A recent discussion on writer’s block got me thinking about how I deal with the possibility of actual blockage to writing. Mostly I can say I haven’t experienced a true blockage as I make efforts to avoid the possibility of not being able to come up with something to write. My avoidance techniques include the following:
Music, most often without words, the rhythms, beat, and tunes can be inspiring. One thing I don’t do well with is television. I find it terribly distracting and when my husband or daughters are viewing a program and I need to be writing I will put on the headphones with my music or go to the library. It is interesting that while I can’t seem to concentrate on writing with a television program within hearing I seem to do all right at coffee shops and libraries with a myriad of conversations flowing about me (sometimes snippets of those conversations will trigger ideas). I haven’t figured out what the difference is.
Then there is water. There is something special about being around or in water. Lakes, streams, rivers, and fountains are all good back grounds and muffle oft distracting conversations or traffic noise. Plus the hikes that get me to some of those places are also inspiring. When unable to get to the water’s edge, I have often emptied the hot water tank while working out a story line in the shower. Hot tubs or just a long soak in my extra deep tub or swimming laps also provide a great environment to access my imagination, though I do have to remember to breath while doing laps. I have coughed up a lot of water on occasion when I concentrated, perhaps too much, on a particular idea. Old records indicate that Plato and Benjamin Franklin both used baths as a method of inspiration. I am honored to be in such good company.
Another great way to re-energize is to go for a drive. Whether by myself or with my husband, driving has actually been a source of great ideas through either discussion of plot ideas or discussing why I am stuck on something. When I’m alone I even talk to myself. I carry a small digital recorder and can use it to get ideas down without trying to write and drive at the same time (that’s a dangerous trick you should NOT try). When I return home or stop I transcribe the recording word for word. Oh, that in its self is interesting as speech patterns and what we hear can often be very different from what we said or thought we said – thus leading to more ideas. While driving, the changing scenery, consistent rumble of the engine or the sound of the tires on the road surface all free my mind to experiment with ideas.
On the rare occasion when I think I’m stuck, I make efforts to change my environment or process. A technique I recently found to help me get through a problem was to forget about using a keyboard and return to paper and pen. The physical action of shaping and almost drawing the words was liberating and I wrote for hours. New studies are finding that hand writing leads to better retention of information as well. Even writing with crayons does something different to thought patterns – you see and feel the words differently. Try changing colors with each paragraph.
In my experience, not being able to put words on the screen or on paper is a sign that the idea I was working on or toward was not the best or perhaps there was not enough of a plot to continue. It is a sign to change something whether it be the location where you are writing, the method you are using (keyboard, paper & pen, verbal recording), needing to change how you see what you are writing (a white board covered with a color coded P.O.V. outline, see the example on the right of the P.O.V. outline from my upcoming book, The Balance: The Stone’s Blade, #2) or you need to get the blood flowing through a physical activity such as dance or walk/run or lift weights, cook, etc. If you let your body stagnate your imagination may stagnate as well and your writing will be stale and unappealing.
And don’t waste time lamenting that you are blocked. Worrying about it won’t get you through it and, always, the worry gets in the way. If you worry about it, it gets to be a larger problem – a self fulfilling prophecy. You can reduce the size and length of time you are stuck by doing something different as soon as you realize you are bogged down. Don’t just sit there – DO something. I will read aloud, often using different voices or accents. This allows me to hear the words I’ve written. I catch grammar errors and find myself adding or subtracting words to create a better flow. Another technique to spur the creative juices is to grab a book off the shelf and open it up to a random page and either read aloud or copy pages into a notebook (it’s that physical writing thing again). Try that with the dictionary – it’s kind of fun. When you start having fun again the block will disappear and you might come up with a great new idea based on a word, concept or definition.
How do you avoid writer’s block? If you experience writer’s block, how do you plan to overcome it?