February 27, 2006
Liz published this at 10:52 am
Dave Barry and I agree.
I believe “writer’s block” is the normal state of writing; that is, you rarely have anything just flow easily from your brain to the keyboard. And if it does, it’s usually pretty bad. Good writing is almost always hard, and what I think sometimes happens is that writers forget how hard it is, or don’t want to do the work anymore, and they call this “writer’s block.” —Dave Barry, The Writer Magazine
When I researched that quote I was staying with a lifelong friend in a boy scout camp that my older brothers had gone to when we were kids. The camp had been turned into a bed and breakfast. Our room was cabin that had once been the poolhouse. I had an article to write before we could break out the wine. So I went through my warm-up to avoid what folks call “writer’s block.”
Accessing the Subconscious
To my friend, Nancy, I probably looked like I was in hyperfocus. Actually, I was. I was doing two kinds of things at once. I was preparing a space to work, and I was preparing my brain to write–accessing my subconscious to see what ideas I might have.
What the heck does that mean?
Ever notice that you get ideas when you’re driving . . . or in the shower . . . or doing something other than trying to have one?
I always start my writing with a warm-up that involves some physical activity like ordering my work area, getting my coffee, or taking a walk around the block. Doing that gives the subconscious the room to let those ideas bubble up.
At the cabin I needed a place to work efficiently, so I went through setting up what I think of as an “endangered writing space.” That’s one where writer’s block is not permitted by protected writers species laws.
Checklist for Endangered Writing Spaces
This is the
- Select the work area. I picked the table where I would write.
- Remove all things unnecessary. I got rid of all visual distractions and things that might get in the way.
- Check that all tools are there. I didn’t want to stop to find things.
- Place favorite healthful, thinking snacks near the computer. Hunger couldn’t tempt me to lose my train of thought.
- Test to see there are no discomforts to nag me. I tried a test run in the chair and got a pillow to make it higher.
- Lower the cloak of invisibility. I put my headphones on as a sign to myself, and to my friend, that I was no longer in the room. Those headphones meant I would have to physically detach to do something else. I also listen to music when I write..
When my space was ready. So was I.
Fanning the Flame
I didn’t have a whole idea, but I did have a spark. Here’s what I did to fan that spark into a flame. This part went bing, bing, bing, quickly.
- I did a
brain dump, writing phrases and words on paper before I started.
- I picked
one big ideafrom the brain dump and narrowed it to the size of an article.
- I visualized article and decided what my main point would be.
- I started in the middle, writing that main point as best I could without stopping.
- When cool ideas popped up, I typed them as phrases at the bottom of the page and kept going.
- When I got stuck, I looked at those phrases for motivation.
- If the phrases didn’t unstick me, I got up, walked outside, looked at the sky for the words I needed, came back in and wrote them down. No other words–talking, reading, listening–interrupted my “break for thinking.” The point was to do something visual, to let the verbal loosen up.
- I wrote the snazzy ending and the grabber beginning last.
That’s what I did that night in the cabin to earn several glasses of my favorite white wine from Italy, Ronco Cucco. Boy, I do like that stuff.
Why Dave and Liz Don’t Get Writer’s Block
We just don’t call it “writer’s block.” We call it writing. Staying stuck is not allowed. So like an actor or a musician who once had stage fright, we do
The good news is writing warm-ups work like scales for a musician or stretching for an athlete. They keep you at your best game. If you stick to it, warm-ups for writing actually make the writing get easier. Just like an athlete–a skater–you break through that wall and start skating with more speed and grace.
Imagine yourself writing when you no longer worry about writer’s block.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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