by Will Viharo
There’s nothing more daunting for any writer than a blank page with a blinking cursor. Your mind feels completely frozen, so no ideas can flow. How do you fill it with words worth reading?
The best way to break through that seemingly impenetrable barrier is to simply start writing. Anything.
I know. Because I just now did the same exact thing.
And it worked! But there's a bit more to it than that...
“Writer’s block” is the ancient phrase for that most frustrating of obstacles: the wall between your brain and your fingers. You can feel the words and thoughts and ideas swimming around inside your head like a school of scared fish. But collecting them into a coherent piece of literature is more akin to herding cats.
Everyone has his or her own methods for dealing with this very common issue, which is especially urgent if you’re trying to meet a deadline for a client. That cerebral dam preventing your creativity or analytical skills from expressing themselves can strike whether you’re attempting fiction of non-fiction.
Here are a few simple suggestions, based mainly on my own experience but also conversations with other authors:
Just Start Typing
Seriously. Disarm your invisible “opponent” immediately by taking away its most formidable weapon: nothing.
One of many advantages today’s writers have over their 20th century predecessors is the ability to instantly rearrange, erase, auto-edit and almost instantly “correct” their manuscript on a computer.
Unless you’re a hardcore purist still stuck in the romantic but technically challenged era of Dashiell Hammett, mimicking the iconic image of a chain-smoking, hard-drinking (or even toothpick-sucking, milk-swilling) writer pounding away relentlessly at his or her typewriter, you’re probably composing your work via digital software and modern equipment.
This allows you the freedom to literally spill your guts on that Word doc, without having to clean up a big mess. No matter what the subject matter is, you will feel far more confident and secure if you just begin filling that empty space with words. I don’t mean like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, maniacally repeating the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Something more constructive than that, and far less creepy, would suffice.
Whatever you start writing, or typing, should be somewhat related to your chosen topic, even if with one keystroke it all vanishes so you can start fresh with a renewed sense of purpose. At least then you’d know what not to write.
And if your skull feels as barren as your computer screen, this process may kick loose some buried treasure too, depending on how deep you’re willing to dig. Just never stop digging. Dig?
Let Your Fingers Do the Talking
In previous blogs I made some suggestions for keeping your story going by creating characters so vivid in your mind they can literally speak for themselves. And as I’ve said before, simply place them in situations that they need to figure out on their own.
If you’re writing a non-fiction piece that relies solely on facts, don’t play fast and loose with the details. But you could start by simply putting your own disorganized thoughts on paper, along with any vital statistics or information that must be included somewhere in the piece, and then moving it all around and connecting them like a jigsaw puzzle until it makes a complete picture of what you need to convey.
An outline or notes, no matter how sketchy or skeletal, can augment this improvisational technique with some basic guidelines that will help supply your seemingly random recklessness with some crucial structure down the road.
Basically, put your fingers to work first, and your brain will eventually catch up.
Pump Up the Volume
Instead of sitting and staring into space, put on some of your favorite music so your boring stasis at least has a cool soundtrack. Outside sources of stimulation can often give you just the boost of energy you need to at least exit the start gate and get out on the track. If nothing else, depending on your song selection, it might just put you in the right mood to at least start typing.
Reading similar published work can also provide inspiration, but be careful not to confuse that with influence. Plagiarism is nothing more than cheating, even if it’s subconscious.
But one thing to keep in mind when enviously perusing the fruits of fellow authors’ labor: no matter how successful they may be, they each began right where you did, with a blank page.
What are some of your tricks for jump-starting your own writing projects?
PHOTO: MARK ANDERSON