Pro Tips on Beating the Block

November 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

On Facebook, my friend Sarah shared Rookie Magazine‘s article “Getting Unstuck: Writers’ Thoughts on Writer’s Block,” and there is so much great advice in it, I had to share it here.

Because I’m a huge Browncoat and a fan of all things Joss Whedon, my favorite part is advice:

I wasn’t sure how to start this, so I did anyway. I’ve faced plenty of writer’s block in my time, though maybe less than some. I’ll lay out whatever rules for dealing with it that come to me. I think I’ve already laid out the first.

Control your environment. No one comes or goes. You’re alone, with enough time not only to write but to fall into the place of writing, which can take a while. No internet, no phone. Play music. It can amp the mood and separate you from the people on the other side of the door. (I listen to movie scores when I write. Nothing with lyrics—too distracting. Modern movie scores are very drone-y, in a good way for writers. Just sustained emotion. Hans ZimmerRachel PortmanCarter BurwellMychael Danna…there’s tons.) Make sure your desk faces the right way. (I have to face the room, not the wall.) Not too much clutter…it all matters.

Start writing. You can overthink anything. You can wind yourself up into a frenzy of inertia by letting a blank page stay blank. Write something on it. (Don’t draw something on it. The moment I doodle on a page I know nothing else will ever go on it. The blank page is scary, but it’s also sacred. Don’t mar it.) Anything can be rewritten—except nothing.

Be specific. You want to write something. Why? What exactly are you going for? Whether you’re at the beginning or the middle or the last damn sentence of something, you need to know exactly what you’re after. Verisimilitude? Laughter? Pain? Something that rhymes with orange? Whatever it is, be very cold about being able to break it down, so even if you walk away, you walk away with a goal.

Stop writing. Know when to walk away, when you’re grinding gears. This is tricky, because it’s easy to get lazy, but sometimes straining for inspiration when it’s not there is just going to tire you out and make the next session equally unproductive. I believe that Stephen King once likened it to kissing a corpse. But then, he would. Walk away, relax, and best of all…

Watch something. Watch, read, listen—it fills the creative tanks, reminds us why we wanted to write in the first place, and often, it’ll unlock the thing that’s missing. That doesn’t mean you’ll see something and subconsciously steal from it (though it doesn’t 100% NOT mean that), it just taps into the creative place a blocked writer can’t access. Very often I’ll see a movie that’ll completely inform what I’m writing, which will bear no resemblance of any kind to that movie. I’ll just know how I want to feel when I’m writing it. (Episode 10 of season three of Buffy: totes indebted to The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Have a deadline. I would probably never get anything written if it weren’t shooting next week. I’m a terrible procrastinator, which means the adrenaline of last-minute panic is my friend. (It’s all that kept me afloat in school, I’m sad to say. My attention has a disorderly deficit. There was no acronym for that when I was little.) But you can create deadlines of your own. Friends are good for this. Make yourself mutually accountable—you have to deliver such-and-many words by this-or-then time, as do they. You might not always (or ever) hold to these, but they can help you remember that your writing may matter to someone besides yourself.

Have rewards. I’m talking about cookies. Actually, I’m finishing with cookies. What matters more? Earn them, then enjoy them.

OK then. Good luck!

No, wait. Good writing! No—happy writing.

Ack. No! Um…and thus I have argued that the main causes of…blech.

This is Joss, signing…what? No.

Bon appetite! Rosebud! Nobody’s perfect! To infinity, and…I give up. I’m never gonna find the right ending.

I’m gettin’ a cookie.

And that’s just one of the ten writers in this fantastic collection of advice. Go read the rest and be inspired.

While I’m at it, I’ll share another thing that inspired me today. As you may recall, I’m a big fan of Paolo Bacigalupi. He’s one of a very few writers whose work I will read just because he wrote it. I’ve read everything he’s written (to my knowledge), and I’ve never been disappointed. He is, in short, in my personal pantheon of writing gods.

And then I spy his recent posts on Twitter:

@paolobacigalupi: Fucking short story. Fuck fuck fuck. #despair. Fuck.

@paolobacigalupi: It’s entirely possible to make your story worse. This, I know.

@paolobacigalupi: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

And then this happened:

Which just proves, once again, that the pros have the same problems the rest of us do. They’re mortal, and if they can do it, we can do it.

So let’s get to writing, then! Er … I mean … COOKIE!


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