Ann Parker here, every-other-Thursday at the LadyKillers. Writers (of all kinds): Do you get stumped every once in a while? Hit the wall, get that "where do I go from here" feeling?
Doing an internet search on the term "writer's block" yields over 9 million hits. Egads, are there even 9 million writers in the world? (That's one HUGE party!) Of course, a little further research reveals not all of these hits have to do with a state of mind. For instance, a journal for communications professionals in Canada is titled Writer's Block. Adding the word "exercises" to the search term thins the herd to 1 million hits.
One of the first listings to appear is a handy list of suggestions from Purdue's Online Writing Lab, aimed at students struggling with a course paper. Under the Invention Strategies link, it suggests asking yourself what your purpose is for writing about "the project." For example:
There are many "correct" things to write about for any subject, but you need to narrow down your choices. For example, your topic might be "dorm food." At this point, you and your potential reader are asking the same question, "So what?" Why should you write about this, and why should anyone read it?
- Do you want the reader to pity you because of the intolerable food you have to eat there?
- Do you want to analyze large-scale institutional cooking?
- Do you want to compare Purdue's dorm food to that served at Indiana University?
Answering the "so what" question is a great way to start breaking through the block. I suspect it would work for fiction as well. So, you want to write a cozy mystery featuring a, oh say, technical writer. Well, "So what?" Why should you write about this and why should anyone read it? Think about your motivation and what you hope the reader will gain from it.
- Are you hankering to "kill off" a really nasty ex-boss in a fictional world of your design?
- Do you want to show readers how the corporate world "really works?"
- Do you want to provide an escape from real life, maybe write something funny and brilliant that will charm and entertain readers?
- Do you want to make a million dollars? (Well now, I did ask what your motivation is...)
Think about it and write it down your answer to the "So what" question. It may help focus you on the writing task at hand.
Another hit yields ten practice exercises from the Writing on the Run website, right here. Included in the practice exercises is this: At the top of the page, write: "What is the worst that could happen if I write this?" and brainstorm from there.
Many exercises are simply a way to get you to put your hands on the keyboard (or pencil to the paper) and JUST START WRITING.
And it will finally start clicking.
Remember: you have plenty of company. I'd guess that most writers get "stuck" from time to time. So, let's hear it: do you have a favorite technique to get going again, if you screech to a halt?
Mine is a bit of chocolate, "empty the mind," and start typing. Or contact a writer-friend or two or three, and talk about where I'm stalled and why, and do some brainstorming as a group. In other words, I make a party of it!