The cursor sits there and blinks. The blank notebook page waits right there in front of you, but nothing happens. You’re stuck.
Writer’s block is a commonly-acknowledged plague affecting those of us who venture into a career or hobby of written worlds. The writer sits there, frustrated and out of ideas, but nothing happens.
I have heard of it, but I haven’t had writer’s block since high school, during my earnest but stilted efforts at writing fiction. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I don’t struggle with writer’s block anymore until I read a statement by Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451:
“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.”
This statement made me realize a very probable reason that I don’t have writer’s block. Now, I’m not a geyser of ideas , and I do struggle in many other important areas: finding time to write, balancing research and writing time, keeping theme in my writing subtle but strong, and a host of other craft issues. However, the reason I believe I don’t find myself battling writer’s block is that I read constantly and I keep involved with other areas of life. I think these two things are a big part of how I prevent writer’s block. For instance, I preschool my niece and I am constantly delighted by what letters and words and names mean to her. It’s quite a different perspective. I watch movies and TV shows weekly- the TV show Parenthood has given me a great model for showing the honest lives of real people- it’s inspiring. I read fiction and nonfiction constantly and consistently… Right now I’m reading the first installment of Lord of the Rings (no, I haven’t read them before!) and Rasputin and the Jews. Rarely, in fact, am I not in the middle of at least one book if not two or three.
Not everything I do has to do with writing and reading. Quite a bit of my time is spent baking. Cakes, pies, tiramisu… the chance to do something physically creative gives my brain a rest while still giving me an outlet for creativity. A big part of my idea-generating comes from news, even sources that don’t necessarily agree with my political views: listening to NPR in the car, reading BBC articles, and watching FOX news when I get the chance makes an enormous impact on the material I have available to me. For example, several months ago I read a BBC article dealing with Somali pirates attacking a ship carrying chemicals. Because of that, a similar concept appears in my own novel, and the idea spread to include Somalia and Yemen and elements of Islamic mythology in my plot. I like this direction so much that book two will include a major scene in the caves of Oman.
Ultimately, being involved in the lives of other people is a huge benefit to my writing. Developing and maintaining friendships helps us get to know who people are, and writing is ultimately about people. My relationships with friends and family have been key in my inspiration for my writing, and as an additional bonus, knowing that helps me to not feel guilty about setting aside time for them when I struggle to keep up with my writing.
I like to think of the constant influx of ideas, techniques, and characters as mental traffic. If I want the rush hour brainstorm, I have to work for it. I have to create, think, have friends, and most importantly, listen to what’s around me and read everything I can.
For me, these things prevent writer’s block. Of course, I do struggle with what to do with my ideas. How do I make X idea happen realistically? What do I do with my Somalia pirating idea, now that I have thought of it? If I know it fits and I just have to figure out how, I sit down in my library and figure it out. I’ve got a marker board for freewriting. I take my coffee with me, turn my cell phone down, and turn on music…And then I figure it out.
Some ideas take more work than others, but the advice “just do it” rarely fails me. Andy Rooney puts it a slightly different way:
“My advice is not to wait to be struck by an idea. If you’re a writer, you sit down and damn well decide to have an idea. That’s the way to get an idea.”
What about you? Do you have a good way to prevent or solve writer’s block or a great technique for getting your ideas to work in your writing?