Archive for March 2011

Blank: Setting Fire to Writer’s Block

March 1, 2011
Many weeks ago, my friend, Tyler Hurst, was to speak at WordCamp Phoenix. He asked for writing tips on getting over the hump of staring at a blank page to use in his presentation. Having lived that situation out nearly every day of my existence, I started a-thinkin’ and a-writin’. Instead of just a single note or two, I sent him an avalanche of thoughts.

Today, Tyler and Jeff Moriarty are convening a Domino Project-inspired forum for storytellers of all types (writers, podcasters, video bloggers, etc.) in hopes of exploring ways to improve what we do.

I’d love to make it, but we’re having a build-out meetup at The Torch Theatre for our new space for improv theatre and comedy at 4721. We’re opening soon (May, hopefully!) and we have to keep up our momentum.

In any case, I wanted to at least contribute my thoughts on roasting your own writer’s block and then feasting on it. I hope folks find it helpful and I can’t wait to hear how things went!

Every writer has had the experience of looking at an untouched blank screen with a deadline slowly creeping closer.

Sadly, making a sandwich, reading every website on the internet, and every other thing we might do to feel ready to kick it into high gear usually doesn’t work as well as we’d like.

Here’s what I recommend for breaking through that great white wall of nothingness.

* Get off the computer (and maybe even get physical)

Mostly likely, you’re writing by straight mind dumping onto a laptop.

Doing so seems efficient, like a direct pipeline for the thoughts in our heads. When it comes to getting stuck, though, it’s the exact opposite. Having your fingers at the ready, poised to punch some keys and having a vast field of empty, untouched space can be like making love to a robot – and not the cool, way advanced humanoid robots that modern sci-fi has thrown our way. It’s the cold and clunky kind of robot from the 50s. The keyboard is Robby the Robot’s awkward cousin.

Anyway, if you feel frozen in thought and don’t know where to start, jump into getting your thoughts out in some other way: take pen to paper and start jotting down ideas and maybe even sketching out an outline; grab your voice recorded, fire up your dictation software, or even leave yourself a voicemail to talk out any ideas you have; and, finally, take a moment to stretch at least  and, at most, to dance out whatever you’re writing about.

Am I advocating interpretive dance?
Do I want video of you attempting to do it?

* Get impressionistic

I’m going to totally abuse the word “impressionistic” and use it to mean what I want it to mean. Basically, any bits of words, phrases or thoughts that come to mind when thinking about whatever you’re writing are potentially seeds that can take root and give way to larger chunks of writing. Write them down.

Too often, we judge those little bits of ideas before we even get them out of our head. They might not even end up in our final draft, but they have value as possible gateways to more complete and more usable thoughts.

Also, by doing so, you get to smash through the notion that you have to have your writing spill out all at once and in its nearly final form.

* Get busy and actually write

In contrast to the last tip, how about trying to bulldoze your way on through writing the whole thing?

Give yourself 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, whatever amount of time to focus up, hunker down, and try to write as much as you can from top to bottom. Just understand and be cool with the fact that whatever results probably won’t be perfect and will need some amount of revising. The bigger goal is just to get over the hump of starting the process of writing.

Also, welcome to grand tradition of having an actual first draft of your writing, something that people did way back in the day before we all got in the habit of throwing up our words directly onto computer!

So, those are my tips with dealing with a blank page.

One other thing …

The above are all micro-level tips, tricks, techniques to tackle stalled writing.

At some point, if being completely stuck is happening often enough and you’re more anxious and stressed than jazzed about what you’re writing, it’s probably a good idea to start evaluating what you’re doing on a macro-level. It’s a good idea to be aware of your writing process (anything from how your workspace is set up and knowing your peak times of creativity, but basically, anything that affects how you take something from idea to final form) and why you’re writing.

It might take anything from starting up some new pre-writing habits, getting refreshed by taking a writing class, or taking your career in a new direction to recapture the spark that got you writing in the first place.

That’s a bigger conversation to have, but it’s one worth having … maybe after your latest dash of writing is due.