Friday, September 21, 2007

Writer's Block

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Don't you hate it when a creative project slams to a halt? Like being stuck in the mud, wheels spin but no progress is made. Arrrrggghhh. I hate it when that happens.

It is even harder when it is the ds who is going splat on the wall.

For two weeks, he has been working on a short paper about music in Elizabethian theater. After turning in a rough draft last week, he has agonized over revising the final draft. Mostly his agony has been full of smoke and dust, lots of dramatic hand tossing and angst, but little actual progress. The mud puddle he is stuck in at the moment? The introduction.

I recommend to all my students that the introduction be roughed out in the beginning, but actually written last. Which is opposite of how I write magazine articles, but work with me here.

With experience, often the 'hook' comes first, setting the tone and direction for the rest of the piece. But for a teen or a new writer, getting the facts is the easy part, despite what they say. Being creative takes more effort. That's what an introduction is, after all, creating an interesting tidbit that draws the reader in. Kind of like tossing bait and a hook into lake water. The bait draws the interest of the fish, the hook compels them the rest of the way. Hopefully, during the process of searching out facts, the writer finds a tasty morsel so enticing or exciting it can be used to draw the reader's attention.

Being stuck is no fun.

Here's a few suggestions for getting out of the mud on a creative project.

1. Take a walk. Get some freshly oxygenated blood into your brain cells. Stephen King often goes for long rambles before sitting down to write. At the very least, you get some fresh air and exercise. Sunshine is a definite mood enhancer.

2. Brainstorm the craziest ideas you can think of. The impossible and improbable ones. Don't hold back. None of these are going to work anyway (so you tell yourself) and you just need to move them out of the way. Write them on the biggest sheet of white board you can find. (We use shower board from Home Depot.) I also call this housecleaning my mind. There are times when I sit down to write or plan a project that other scattered ideas keep popping up. Gotta deal with them. Dump the thoughts into a list of things to be done. Once while writing a script for another church, some off-the-wall ideas kept getting in the way. Finally, I opened a new document and wrote the silly stuff until I went dry. Satisfied, I went back to the original script and finished in no time at all.

3. Do something else. Go shopping (a very right brain and creative activity.) You do NOT have to purchase anything. Just fill yourself with a new sensory experiences. Pull weeds. Clean out a drawer or a closet. Groom the dog. Play the piano. Walk off and the leave the writing for five minutes or an entire day, depending on deadlines.

4. Call a creative buddy and outline your dilemma. Sometimes they can offer a different point of view. If nothing else you know you've kept them from accomplishing anything, too. Kinda evens things out, don't you think?

5. Work on a new project. I like to keep several writing projects going at once. If you run out of gas on one, you can shift to another. That's something that would have benefitted ds this week. Because he was stuck on one writing assignment, he didn't pick up the other which was in the research phase. The shift can give you a mental break. Even if you aren't activitily working on a problem, your brain continues to mull and process.

6. Choose a new medium. If you are a writer, pick up a paint brush. If you are an artist, write some poetry. If you quilt, plant a pot with flowers. Cook something new. Plan an event for your church. Sing out loud. Take a photograph. The mental refreshment and satisfaction can help you get traction on your original project.

7. Do it anyway. Sit down and start working. Even if what you write (or paint or compose) is simply the words I don't know what to write over and over and over. That magnificent brain of yours will finally get fed up with the boredom and kick in. Professionals (and students) with deadlines slog through, building their stamina as they go.

Mud puddles don't last forever. Neither does writer's block. Bust through the walls and create.

5 Other Creative Souls are Saying:

Becky said...

Thanks for the suggestions on getting past the mud puddles! You inspired me to go spend some time with the horses this morning--something I rarely do as it is T's thing. But it always nourishes the “creative soul” to visit with them. I love your idea of exploring news way to express creativity. It may sound crazy, but since I have no artistic talent outside of writing, I keep a coloring book and a box of crayolas handy for just that purpose. Ideas I have for “jumping mud puddles” … (1) I keep a list of “favorite words” and “favorite quotes.” I keep a notebook handy whenever I am reading anything—novel, magazine, newspaper--and write down favorite words and quotes, later transcribing them to an ongoing Word document list. In fact, I just added one of your words, “puddle,” to my list. Looking over the list serves as a jump-start. (2) Reading a good book always works. (3) Visiting a bookstore feeds the spirit. (4) Reading great blogs, such as yours, inspires!

Marcelyn said...

I should have Hannah read this. She is STRUGGLING major time with a paper due next Tuesday in her Lit class. She has to write it on Oedipus. I think she has the paper figured out but she has to have three sources and the sources are killing her. She basically wrote the paper and is now looking for sources she can insert little tidbits from into her paper. A backwards way to do it, but she couldn't find the sources she wanted. Ah... the life of a college student. She really should have taken a creative writing class, she has poetry oozing out of her lately.

How's it going in your part of TX? We are still warm here. But then when aren't we warm..... Going to the last Astros game next week. Didn't get to see my Cubbies once this year. Quite depressing.

Deb said...

Oh, Becky, I'm loving that you spent time with your horses this morning. Sigh. I miss the smells of a barn, the warmth of satiny fur, and the lazy swish of a tail.

A friend used to say that leaving the house smelling like a girl and returning smelling like a horse meant you'd spent the day in heaven.

Deb said...

Marcelyn, tell Miss H that is a backwards way to write a paper. Been there, done that myself, though. LOL

Hey aren't the Cubbies still in contention? The Rangers have been playing spring training ball since....well, honestly, since April. Bummer of a season.

Martha Wells said...

I think this is why I was moved to join TWW. What a motivator! I have a desire to write and sing .. have done nothing with this desire because of all the negatives you mentioned at this site.

I feel very blessed by reading your expressions of the fullness of life. Hat's off to ya' lady.

Another Looper, Martha Wells