Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hack your way out of writer's block

Monkey.jpgHack Your Way Out of Writer's Block

by Merlin Mann
I recently had occasion to do some…errr…research on writer’s block. Yeah, research. That’s what I was doing. Like a scientist.

I found lots of great ideas to get unstuck and wrote the best ones on index cards to create an Oblique Strategies-like deck. Swipe, share, and add you own in comments.
  • Talk to a monkey - Explain what you’re really trying to say to a stuffed animal or cardboard cutout.

    [Joyce: This is a variation of the classic "What Am I Really Trying To Say?" Sometimes we get so lost in the details of the trees that we can't see the forest we're trying to write about. You can also try explaining your story to a friend in an email. (You don't need to send it.)]

  • Do something important that’s very easy - Is there a small part of your project you could finish quickly that would move things forward?

    [Joyce: In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamont suggests looking at a project one piece at a time. "Bird by bird" as her father suggested to her brother when he had to write a report about birds. A novel can be intimidating but you've "assigned" yourself just to write a description of the main character, that seems more doable.]

  • Try freewriting - Sit down and write anything for an arbitrary period of time—say, 10 minutes to start. Don’t stop, no matter what. Cover the monitor with a manila folder if you have to. Keep writing, even if you know what you’re typing is gibberish, full of misspellings, and grammatically psychopathic. Get your hand moving and your brain will think it’s writing. Which it is. See?

  • Take a walk - Get out of your writing brain for 10 minutes. Think about bunnies. Breathe.

  • Take a shower; change clothes - Give yourself a truly clean start.

  • Write from a persona - Lend your voice to a writing personality who isn’t you. Doesn’t have to be a pirate or anything—just try seeing your topic from someone else’s perspective, style, and interest.

  • Get away from the computer; Write someplace new - If you’ve been staring at the screen and nothing is happening, walk away. Shut down the computer. Take one pen and one notebook, and go somewhere new.

  • Quit beating yourself up - You can’t create when you feel ass-whipped. Stop visualizing catastrophes, and focus on positive outcomes.

  • Stretch - Maybe try vacuuming your lungs too.

  • Add one ritual behavior - Get a glass of water exactly every 20 minutes. Do pushups. Eat a Tootsie Roll every paragraph. Add physical structure.

  • Listen to new music - Try something instrumental and rhythmic that you’ve never heard before. Put it on repeat, then stop fiddling with iTunes until your draft is done.

  • Write crap - Accept that your first draft will suck, and just go with it. Finish something.

    [Joyce: Pretty much the idea behind National Novel Writing Month. When the goal is to write 2000 words a day then what you write becomes less important than just getting words down on the page. And it's amazing the stuff that comes out when the inner editor is on vacation.]

  • Unplug the router - Metafilter and Boing Boing aren’t helping you right now. Turn off the Interweb and close every application you don’t need. Consider creating a new user account on your computer with none of your familiar apps or configurations.

  • Write the middle - Stop whining over a perfect lead, and write the next part or the part after that. Write your favorite part. Write the cover letter or email you’ll send when it’s done.

    [Joyce: Another idea is to write something outside of the story: background of a character, a letter from one character to another.]

  • Do one chore - Sweep the floor or take out the recycling. Try something lightly physical to remind you that you know how to do things.

  • Make a pointless rule - You can’t end sentences with words that begin with a vowel. Or you can’t have more than one word over eight letters in any paragraph. Limits create focus and change your perspective.

  • Work on the title - Quickly make up five distinctly different titles. Meditate on them. What bugs you about the one you like least?

  • Write five words - Literally. Put five completley random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page.
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