Horror in fifty words or less? Reddit posted terrifying two-liners. Twitter thrashed that with frights in five words. Writers slay the challenge with a paralyzing pair of words – Blank Page.
Where many fear darkness, writers fear the blinding brightness of the blank page, a spotlight on our failure to write. Not surprisingly, one of the most common questions I’m asked is about writer’s block. Although usually queried in a mere whisper, it grabs everyone’s attention. Do you ever get….stuck?
Yes, yes I do. It happens to the best of us, whether writing for pleasure or under a tight deadline. I’m always amused by article headlines that assert writer’s block doesn’t exist, that it’s in your head. Well, they’re half-right. When words don’t appear on your page, it isn’t because your hands stopped functioning or that your keyboard/pen suddenly feel mutinous. So, of course it’s in your head…but how do you clear this mental block?
I find success with a mixture of rituals, sensory stimulation, and occasional (okay, frequent) indulgences. These are key steps to conditioning you to write. Just like warming up for a sport, you need to warm up for wordsmithery.
- Find your ideal writing spot. It should be free of distractions, convenient and comfortable. Try to always write in this spot.
- Determine your peak period of creativity. I’m a late-night writer, being most productive after midnight. Others are bursting with creativity at sunrise.
- Make a regular writing date with yourself at your preferred spot, during your creative peak. Start with a minimum of fifteen minutes three times per week, and ramp up from there. Be committed!
Writing at a consistent time and place becomes more than a ritual, it becomes habit. As you sit in your special spot, your brain will become conditioned to start writing there immediately.
Stimulating senses also helps trigger the writing process in your brain.
- Set aside special foods and beverages for your writing times. I have a stash of Fortnum and Mason Jubilee tea for this purpose. For a special indulgence, I drink Mumm Napa Cuvee M (instead of my usual $5 bottle of bubbly). Chocolate is said to stimulate cognitive function and release endorphins, so it’s a de facto writing necessity. I’m a chocoholic, so I reserve the good stuff (like Charbonnel et Walker) for writing.
- Choose scented oils or candles specifically for writing inspiration: citrus, peppermint or pine for energy; vanilla or lemongrass for tranquility; eucalyptus for clarity.
- Listen to music. Light and soaring notes will inspire like writing. Heavy percussion can drive feelings of anger or fear. Experiment with pop, country or jazz albums and observe the differing effects on your tone and pace.
Writing prompts are useful tools in fighting writer’s block, coaching you to get words on the odious blank page. The physical action of writing is often enough to push you past your blockage and roll the momentum into your actual work. Many writing sites offer daily prompts to be sent via text or e-mail. These varying challenges are excellent warm-ups to flex your creative muscles and may even lead to a prize-winning story. If you’re stuck under a particularly obstinate block, use classic prompts like: “Right here, right now, I am…” (note the homophone as a subliminal suggestion to write); or “Today, I hope to…”. Using the same sentence starter every time promotes conditioning and is designed for effortless completion.
For a fun and effective writing stimulus, try immersing your senses in themed materials. When I wrote “Punk Charming”, I relived the 80s to accurately portray the setting for my readers. I binge-watched 80s movies and listened to 80s music (sadly, no longer on cassettes). I searched boxes for treasured fashion staples such as my Duran Duran ’87 tour t-shirt, plaid Doc Martens and black rubber bracelets. Thanks to the continued popularity of this awesome decade, I stocked up on 80s-themed candy…which allowed for an epic experiment – trying Pop Rocks with Champagne. This was my adult version of the classic dare of Pop Rocks with soda, which urban legend said killed Mikey of Life Cereal fame (not dead). Note: I don’t recommend this combo.
Maybe you’ll never face the dreaded writer’s block….but if you do, fear not! It’s just a temporary condition, which can be easily overcome with a bit of practice (and treats!). Good luck and good writing!
Originally appeared as a guest post by Laura Quinn on Hello…ChickLit.com