There are few things more frustrating than a blinking cursor.
That thin black blinking line, mocking you every time it appears… then vanishes… then appears… then vanishes… and the longer you stare at it, willing the words to flow onto the screen, the further away they run.
Funny enough, as I sat to write this blog, the same thing happened. How do I start it? With a funny joke or an insightful question? I stared at that blinking line appearing… vanishing… appearing… NO!
Like many of you, I’ve read the tips. There is a veritable avalanche of information available, sharing ideas and lessons and sure-fire ways to break down the walls.
But those ideas don’t work for everyone. A lot of the traditional suggestions don’t work for me. I brainstorm, certainly, but to me, ye olde idea web is nothing but a disorganized mess. And few things scatter my concentration like disorganization. It works for gathering basic ideas, but as soon as real writing is involved, it hurts more than it helps. I also hate scene jumping. I prefer to write in chronological order, so the idea of moving to the next scene and coming back just doesn’t compute.
So I wanted to share some of the tips I use that DO work for me. Of course, they won’t work for everyone. But maybe they’ll offer a little more artillery in the battle.
Love your Workspace
By far, the easiest way to bust writer’s block is to avoid it in the first place. Have a workspace you love. Create a place you love to sit, with the right lighting and ambience, the right music, a comfortable chair and a good view. When your brain is in a place it associates with productivity, it tends to be more productive.
Tweak your Workspace
Sometimes this isn’t enough. You sit down to write with your candle and coffee, but you draw a frustrating blank. Try stimulating your other senses. Wear perfume that makes you think of your characters, listen to music that reminds you of your theme. Look at pictures of derelict buildings and forests (or derelict buildings in forests). Immerse yourself in your project and let it ease its way out.
Ok, you have your oak desk and wingback chair fit for a king. Your diffuser is spitting enough pine oil to make you choke. Still nothing. First thing, turn down your diffuser – that’s too much oil. Next thing, try pacing with an inspiration object in your hands while you think.
For each story I’ve written, certain objects stand out to me. Totems, so to speak. My sister gave me a pomegranate for my birthday, with some excellent scented candles. The candles alone were great, but the pomegranate still sits on my desk. I walk around the room bouncing it between my hands, inspecting its weight and the feel of its skin. Someone called it my pomegranate of inspiration. I laughed, but it stuck.
For the same reason, I have artwork above my writing desk that I stumbled across and fell in love with, because it’s exactly like a scene from my current WIP (Check out James R Eads. His stuff is beautiful. I’ve bought two of his prints already.)
Sometimes a physical reminder of your subject helps better than anything else.
I suppose this counts as an idea web, but it’s different enough to resonate with my obsessively organized brain. I always said I’d never pick up certain compulsive patterns, but there you go.
I usually work on a project with a clear idea of the end and the beginning. My writer’s block strikes when filling in the technical details. (step 1: collect the underpants. Step 2: *cricket.* Step 3: PROFIT! – ten points if you know that reference.)
When I encounter this type of block, the first thing I’ll write is a timeline. Open your trusty Excel spreadsheet and start at the beginning and the end. Add lines to fill in gaps from there. You might be surprised by how much you already know, and how much falls into place as you go.
Still, sometimes this isn’t enough. How the hell is the bad guy sneaking a bomb into the castle without being caught, cuz goddamit I need the castle to explode.
Here is where real frustration kicks in, making me mad enough that I inevitably slam my chair into my desk and…
Maybe this one is just me. But sometimes, bringing a little order into your outer world can help organize your inner one too. Personally, I do dishes and tidy up the clutter. Find something disorganized and organize it. Put away that stack of bills you keep meaning to properly file. Not only does this redirect your thoughts, letting you come back with a fresh perspective, but it leaves you with a clean house. Win-win!
Take a Shower
After all that cleaning, you’ve probably worked up a sweat. Not ready to go back to the computer and pour forth ideas? Hop in the shower.
Not gonna lie, I’ve had at least half of my aha moments in the shower. Something about the sound of the water, I think. It blocks other sounds out, letting me focus on my thoughts without distraction (even when I’m trying not to think about them).
Also, it feels nice.
If you haven’t tried meditation, as part of your personal wellness routine if nothing else, I urge you to try. But that’s a later post.
There are many types of meditation, but most of them involve some type of focus. Either focus on nothing or focus on something. That’s also what makes mediation so hard. You’re trying to focus on the sensations in your right elbow, but you keep catching yourself wondering if you over-watered your aloe.
Annoying as those thoughts are when you’re trying to hone your mental control, they’re incredibly useful for learning what your brain actually wants to think about, including answers to the points you’re stuck on. Observe the thoughts that come, but don’t direct them. Notice what you’re thinking about and then guide your thoughts back to center. You’d be surprised how often you knew your solution all along.
Let it go
And I don’t mean the damn cold.
I tend toward Buddhist practices in my life. One of the teachings I follow is impermanence. Whatever you’re feeling now will pass. I trust this. I’ve seen it in every aspect of my thoughts and my emotions and my surrounding world.
There is no writer’s block that you won’t break. None. Never. Trying to fight it and force the words out when they aren’t ready to comes does nothing but frustrate you and push them farther away.
Sometimes, you just need to accept that you aren’t ready to write that scene. Walk away, let it go. Don’t be angry at yourself for it. It’ll come when it comes and not before. Maybe your muse is telling you to hang out with a living person rather than your computer for a night. Take up her invitation.
I’ve learned to trust the creative process. There have been times when I’ve been nearly in tears, trying to force my mind around a curve it just won’t bend, only to have an epiphany turn me in a completely different direction. Every time I’ve been stuck, I managed to break through in the end. Every. Single. Time. It’ll come, so let it.
I hope these ideas offer a different perspective to get through the worst of your creative frustration. Either way though, if you follow my elegant (if I do say so myself) set of instructions, you’ll end up with a clean, lovely smelling house and a fogged-up bathroom mirror.
What’s there to lose?