When creativity fails #amwriting

Every writer has moments when creativity fails them. We sit before our computer and the words refuse to come, or when they do, they seem awkward. At times like this, we feel alone and isolated. After all, an idea is jammed in our head and words should fall from our fingers like water from the tap.

I have suffered this, the same as every author does. However, it never gets too firm a grip on me because I have several exercises that help me write my way through the block. Something we sometimes forget is that the act of writing every day builds mental muscle tone and keeps you fit and in the habit of writing.

Every author suffers a dry spell now and then. Even so, this job requires us to practice, just like music or dancing. Doing well at anything artistic or sports related requires discipline. Just like a retired football player, when we stop writing for any reason, we lose our momentum and our purpose.

We lose our passion.

If you are in the middle of a manuscript and you lose your ability to go forward, save the file and close it. Walk away from that manuscript for a while.

Before we go any further, you must delete nothing. You will come back to your manuscript later with a fresh viewpoint and will be able to use some or all of it, so file it properly.

Occasionally, we get distracted by a different project that wants to be written. When that is the case, I always suggest you go ahead and work on the project that is on your mind. Let that creative energy flow, and you will eventually be able to become reconnected with the first project.

But what about those times when you need to write, you have to write, but the words won’t come? Trust me, it isn’t the end of your career. This is true writers’ block.

First, we have the element of fear to overcome. You are suddenly afraid that you have written everything good that you will ever write, and anything you write now is garbage.

It isn’t the end of everything. You will prove to yourself that you can write. This is a small exercise, very short. It should take you perhaps ten or fifteen minutes each day. My solution for this problem is a combination of mind-wandering and a a few simple writing exercises.

I got the idea for this while in a seminar on the craft of writing essays offered by the bestselling author of Blackbird, Jennifer Lauck.

In that class, Jennifer gave us prompts and asked us to write to them. I have never been good at writing to someone else’s prompts. My ideas don’t flow that way. To make it worse, we were going to have to share them with someone else in the class.

I felt panicky, terrified I wouldn’t be able to write, and would embarrass myself. My mind was blank.

When I saw what Jennifer’s prompt was, it occurred to me that I could do that. I had one of those bolt-of-lightning moments, a tangent to nowhere that didn’t pertain to her class. But it seemed important so I wrote it down. When I got home, I pondered a little more about it and put my thoughts into a short essay.

In that class, I realized that most of the time, writer’s block is a result of not being able to visualize what you want to write about. If you can’t visualize it, you can’t articulate it.

It hits us in two stages, two emotions that are so closely related, it feels like one horrible emotion.

  1. If you can’t visualize it, you can’t describe it. This can create a brief flash of panic.
  2. Once you have experienced that moment of complete inability, fear that it will happen again magnifies the problem until it paralyzes us.

This is the writing prompt Jennifer Lauck used as the first exercise in her class:

  1. Open a new document. At the top of this document type: Where I Am Today:

This is going to be a literal interpretation and description of your surroundings:

  • Look around you and see the place where you are.
  • Briefly describe the environment you are sitting in, what you see.
  • Describe how you feel sitting in that place.

Just give it two or three paragraphs. For me, sitting here at this moment and writing this post, it runs like this:

I sit in the small third bedroom of my home. It’s my office, a cluttered storeroom, known here as the Room of Shame. A cup of cooling coffee sits beside my elbow, as does my cell phone. My desk holds many books on the craft of writing and also my computer.  

Stacks of cardboard boxes filled with things that were, at one time, deemed important to keep, surround me. Filing cabinets full of legal papers, tax forms, and research take up space, all stuffed with the debris of our business life.

I could easily clean this space. It would take no time at all, perhaps a day at most. It’s a mountain I put off climbing.

See? At the end of this exercise, you have written a small short story.

But, more importantly, you have written the setting for a scene. Those paragraphs are around 120 words and are nothing special. But they were words and I wrote them, which keeps my mind functioning in a writing mode.

  1. For your next exercise, go somewhere else and take your notebook. Write three more paragraphs detailing what you are looking at, and how you fit into it, and how it makes you feel.

You could do that on your porch, in a coffee shop, or the parking lot at the supermarket, but go away from your normal writing space. Just write a few paragraphs about the space you have come to, what you see, and what you sense.

The third exercise is more abstract:

  1. Where do you want to be? Visualize and describe it the same way as you described the places you could see, a few short paragraphs. For me, I want to be flying my kite on Cannon Beach.

Your practice work is for your eyes alone. No one has to see it if you don’t want to share it.

If you do these three exercises at the same time every day, describing the environments and your perceptions in a different space each time, even when you have nothing to say that is worth reading, you are writing.

It’s a weird thing but writing about nothing in particular is like doodling. It is a form of mind-wandering. It can jar your creative mind loose. With perseverance, you will be writing your other work again.

The important thing is to write every day, even if it is only a few paragraphs. These are the exercises that work for me and which I recommend for working through writer’s block.

Remember, if you are suffering from a temporary dry spell, you are not alone. We all go through those times. When you want to talk about it, you will find friends here.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “When creativity fails #amwriting

  1. SatyaPriya

    I’m not in a dry spell. It’s more like a cocoon transformation. I’m 55, and going through a post-menopausal mid-life crisis thing. I’m still writing, but it’s slower than it’s ever been in my life, and very different. Sometimes it scares me. But, this is apparently how it is now. So, I keep on keeping on, and try to go to the page daily, if only to say ‘well, this sucks, and I see the side fence is still that boring grey colour’.

    Like

  2. I hadn’t completed a post I started the other day. The prompt was concerning dragons. I looked at it and deleted what I had done so far. An hour later I was 2457 words into a story I was delighting in. My Camp Nanowrimo story had slowed down a bit but tomorrow I am back into it. It was a lovely boost in my creative time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for writing this, Connie. I often lose sight of the value of exercises like this, which I shall henceforth refer to as writing doodles. But they’re always helpful when I do them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cross training (?) works very well for both physical and mental athletics. When writing becomes an issue, my choice of cross-training is to listen to music that will send me off somewhere. I call it dreamscape music! Not only does it provide a brief vacation where your mind can wander at will, but tends to refresh those creative cells which were otherwise feeling tired!
    An alternative could be to exercise the brain by practising a musical instrument, dabbling in water colours or oils, creating something from scraps of cloth, wood or whatever.
    Needless to say, my preference is to focus on some other creative activity and allow the brain some latitude as to what it does. Writing will suddenly get exciting again!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love it – and actually do a bit of that myself. I do a lot of graphic design, which is as engrossing to me as writing. I do admit, I haven’t played my guitar in ages as my creative bent doesn’t run that way anymore. Which seems an odd thing for me to say, when I was a musician for more than 20 years.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: When creativity fails #amwriting | Holy Sheepdip!

  6. adviceicouldhaveusedyesterday

    Very good advice… I am in a vicious cycle of write/file/write/file. Nothing seems to take, but when I go back with fresh eyes months later, there are portions that work. Good luck to you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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