“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I am inspired every morning at 9:00.” – Peter De Vries
It’s inevitable: every artist sometimes feels stuck. Whether your medium is the written word, colors, or video, everyone must battle “the block.” So how do you hunt down inspiration?
Keeping your thoughts and plans organized is one way to stave off writer’s block. Every author has their own technique. Here’s how Laura Lippman, mystery author, does it:
[Ms. Lippman] creates elaborate, color-coded plot charts, using index cards, sketchbook pages, colored ribbon and magic markers.
The diagrams vary from book to book, but Ms. Lippman says she can tell a novel is off-track if her chart lacks symmetry.
She first used the technique on her ninth book, “By A Spider’s Thread,” which had two lines of action. She assigned a color to each point of view and made a chart with alternating blocks of color. For her novel “To The Power of Three,” which had seven different points of view, she bought seven different colors of ribbon and assigned a color to each character. Then she created a grid and strung colored ribbon representing each character between chapters where that character appeared, creating an intricate colored lattice.
Ms. Lippman says she becomes “somewhat obsessive” about her charts.
“Every time I show people these things they seem to find them mildly disturbing,” she says.
Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Color coding your notes is a creative way to keep organized – just looking at such an elaborate scheme could help you feel inspired to write more.
Here are some techniques I use when fighting writer’s block:
1. Establish a quota: even if it means rewriting or adding to previous work instead of penning something new, establishing a reasonable quota helps overcome bumps, forcing me into writing mode.
2. Set a deadline: I need deadlines – tight, difficult deadlines – to do my work. Whether it’s school-related or writing-related, deadlines get my blood pumping with urgency…and for me that is one of the best things to finish areas where I am stuck. But I have to remember to take a breather in between tough projects. [See point number 12.]
3. Move on and come back later: A well-worn trick, sometimes I just have to work on a different section. Don’t get stuck in one area.
4. Go back to the outline and let my mind wander: in my outlines, I keep lists of “heart-pounding” moments, images that inspired me to write the story in the first place. I find that when I am stuck, going back to these helps me refocus.
5. Change things up: writing is often a lonely affair: we sit at our computers with only our characters for company. But when inspiration is lacking, I find going outside with a notebook really helps me out. The local park is a great place for this. A lot of my characters are animals – and the action is mostly in the great outdoors – so that is probably why this technique helps me get back into the flow of things.
6. Sketch, color, scribble: my sketchbook is a powerful tool in battling writer’s block. It’s filled with sketches of my characters; photographs from magazines that remind me of my setting; and random bits of color, texture, and ideas. Writing is not very visual or kinesthetic; keeping a sketchbook helps all parts of my brain stay engaged.
a. I strongly believe that authors should engage in something kinesthetic to help them through dry spells. Whether it is sculpture, theatre, gardening, or scrapbooking, the kinesthetic, hands-on approach to creativity can really help your mind think in creative new ways if you find yourself stuck at your keyboard all day.
7. Music: not just for background noise, selecting the right tunes can help you feel the mood you
are trying to evoke. Youtube is a treasure trove of musical inspiration, so take your pick! Another use for music is creating theme songs for your characters. This is a good way to get into your characters’ heads.
8. Research: when I am severely stuck, I take a step back with research. Since I write science-fantasy, a lot in my story needs to be researched anyway. Research helps me stay productive while also taking a step back. By looking for new ideas, it helps kick the creative gears into overdrive.
9. Dream journal: My dream journal is another source of inspiration. I keep it by my bed and jot down interesting tidbits from the previous night as soon as I wake up. The symbols and bizarre imagery feed my creativity when writer’s block strikes.
10. Practice creativity: choosing to be creative throughout the day when I am away from the keyboard helps keep writer’s block at bay.
11. Read a dictionary: I know it sounds boring, but picking up a nice word trove [like the stupendous “There’s a Word For It”] can be enlightening, entertaining, and just the thing to break a spate of writer’s block. Words are a writer’s tools, our medium. Learning and using all different kinds of words is vital to our success. And sometimes a strange, evocative word can inspire a line of dialogue.
12. Take a break: let’s face it – sometimes you just need a break. After trying every tip out there for breaking the block, sometimes it becomes obvious that you just need time to rest and recover. Work on a different creative project for a while. I had to take a break after NaNoWriMo – no matter how hard I tried, my prose was stilted and awkward, painful to read and write. It was awful because I really wanted to try to finish a rough draft of the entire trilogy in three months…a ridiculous goal, I now understand, and part of the reason why it was so hard to write anything at all.
Do you ever have to battle writer’s block? What techniques do you use to overcome it? Or maybe you are like Booker-prize winner Michael Ondaatje, who once said, “I don’t understand this whole concept of writer’s block.” [Lucky you!]