1st grade? Write a letter from them to another character in your story. You may not use any of this in the final result, but it will all go into what you know about the character and get those synapsis firing in your brain.
Maybe you are stuck on the plot. Break it down, put each ‘scene’ or chapter on index cards with a short description. Or, for complex plots, work it backwards. Get your final result, murderer, crime, etc, and then create clues that will lead to it, but not give it away. Once again, give yourself options without judgment, you will throw most of them out, but so what? You’re writing.
Books and stories come from a billion places, and you and your brilliant brain, have access to them all, open those doors, peek in. Some you will want to slam shut, others will show you something entirely new.
Of course, the same is true for life. I once had a voice coach who told me, “When you have one of those days where you are unmotivated, just do something. take a walk, bake a cake, clean a closet, just start!”
And of course, he was right. Motivation comes from within and without. If one isn’t working, pick the other. It’s like life. We might not want to run errands or do the dishes, but the more of the mundane we get done, the more we’re likely to get done overall.
So put this away, open a new blank document and write this down. “My brain is a brilliant mass of stars, swirling eternal energy and possibilities.” Now go to one of those stars and take some time to look around.
How’s that for a start to a short story?
Happy Holidays, stay safe, love someone, and give yourself the gift of creating.
Shari December 22, 2012