All have experienced that dreaded dead in the productive waters whether composing a thank you note or a year-end corporate review. Shucks, half of Keswick has authored at least one book, so I imagine you are aware of the feeling. Writers’ block creeps in when least expected like a nighttime burglar. A blank sheet of paper though terrifying is nothing compared to when the muses move out of town for the season. It would not make a wit of difference if I had just finished writing 32,765 words when the stream ceases, advancing to the 32,775th word might as well be the millionth.
One of the earmarks of this non-flow state is that not being able to focus on a topic long enough to garner a little enthusiasm about it. Excitement is the single most important factor in driving creativity. If there is no passion, count on no flow. The ethereal aspect of creatively stringing words together is maddening when the direction is elusive.
To begin with corralling words into stories is such a delicate balance of intangibles. Sure some rules are required, but the juice is what makes the magic. If I’m not diligent at killing off my babies, I might have fifteen or twenty pages of two paragraphs lying around my desktop. My erroneous thinking is that I can still cobble them together and make something coherent. Don’t let the ghosts of aborted brainchildren litter your mind. Ball those near misses up and throw them away. They are distractions.
Sometimes when the imagination engine needs a kick-started, I type for ten minutes or so. I press keys down in no particular order. After awhile, the logical mind either gets bored or decides to turn its attention elsewhere allowing the more creative part of my brain to jump in images begin to appear, a story emerges. This practice works miracles. I am sure there is a very simple explanation for how it is so effective, but you won’t find it here. That’s fodder for another piece.
I use a Pomodoro clock. (An Italian discovered that cutting large projects into manageable sizes made them more achievable developed the Pomodoro Technique. He used a tomato-shaped timer so-called each segment of twenty-five minutes a Pomodoro- Italian for tomato.) Turn the alarm on and write until the beeper goes off. Write about anything but write. A remarkable thing occurs not too dissimilar to random typing. After a while, a story begins to take shape. Ideas drag along others of a similar nature. Before long you are typing something that interests you and with some luck your readers as well.
The trick is to keep at it for the entire twenty-five minutes. You can’t stop and think. You can’t go to the fridge. But you can scribble down a grocery or the words to Fere Jacques. Don’t edit or correct spelling. Don’t go back for any reason—this is a forward march sort of deal. After the chime has sounded you can clean up what you wrote, eliminate the chaff and delight with the start of a whole new endeavor.
Putting words on paper is the idea not to produce a finished product from the outset. All innovative efforts happen in stages if you try to rush one stage or skip a stage you might be creating more problems down the road. The easiest thing to do is meet the formations. When you are done, you are done. There’s little to fix or rewrite, and you won’t need to employ all my mind tricks to find your way around the recalcitrant muses.
Editing at the right time is a good way to keep your juices on the move. I edit when I lose my focus about a half to three-quarters of the way through. But before I do, I stop and walk around a bit. When I come back, I start from the top. The process of rewriting helps shake out some more thoughts. More times than not I will have achieved my goal amount and can afford to cut out any extraneous words, something I am loathed to do if the process is started too early in the project.
Discipline now there is a dirty word. I like to think that all my tricks help in that regard. And they do but only if I use them. Sometimes lack of zest or words is not the issue at all. What is afoot is laziness. I don’t feel like it. This is a good time to take a walk, a nap or a break. Start anew with a new improved dedication to disciplining yourself. Most times when I give myself permission to walk away, I bring new eyes to the project I sit with it.
If you’ve read any of my books, you are aware I am a proponent of controlling your mind by controlling your thoughts. Under no circumstances should you allow the indulgence of saying, I can’t do this. Your helpful mind will supply you with a thousand examples of how you won’t be able to accomplish your goal. This applies to everything in life not just writing.
Most of these tips apply to any problem caused by your creativity coming to a slow crawl or worse. They boil down to faking it until you make and disciplining yourself so that you can use the old bootstraps theory.
Writing, like most things imaginative, is a matter of believing you can do it and applying yourself to the task until it’s finished. Writer’s block is a mindset that only possesses as much power as you give it. My suggestion is not to give any power away. It makes life so much harder when you have to wrestle it back.