The mere mention of writers block may send shivers through writers. Writers with deadlines and literary commitments to keep never want to get stuck with this block.
You may have had the problem of not knowing how to proceed with your writing and get beyond writers block.
You eagerly put pen to paper and keystroke to computer in the hope and anticipation of some magical words to flow through you. But your mind draws a blank.
You get more restless and feel the panic creep in.
You take the first distraction that you can run away with to avoid the feelings of getting stuck.
You hope and wish that the next time would be better.
Have you felt the panic and the desperation of being in a place where you have felt blocked as a writer?
Here are some ideas that might give you a blast of relief:
1. Have More Restrictions
This idea might sound counter intuitive for busting through writers block. You may believe that creativity is spontaneous and does not work well with restrictions.
Often, having no restrictions makes it more difficult to focus and come up with relevant words to put to paper.
Mark Rosewater is the lead game designer of the popular game, Magic-The gathering. Rosewater says that restrictions, rules and frameworks are good for creativity.
“Restrictions create breeding grounds for creativity.”-Mark Rosewater
Rosewater says that some of the beneficial rules are clarity, structure, consistency and focus.
Rosewater gives the example of giving an experienced writer a topic on even days and allowing her mind to wander freely on odd days.
She will be more creative on the even days when she restricts herself with a topic.
Having a topic pushes writers to find new associations.
But, if they allow their mind to wander, they may revert back to what they already know.
In the production process of Magic, when there is no theme, Rosewater believes that his mind reverts back to what he has done before.
But if you give his mind a theme such as "creatures," his mind fires up and he is ready to unleash his creativity.
Ask if you have some restrictions, rules and frameworks for your writing?
Do you experience more frustration with writing when you allow your mind to wander freely and produce new ideas out of nothing?
2. Set Up Triggers And Cues, deep practice: Habitual Writing and Creative Rituals
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.”-W. Somerset Maugham
Do you believe that you need to be blessed by the muses before you can write and produce work that matters?
Or do you believe what prolific creative writers believe?
The most creative believe the idea that creativity is a habit and writing needs practice everyday.
The famous writer Anthony Trollope had a daily ritual of rising at 5:30 am and writing till 11 am. Trollope penned 46 novels in his career.
Research from neuroscientist Ann Graybiel’s laboratory in MIT has divided habits into three parts. A trigger or a cue, actions that follow the trigger and an eventual reward.
Set up a trigger or a cue that allows you to get started with your creative day. When you follow a ritual, you have a better chance in making creative writing a habit.
Famous choreographer and dancer, Twyla Tharp gives the example of the composer Igor Stravinsky.
Stravinsky had a morning ritual where after entering his studio, he would first sit at the piano and play a Bach fugue.
Bach was Stravinsky’s hero and perhaps he needed the ritual to seek blessings. Perhaps he wanted to feel connected with his music or get his fingers moving.
“After so many years, I’ve learned that being creative is a full-time job with its own daily patterns. That’s why writers, for example, like to establish routines for themselves. The most productive ones get started early in the morning, when the world is quiet, the phones aren’t ringing, and their minds are rested, alert, and not yet polluted by other people’s words. They might set a goal for themselves — write fifteen hundred words, or stay at their desk until noon — but the real secret is that they do this every day. In other words, they are disciplined. Over time, as the daily routines become second nature, discipline morphs into habit.”-Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
The wonderful Elizabeth Hein hosted me on her blog.
Head over and read my Five Tips for Beginner Writers.
I’m writing outside my comfort zone.
It’s a quest.
I think I’m naturally a science fiction writer. It’s the rules I find attractive. You take a main idea, one only, and run with it.
Rule: SF should have a single idea, except for Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
Of course, that applies to any fiction, it’s just more obvious in SF. Because it’s the genre of ideas and so the ‘big idea’ sticks out more obviously. It’s easier to spot a Triffid than, say, the cycle of destruction that revenge brings or that falling in love can be a bit scary. In that big debate between ‘plot’ versus ‘character’, I like to point out that ‘theme’ is the third leg of the stool. In SF, theme is front and centre, you need a plot to hang it on and so character tends to suffer.
So, I saw how everyone was constantly using their smartphones, and wondered how this trend might develop. The light-bulb moment was when I realised that Artificial Intelligence wouldn’t turn up as massive computers in a lab or as killer robots from the future, but as a thing your pocket. What would it be like if a sentient being was thrown away when it became unfashionable? Once I came up with the title, I, Phone, it was just too delicious an idea not to write, and it had to be in the first person from the point of view of the phone itself.
