You want to say something. There’s a fistful of glimmer sitting in your belly just dying to get out. You sit down to write and all that comes out is a spattering of words. You try again and they just plop out of you like half formed spitballs. Splat! Splot! It’s a mess.
There’s something that you need to say and you just don’t know how to say it. You try but all kinds of goo comes out. You don’t know what to do with all the writing goo. It sticks to everything. No matter what you do, it sounds sappy and nothing makes sense. GOOOO!
Well, I can help. Here are three tools I’ve used in the past to turn my pen into lightening that killed my writer’s block. (Or at least kept it at arms distance for a while.)
Give yourself a set amount of time (10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, whatever). Then commit to write for that entire period of time. In Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, she outlines the rules of timed writing:
- Keep your hand moving.
- Don’t cross out.
- Don’t worry about spelling.
- Lose control.
- Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
- Go for the jugular.
According to Goldberg, these rules are super-duper important. When we stick to them, we can uncover our “first thoughts,” the gold we often censor and edit until it’s plain and dull. Some of the best work I’ve written was born during a timed writing exercise. It’s when my writing is the most raw, the most real. In timed writing, I often find my flow – that meditative space where your words fall into a natural rhythm and you feel like you’re recording universal truth. Goldberg says when you do timed writing,
You actually become larger than yourself, and first thoughts are present. They are not a cover-up of what is actually happening or being felt. The present is imbued with tremendous energy. It is what is.
I highly recommend her book. It is valuable resource for any writer starting out, finding their way back, or who simply needs a fresh perspective on writing. I return to it again and again when I need a jumpstart.
Those who knows me, knows that I’m a huge Julia Cameron fan. Her workbook, The Artist’s Way, has helped me tap into the good stuff on many occasions. I heart her process so much that I’ve led multiple Artist Circles, guiding others on their journey back to creativity.
One of the precepts of artistic recovery is morning pages. You write morning pages everyday as soon as you wake up. You must keep your hand moving. And you must write three pages. It feels a little like timed writing except you’re doing it in the morning when you still have one foot planted in your subconscious. Morning pages are where you can complain, protest, dream, or plan. You just write and write, blah, blah, blah, until you get past all the poop. And it’s right about the third page when the good stuff starts to pour onto the page.
Cameron explains it like this,
Morning pages do get us to the other side: the other side of our fear, of our negativity, of our moods. Above all, they get us beyond our Censor. Beyond the reach of the Censor’s babbles we find our own quiet center, the place where we hear the still, small voice that is at once our creator’s and our own.
Many times I’ve gone past the three page requirement after realizing that I was on to something good. Characters, plot lines, and scenarios have emerged out of morning pages. As an added bonus, they also help you problem solve, find the words you need to say to your boss (mother, boyfriend, best friend), or plan your next big life move.
Write or Die
This one is kinda fun. This website has turned timed writing into a kind of internet game that actually works. I found this little gem years ago, while working on my MFA in creative writing. When I was toeing the edge of a deadline and felt truly stripped of any creative inspiration, I just moseyed on over to writeordie.com, adjusted the settings to my liking, and went at it.
You decide how long you will write, set a word count goal, and a few other options. Once you start writing, the site punishes you when you stop by turning bright red, and playing horrible, horrible songs. It’s like aversion therapy. In order to make all the horrible stop, you have to keep writing. Genius.
It takes an incredible amount of discipline to follow that glimmer of a story. It can feel like driving a stick shift for the first time: you start and stop too quickly and the clutch chokes when you thought you were being as smooth as you could. You’re so freaking exhausted by writing just two sentences. You think you’ll never be able to write that novel, that memoir, that article if you can only get out two measly, little sentences at a time. Might as well just give up. What’s the point?
I know. Truly, I do.
But here’s the thing, something happens when you make yourself write – your brain thinks, You’re doing it, Peter. And suddenly you’re screaming Bangerang and little by little that wad of goo starts to coalesce and you’ve got something. It’s a whole feast-full of shiny, sparkly awesome. You just gotta start.
The great thing about having a bag of tools is that when one doesn’t work, you just throw it back in the bag and pull out another. When you’re stuck, like really poop-on-a-stick stuck, try one of these tools. And if it doesn’t work, try another. And whatever you do, just keep writing through the goo. Because I can’t wait to read what you write when you get to the others side.
Have another great tool for getting through writer’s block? Please share in the comments below. There’s a writer out there somewhere who could really use your guidance.
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