Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Conquering Writer's Block

by Julie Coulter Bellon

A good friend of mine who is also an editor and a writer (waves to Meredith) posed a question on a public message board asking people how they got through writer’s block. Since I suffer from writer's block occasionally I found the answers really interesting and helpful, so I thought I’d pass some of the best ones along.

How Do You Conquer Writer’s Block?

1. Showers-- I have broken through to the heart of [writer's block] so many times in the shower that I probably have hundreds of drafts scrawled on soggy paper. The repetitive motion, the monotony is intensely comfortable and breeds new ideas. Thank goodness showers are relatively easy to come by in our time and place. I couldn't care less about getting clean--I just need the first line. I get a lot of my best thinking done in the shower, and I can talk out loud and no one hears me over the water!

2. Walking and driving are like showering but with visual aids. Again the repetitive motion, the body on automatic, frees up my mind, and then there's all this bonus material--trees, garbage cans, ladies yelling at their dogs, dogs yelling at their people. Good stuff. A friend once got me a tape recorder for those driving moments, but I still cheat and write on index cards at stoplights.

3. If I have the time, I sit and read poems by someone I admire, or someone I've never heard of, or I crack open the Bible and look for something surprising. Those amazing images, that rhythm--who isn't inspired by God as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? Really, even a total atheist has to admit that's a pretty cool image! I'd follow that through the desert just out of curiosity if for no other reason.

4. The best thing for writer's block for me is five or six hours just to myself. As a mom, this almost never happens. But when it does, you can bet I can write.

5. Music I must have the right music. Nearly everything I've ever written has a song lyric/title/album name for a title, and the theme derives from the theme of the title. Not necessarily the song, but always the title. The right music puts me in the right place to write, and often the right lyrics help me figure out the tone and flow.

6. The gym is the best place for working out kinks. I go over the structure, the pace, the tone, even bits of dialogue in my head, and it makes the workout go by faster and helps me hammer out potential trouble spots. All the free flowing, stream-of-consciousness thinking really helps me streamline the story.

7. I watch a movie or TV show to get in the mood. Something old that I haven't seen in ages, usually something saved in my DVR, because even if it has nothing to do with what I'm writing, I saved it for a reason because it made me think or touched me in some way, and it opens the right emotional channels to get into my zone.

8. Read old stories I’ve written -- when I see how far I've come, and how well I think I addressed certain points, it makes me want to create something so wonderful all over again.

9. Take a ride on the BART/Train/Subway--just to get away from my settings. Looking out the window as you ride by the neighborhoods, looking into windows, building, backyards really gave me a surge of creative energy. I would think about what was going on in their house, why they had so much stuff in their yards, what the kids on the corner were talking about. The best part about the ride was listening to other peoples conversations. People who are complete strangers have the most interesting lives.

10. Sudokus or Cryptoquotes clear my head. If that doesn’t work I do some freewriting and force myself to write about about something other than the topic causing my brain cramp. When I'm truly blocked, I'll work backwards. Write the ending, and work backwards from there.

*Sends good thoughts to the writer’s muse for all my writer friends*

May you never be blocked, but if you are, may these ideas stick to you like flock on a Christmas tree.

Happy Writing!


At 5/10/2007 4:44 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Almost anything that redirects your thoughts for a time works. The almost daily slump can be broken by reading a blog or two or exchanging e-mails with a friend. The creative muse needs a break sometimes too. Sometimes it's a need to change the kind of writing a person is doing. Gardening or sleep work for me for the usual short term block, but a really big severe block may require time. I went back to college for another degree to shake the biggest writer's block of my life. It worked, but it wasn't fast.

At 5/10/2007 11:38 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency... ;)

At 5/11/2007 2:40 AM, Anonymous Alison Moore Smith said...


At 5/11/2007 10:51 AM, Blogger Josi said...

Running--which for the record I hate to do, but do anyway.

I used to listen to podcasts and music when I ran in the mornings and I loved that I had something to take my mind off how much I hated running. Then I lost my MP3 an so I stopped running until a few weeks ago when the nice weather drew me out. I found that without the noise in my ears the walls I was up against in my story came down. It was an amazing discovery to me and now I'm scared to buy a new MP3 player. I keep thinking it's a fluke and that one day I'll have a jog without inspiration, but so far it's worked every day that I've run--sometimes it's a small thing, sometimes it's a huge plot point, but it's always something.

Great blog, Julie. I love hearing other people's methods.

At 5/11/2007 11:18 AM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Running worked for me too, Josi, until I injured my knees. It's very frustrating not to be able to run anymore. It was great for breaking writer's block, just thinking through a plot or problem, losing weight, clearing my head, getting rid of migraines,and just plain feeling ready to take on challenges. Keep running as long as you can, and sometime, when we see each other in person, remind me to tell you a remarkable experience that ended my original dislike of running.

At 5/11/2007 12:37 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Great ideas, Julie -- and everyone! Goodness knows I need them.

Having been blocked for about a year now, I'm first going to eat a pound of chocolate then hop a train. When I arrive at my destination (a strip mall that features a gym, music store, bookshop and movie theater) I'm going to take up running and gardening while I go back to school for a doctorate.

Sure I am. But thanks for the ideas. I plan to try all of them. Something is bound to work someday, right?

At 5/15/2007 1:06 PM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

I take one day a month to myself and go to the dollar movies. I stay there all day (literally!) and let all that creative energy oour into me, then go home filled and ready to write again. It's amazing, relaxing and very, very fun!


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