Certainly you have other ideas in a book, of course. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, has walking tripod machines, heat rays and so forth, but it has the invasion concept at its core. Everything comes from that central element; it’s not Martians and an Invisible Man. (The exception is Wyndham’s carnivorous plants and everyone going blind, but, for some reason, he bagged that one first and we’re not allowed.)
You need to establish the rules of your world. The first thing I had to do was specify what the hero could do, and, more importantly, could not do. I looked up phones on Wikipedia: OK, it can do all that, but it’s far more intelligent. Everything then, must follow from that. Science Fiction has a ‘what if...’: so ‘what if phones were more intelligent than their owners.’
It was Aristotle, who said that an ending should be ‘inevitable and unexpected’. i.e. obey the rules of your world and, within that, pull off the surprise. This gem is in the middle of his rant against ‘modern’ playwrights (who are all Ancient Greeks now) who rely on the deus ex machina far too much and so write rubbish plays. I paraphrase.
Following the rules, therefore, makes sure of the ‘inevitable’ part of the ending, and rules work well for all realistic novels. So, historical, modern day thriller, romance and even proper SF. Warp engines work like this and, once stated, everything that follows must be realistic in that reality.
Except for fantasy, which, by definition, is not realistic.
I’m currently writing a fantasy novel.
So how does magic work? I’ve no idea, it just does. You see; well outside my comfort zone.
In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the magic just works and solves everything. All you need to do to defeat Voldemort is wave a wand, say a Latin phrase like ‘deus ex machina’ and the day is won. Of course, she wasn’t writing a book about magic. She was writing about growing up, boarding school and preventing the rise of Nazism. This she did very well indeed. However, the lack of rules rankles for me. (And the stated rules of Quidditch don’t make a playable sport either.) I’m not saying they are bad books, because they aren’t; they are excellent, but she should have put more effort into laying the foundations for the Harry Potter Role-playing Game supplements, as it were.
Writing a fantasy novel is in part a chance to explore the genre, to strike out on my own through the landscape armed with my sword and spell book to see what I might find. Will I find out how magic works in this world? Will I have to resort to a deus ex machine at the end? (Certainly not! I’ve written that bit of the next to last chapter.) Will I discover an amazing revelation about fantasy writing? Possibly, possibly not, but I’m enjoying the scenery. I certainly haven’t had a major revelation yet. Even if I do, I doubt it’ll end up in the book.
The book, you see, isn’t about magic: instead it’s about warfare, its effect on the lives of women, and how my oft renamed protagonist (why will she not settle on a name!?) deals with... well, I’ll keep that to myself until I’ve finished it, if you don’t mind.
About David Wake
It took me eight year to get my new novel, How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, from an idea to a book you can hold in your hand. I would not have been able to do that without help along the way.
When I first sat down to write, I intended to put together a series of essays based on my experiences as a cancer patient. It was awful - dry, maudlin, a bit academic. I couldn’t capture the human struggles of the people I met in essays, so I wrote the story of four women that meet in a hospital waiting room. That was the first draft of what would eventually become How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. The novel went through a dozen or so drafts over the intervening years because I had to learn how to write a novel, while actually writing that novel.
One of the best things I did during that time was to join several critique groups. These groups were invaluable in my journey from a woman scribbling in the storage room to a published author. Some of these groups were terrible; the people enjoyed making new writers feel small in order to feed their own egos. They were also valuable learning experiences. Sitting around a table with people that rip each other apart taught me how to be a generous critique partner and value honest, constructive criticism. Those groups also toughened me up for the inevitable periods of rejection that are part of a writing life. The people I met in those groups were like personal trainers that pushed me to run that extra mile or perform another set of sit ups. I didn’t enjoy the process, but I improved.
Bad critique groups made me appreciate a good critique group when I found it. I am currently a member of a wonderful group. The nine of us meet on Sunday afternoons for lunch and discussion. These people have read and reread pieces of my novels until they knew my characters almost as well as I do. It is a rare treat to watch your critique group get into heated arguments about why one of your characters would or would not do something. They are invested in my work and I in theirs. They have been a great support throughout the process of revising the novel and getting it ready for publication.
The most recent group that has helped me along the path the publication is the staff of Light Messages Publishing. They are a family-owned press that publishes novels with thought provoking messages. When I sent them my manuscript, they immediately connected with my characters and their friendship. It has been a joy to work with Elizabeth Turnbull and the rest of the staff. The editorial process was remarkably painless and I feel like part of a team when we talk.
Someone recently asked me what advice I would give a new writer to help them along the road to publication. My first response would be – don’t go it alone. Find some writer friends, either in real life or on the internet, and work together. The road to publication can be a long rough ride. Bring snacks and a friend.
'How to Climb the Eiffel Tower' Blurb
Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.
