Every single day writers go to war. We get up and no matter how many words are on the page, we have to open a vein put more of them on there, often it is a struggle. Being trained in improv, I can put words on a page, easy, but making them mean something can often still be a fight.
In fact, some days I am so distracted by some powerful feeling that nothing comes out at all. This happens less and less, but it can be devastating to your deadlines when it does.
So, in this battle against the open page, what weapons do we have at our disposal? Everyone has a different answer for this. Some do writing exercises to “warm up” and get the words flowing, others walk away from the page. Here are three of my favorite weapons and how I use them to get back on track.
Freelance Writing Weapon 1. Sometimes you just have to walk away!
This may seem like a concession, but, since the “enemy” in this case is blank space, it is fairly static, meaning that the battle lines will remain drawn where they were. There is little risk of enemy forces breaching our defenses and wiping out the work that is already done.
Here is how I do it:
· Walking is my retreat. I have a mile long stretch of median near my house that runs through a fairly isolated area. I walk down and back.
· I listen to music while I walk and I think about anything but the thing I am working on. I find thinking of something that is going well works best.
· There are other times when the ideas are not coming that I walk in complete silence and try to just focus on my own breathing without any conscious thought on the way there. Then, on the way back, I explore possibilities.
This does several things beyond getting me back on track. For one thing, it is easy to spend 10 hours a day behind the desk, just typing away and the human body NEEDS exercise. The brain does not function well, and the body starts to slow you down if it doesn’t get it.
Secondly, I need solitude.
Especially if I am working on things that have an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual component. Taking the time to hear my own thoughts without interruption makes a huge difference in being able to know what I think and how I feel on the topic.
Last, but not least,
I like a change of scenery. The lines of a space can be very confining. This is the same reason I like to office from a local coffee shop. Getting out and seeing what nature there is in my fairly urban neighborhood, relaxes me.
Freelance Writing Weapon 2. Getting the clogs out.
Often if I am stuck, it is not so much the actual project I am stuck on that is the issue. Like most writers, I have my own projects, someone else’s and an idea or two that have no project yet, just floating around in there.
I live in a really old house, built in 1910. I love it, but, some days the kitchen sink doesn’t really get the concept of “indoor plumbing”. (you put water in, it carries it out) and it gets clogged. Here’s the usual process.
· One of my eight kids forgets to scrape scraps off of a plate. The scraps go down the drain and water starts to build up.
· The kids ignore the clog and keep using the sink until it is at the brink of overflowing, then they call dad.
· I come in and spend five minutes plunging the sink, (exercise again, right?) and it costs me an hour, stopping, fixing the sink, and checking my email, social media, email again, and finally getting back on track. You do know what I mean, right?
The one thing that never, ever happens, no matter how much I try, is this: the introduction of additional fresh water into the sink will not make the drain flow!
So, back to writing. Often, the issue lies outside the project, in the drain. The ideas are flowing in, but the water is not escaping, so the writing is becoming mucked up with all of this outside stuff!
When this happens, I have to take a few minutes to plunge the drain!
Only so many ideas can fit inside my “Writer brain” at a time. If too many of them vie for attention at once, everything gets bottle necked and I have to let off the steam, unclog the drain, write something else for just a few minutes, to get things working again.
But, muh deadlines! You say? They are still important!
You can’t abandon a paying project that is eagerly awaited to write something you are hoping will go big enough to make writing this other crap worthwhile.
You just can’t, or you’ll be breaking out your Grandma’s old manual to do it, because the power on your laptop will only last so long after they turn your power off for non-payment. REALITY BITES!
So, what can you do? Here’s what I do:
· Put the project on hold long enough to write a page. Seriously, if you can’t write a page in five minutes, you are probably in the wrong business. Just one. Stop at one so that when you come back to this (your real work), you are not clogged and the ideas will flow during your next ME writing session.
· Outline the other project. This only takes a few minutes when you are truly inspired and can save you hours of erasing your first line the next time you go back to it. Just get the bones of the idea on paper, then get back to work.
· Write a poem, take a five minute social media break to answer that idiot on the post you made this morning, which is what is driving you crazy, because you know he thinks he is going through his day being RIGHT!
Freelance Writing Weapon 3. Stream of consciousness writing.
You’re stuck. Are you really, or is your subconscious so full of good stuff that you just can’t focus on this, because you know are just doing it, the only reason, mind you, for the money! You swore you’d never do that, but here you are!
In the back of your mind are all of these thoughts that say, this is what I should really be writing, or doing, or saying, look at me! They are not projects, or even full fledged ideas yet, just bits of seemingly random text, or images, floating around pretending to be important!
So, how do I do this Stream of Consciousness thing?
Well, that’s the thing, it’s your stream of consciousness, so no one can make any rules about it. In general I just open a new document, or even grab a paper journal and a pen and just start typing or scribbling as fast as I can think words.
· Sometimes it’s coherent sentences, other times it just starts out as nonsense.
· There are even times when an idea I meant to write about, but forgot to write down and then couldn’t remember (the one that got away) comes out. Or, once, a scene I was missing from a play popped up!
· Just continue to write until you reach silence, or feel better, whatever happens first. If I were to write stream of consciousness for an extended period, I don’t really know how long I would go. I usually stop once my mind is clear and go back to work.
So, now what? Do I save this stuff?
Again, that is up to you. If any of it inspires you, or seems connected to something else, save it. I have a tendency to save anything that I don’t write to be destroyed. (ala Ben Franklin, I’ll explain at the end) I like to go back and read things that I have written from time to time. I am my own biggest fan, after all!
· Use it for inspiration. You may be surprised at some of the insights that may come up when using this exercise.
· Some people keep it one place and add to it when they need to do it again. I have even heard there are books published this way!
· Discard if it has served its purpose. One thing you probably should avoid is trying to attach any meaning to it that is not obvious after reading what you wrote.
You may, or may not even be aware of what you are writing after a few minutes. You could spend a lifetime trying to unravel it or just be grateful for the fact that you are now unblocked and get back to work!
SO, what about Ben Franklin?
There is a story that when they came to find Ben Franklin’s papers after his death, to archive them, there were stacks of unpublished letters, some of them sealed and addressed, but never delivered.
It seems that Franklin often wrote letters he never intended to send. He would write the most scathing remarks in them, venting his every last frustration!
Then, being the ultimate diplomat that he was, he would put them away, secure in the fact that he had said what he needed to, and write a second letter, working to achieve the ends he had in mind through diplomacy and gentlemanlike conduct.
The problem with me is, I am not Ben Franklin! I know myself. If I leave that sucker in my files somewhere, the next time I come across it, I’ll likely copy and paste it into an email and send it!
So, did that help? I hope so, I feel better having shared it, now there are three blog posts waiting for me to finish them by the end of the day! Hopefully getting this out will clear my mind to get started!