Writer’s Block


 

We all have our ways of dealing with it, conquering it. A memory or anecdote from my past will often pop, unbidden, into my head begging to be embellished and written down. When this happens – problem solved. But, I don’t believe that there is truly any such thing as an unbidden memory.  Something triggered it.  So I search to find ways that will activate that trigger when I’m stuck.

Some writers make lists of nouns or questions. This doesn’t really work for me.  My lists tend to devolve – to melt into something ludicrous. My list of nouns will suddenly all rhyme. When this happens I force myself to break the pattern.

Codger
Lodger
Orange

Perhaps, all the words will begin with the letter ‘T’ or maybe they will describe only various means of conveyance. Or both:

Train
Tractor
Tugboat

I won’t go on, you get the idea.

Some writers drink to get those creative juices flowing. I’ve woken up more than once with my laptop’s low battery alarm beeping in my ear and keyboard imprints on my forehead. The screen filled with line after line of bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb. Yeah, not pretty.

Just as every artist shies away from a blank canvas, I think every writer has stared at a blank sheet of paper, or a white screen. Stared for hours, so we all know how well that works. When confronted with a blank canvas I could always put a daub of paint on it.  The same is true with an empty sheet of paper or a white screen.  Put something on it.  The empty, can no longer taunt you if it is no longer empty.  Put a mark down and now you control that support surface – it does not control you.

Writing prompts work best for me.  I make a lot of my own up. I keep a note pad to scribble them down. I participate in the Speakeasy challenges, and recommend them to anyone even remotely interested in trying their hand at fiction. They have wonderful prompts there. I also enjoy trying to answer the ultimate question.

I have recently discovered a new method, a new means of inspiration. I like bus or train stations. Lunch counters work well too. Anyplace that is crowded, where cacophonous conversations echo when I enter. A short stroll will yield numerous snippets of nearby discussions. Sometimes I will pause to listen a bit longer, and can flesh out an idea that I didn’t even know I had.

I like to listen to how people say things almost as much as I like to listen to what they say – word choices, sentence structure, colloquial expressions, accents and local pronunciations, I want to understand these and know what people would say and how they would say it.  I try to sprinkle these things sparingly into my stories to draw the reader in. Sometimes a simple turn of phrase or an overheard intonation can trigger a flood of stories that I have to write down, right now. The people I know well, family, coworkers, friends are rich with inspiration.

Lunch counters are good. They tend to be small, intimate yet impersonal, places where you cannot help but eavesdrop and it’s almost expected that you do.  A place with a diverse clientele is the best place to mix it up and catch variety. This works especially well when you are traveling, not close to home where everyone sounds like you.

Take your notepad with you. Write down what you hear. Your fellow citizens can be a wealth of inspiration.


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25 thoughts on “Writer’s Block

    • I don’t seem to be able to get away from them. But honestly I love watching and listening to others and sometimes even to myself.

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  1. So true! I have had great success when I go to sit in my local coffee shop but it’s getting me out the door in the first place that’s hard. Thanks for the reminder that it’s better to go out into the world than sit alone and blocked in my kitchen.

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    • With a vivid imagination even a kitchen can be an inspiration but sometimes you gotta light that fire, get things flowing. You don’t want your ink to dry up, after all.

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  2. I always have what I think are great ideas when I’m driving, but that’s not the best time to write them down. The big highway signs should say ‘don’t text OR write while driving.’
    Those overheard conversations are always great, especially the half-a-sentence kind. It’s fun to think of what spurned the topic. Good idea to use them as prompts.

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    • A good prompt should inspire a story. If you are already wondering about the snippet you heard then you are already inspired. Pull out your notebook.

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  3. This is a clever idea! I feel blocked right now. I haven’t really blogged since the spring. I got busy and now I’m having trouble starting again, although I did manage a gargleblaster this week.

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    • Quick – run out for a bowl of chili and a cup a Joe. Keep yer ears on though. Your gargleblaster was great, by the way. Exoskeleton is a good word.

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  4. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one with notebooks full of comments overheard from strangers. Sometimes I do wonder about how much we give and take in public, and where the line of privacy lies. I have no patience for the act of taking pictures of strangers (often followed by some online mocking or snarky comments), but I’ve had to question my own practices – how is this so different from taking their words? I know that my intent is not to denigrate them, but to illuminate some aspect of humanity. Building a story from a snippet is a different act, but I can’t deny how close it is to other public acts of borrowing.

    Many great tips and tricks here as well, thank you!

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    • Gosh, Thanks for commenting. Your piece is great this week. I don’t have any second thoughts about using things that I hear as inspiration for my stories. Chances are that what winds up written down will be nowhere near what the original conversation was about. It simply triggers my imagination. I think that people who read the stuff I write quickly realize that, with the exception of this piece, it is all a product of my overactive imagination. I struggle with word counts because most of the time I could just keep going.

      Again, thanks for the read and thanks for the comment. All good stuff!

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