About Elizabeth Hein
I was tagged by the amazing Justine Manzano and you can find her post here: http://justinemanzano.com/2014/09/08/introducing-jacklyn-madison-character-bloghop-2014/
Justine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Things You Can Create, Sliver of Stone Magazine, and The Greenwich Village Literary Review. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at JustineManzano.com and a twitter account where she discusses her adventures in juggling aspects of her life such as motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. She works as a fiction reader for Sucker Literary Magazine and is currently searching for a publishing home for her YA Urban Fantasy series, Keys and Guardians.
In her post Justine talks about her character, Jacklyn, from her YA Contemporary Fantasy novel, The Order of the Key. Read the blurb below.
Jacklyn Madison has a thing for heroes. She reads about them, watches them on TV, and would very much like to become one. When a monster makes an attempt on her life she discovers she is one - the long lost member of The Order of the Key, a group that protects humanity from creatures that come through interdimensional rifts. It's all fun and games until training for her duties reveals the Order's out of touch views - Keys, like Jacklyn, are protected while Guardians, like the rest of her family, are expendable. As she rails against their value system, she finds herself in the centre of a power struggle between the group's leader, Lavinia, and her idealistic son, Kyp - the boy Jacklyn likes. Worse, Kyp's attempts to protect her only entangle her in a mire of deceit. Viewed as a target on one side and a weapon on the other, Jacklyn must find a way to protect the people she loves and decide what kind of hero she's willing to become. Filled with action, romance, and paranoia, The Order of the Key is an edgy Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy novel that is currently searching for a home with an agent.
Thanks for tagging me Justine!
Please meet my character, Skyla, the protagonist from my Sky Stone series:
Scarlett Van Dijk
Image courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“I can’t write unless I have a cigarette, am sitting in a particular room in my house, on a particular chair, writing on a yellow legal pad with a red marker pen.”
The above sentence sounds, to me, like a funeral march, and it has nothing to do with the cancer stick. It is the death of that person’s writing career.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are some people for whom these conditions are easy to obtain reliably, but very few of us modern day writers live on a planet where they would be able to work in these conditions for more than ten minutes at a time.
I live in New York City and manage a very busy life. I work a 9-5 and have a 5 year old boy who has just started school. I’m a wife and a person that my friends and family rely on. And, on top of all of that, I have what is ostensibly a second job. I am a writer.
I have plenty of help. For instance, if my husband wasn’t as helpful with our son or if I had a less forgiving job, the balance of my world would probably cave in. I also have an understanding support system of writers, free spirits, geeks, and athletes who rally behind my endeavors and help where they can and for that, I am eternally grateful. But even with that help, I wouldn’t be able to get more than a page written a day (if even), if I had to write in specific conditions.
I write in the morning before my son wakes up because I wake up at 5 AM. I write on the train to and from work. I write in stolen moments of very slow work days. I write on my lunch break. I write when Logan goes to sleep for the night. I write in waiting rooms of doctor’s appointments and in parks when I’ve arrived somewhere early. But more importantly, I write on my laptop, my tablet, my phone, my work computer, my notebook, my desk pad. I write with music playing, in silence, and on weekends with a 5 year old screaming “Everything is Awesome” (curse you, Lego Movie!) in my ear for the 250th time. I write with or without a cup of coffee.
Wherever. Whenever. With Whatever.
The idea that the muse will only be summoned in the proper conditions is a lie. It is the hallmark of a person who wants to feel like a writer more than they want to be a writer.
That sounds judgmental. It’s not. It’s the product of conditioning. We all grew up with the image of the starving, tortured artist chasing their muse, and the image is perpetuated by the best of us: experts in their field who tell us to find a spot, find a ritual, and write. I just read a writing book by a certain acclaimed author who claimed she could only write in specific conditions and I beg to differ. It’s not because I think little of her, but because I think MORE of her.
Rituals and superstitions are not the key to creativity. Focus is the key to creativity.
The stories are there. If they didn’t already exist in your mind, how would you be able to draw from them once you settled on THAT chair, in THAT room? You just need to be able to zero in on them and block out the rest of the world for a moment. You don’t need a place or an object to do that. You just need you.
I challenge you to break the rituals. Start small and start subverting them. If you normally work in silence, start working with low music playing and work your way to loud music. Then, the TV in the background. Train noises. Dogs barking. Your child singing. Break the ritual.
Create a new ritual that you can do anywhere. Taking 5 deep breaths or something else that is portable. Something that comes with you anywhere, under any conditions.
It’s a challenge. It’s a risk. But if it pays off, it will make you a far more prolific writer. So...are you game?
About Justine Manzano
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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