Writer’s Block? No Such Thing

Linda Barnett-Johnson , my guest today, is Assistant Editor of Long Story Short and Director of Administration for the Long Story Short School of Writing. Linda writes:

In the dark recesses of your brain, known as the cerebral cortex, is where the words to your many stories lay dormant.  They’ve taken a leave of absence without any authorization. You know they’re there because you’ve accessed them many times before. Is this what is known as “writer’s block?”

Is there such a thing as “writer’s block?”  Does our writing mind shut down like a factory when it’s time to go home?  Does our writing ability go on vacation or enter la-la-land?  Or does it act like a signal light going from green, writing without ceasing; yellow, slowing down – getting off the track; or red, complete meltdown – do not pass go or collect $200.00 – stopped dead in its tracks. 

If writer’s block existed, you wouldn’t be able to write your name, make out a shopping list, pay your bills, or write down an appointment and keep it!  So unless you’re dead or in a coma, there are many opportunities to get over your “writer’s block.” 

Get Creative: 

Go to the park with pen and paper and write what you see.  Then what you hear, smell, feel and taste.  Your senses are always in working condition.  For example:  “The bird looked like it stood still in the air.”  Now fill it in with more description.  “The large hook-billed eagle hovered over the ground, looking for prey with his keen eyes.”  Try it with all the senses. 

Another trick is to take your dictionary and start reading the words.  A lot of times this will trigger something loose.  Or randomly pick a word and write about it.  How about randomly picking a word and adding the word land or village or town behind it.  For example:  I close my eyes and my finger lands on – “revolve.”  Now put the word land behind it and you have – Revolve Land.  I don’t know about you, but I can see a children’s story about a town that has revolving playgrounds or schools.  Use your imagination and you’ll be surprised at what you come up with.

I have a fun project I started that keeps my brain from going to la-la-land.  

1) Take a small box about 12″x12″ (or a size that suits you), and write “Story Starters” on it. 

2) Get some Baggies, a black marker, pen, and notebook paper. 

3) On one baggy write: “Character Names, another “Settings,” another “Emotions” and the last “Objects.” 

4) a) Take your pen and paper and write as many “Character Names” you can think of.  Just make up names.  Get a phone book if you have trouble.  Fill up the whole page.   Now do the same with “Settings,” “Emotions,” and “Objects.” 

    b) Cut and fold each one and put them in their individual marked baggy. 

    c) Now draw a paper from each baggy.  You now have a “Story Starter.” 

Here’s an example: 

Character Name                   Setting                  Object                      Emotion 

Baron Colmsby                    Concert                 Baby Girl                 Funny 

I choose one piece of paper from each baggy and this is what I come up with.  My imagination is running wild.  I visualize Baron Colmsby at a musical concert.  Someone has brought a baby to the event.  Think of funny incidents regarding the Baron and the baby.  In fact, that would be a good title for the story – The Baron and the Baby.  Could make for a funny story. 

You can make a baggy for anything.  How about:  “Story Titles,” “occupations,” “mannerisms,” to name a few.  That’s the fun of this project.  I even have a baggy with “phobias.”  Whatever phobia I pick from the bag, you can be sure that one of my characters has it.  It’s a blast!  There are tremendous possibilities, as well as a myriad of things to write about.  Keep it simple, or make it as elaborate as you want. Get your kids involved. 

So you see there are potentials all around us.  All you need is your imagination and your senses.  So, in my opinion, unless you have no imagination, there’s no reason for “writer’s block!”

I Do Not Have Writer’s Block

My hero is running from a volcano and has been running from the dang thing for at least three months. I can hear him panting from exhaustion, but I sit at the computer and spend my words writing articles, leaving comments, sending emails. I have no words left to get him out of his predicament.

In the end, that’s why I write. Not for the fulfullment, not because of a compusion, but because the words gang up on me, using all available brain space. The only way to free myself is to let the words out. But the words I’m letting out now have to do with the mechanics of writing, and so my poor hero runs. And runs.

I thought for sure by getting guest bloggers to do my work for me that the words would begin to weigh heavy on my mind, but I wasted those words on other websites. And I used to be such a thrifty sort. 

I did come up with another idea for getting me back on track with my WIP: start another blog, one just to let my hero run free. Maybe I’ll post my research, notes on character, anything that pertains to the WIP. It seems like such a great idea, but here I am, planning to waste more words while not writing my novel.

But it could work. Especially if I can put one of those widgets on the site that shows how much of the book I’ve finished. Could shame me out of my not writer’s block.

A Band-Aid For Writer’s Block

Yesterday, quite by accident, I discovered a cure for writer’s block. Well, perhaps not a cure, more like a Band-Aid.

It has taken me a week to write seven paragraphs, and I was getting tired of my hero moping around his apartment while the world was ending. In book time, it was merely a matter of hours, but still, it was getting tedious. Besides, too much introspection is not good for a character. What happens if he begins questioning where he came from and discovers he’s merely a figment of imagination? He thinks he’s real. It would devastate him to find out he’s not. Even worse, he might go on strike, and then I’d never be able to write the book.

Determined to get him moving so he has no time to think, I dragged my work-in-progress to the breakfast bar that separates my kitchen from the living room where I have my weight-lifting equipment, and I worked on the novel in between sets of bench presses, upright rows, behind the neck presses, curls.

To my surprise, by the time I finished my workout, I had written an entire page. I also knew how I wanted to write the scene. The poor guy had been terrified to go outside — he’d seen creatures that had been long extinct and heard screams of absolute pain and terror, but I finally coerced him to get going, and last night I completed the chapter. Hallelujah! It was good, too, and did not sound at all like I’d been struggling with it.

So why did this Band-Aid work? Could be that the exercise pumped much needed blood and fuel to my brain. Could be that by standing at the breakfast bar to write I bypassed the part of my brain that says “time to work — not.” Could be that it was morning rather than evening when I usually write, and so the words snuck out beneath the radar of my internal censor.

Whatever the reason, it worked.

So, if you have writer’s block, or are merely stuck in a scene that you can’t get out of, change your venue of writing, write while exercising, write standing up, go for a walk, do anything to get the blood flowing and your mind working. You really don’t want to give your characters time to think. They might realize how much power they have.


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Green and More

The colors at the ROY end of the spectrum excite us, the BIV colors calm us down, but green is neutral in its effect.

Green is the largest color family discernible to the human eye. Darker tones are linked with durability, soft tones are perceived as restful, bluish greens can be calming, yellowish greens can be exciting. Yellowish greens also produce feelings of well-being and optimism, but too much yellow in the green induces negative responses and are associated with envy, illness, toxins, slime. (You with that bilious green sweater: now you know why your wife keeps throwing it out. Do her a favor and leave it in the trash.)

If green is your favorite color (and statistically it isn’t, most adults prefer blue and most children prefer red) you are probably stable, well balanced, and responsible. You are a good citizen, a concerned parent, a caring companion, a loyal friend. You are intelligent and inclined to do something new rather than follow the crowd. (What a conundrum! Everyone else is wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s your favorite color so you’d like to do the same, but since it is your favorite color, you are the type who doesn’t do what everyone else is doing. How do you cope?)

Owning a dark green vehicle supposedly means that you are traditional, trusty, and well balanced, but what it really means is that you are thrifty. Who makes dark green cars anymore? If you own one, it’s probably been a while since you bought a new vehicle. (Off the subject of green, but on the subject of vehicle colors: men sometimes prefer trucks in blue because they love the way mud looks on the side of a blue truck. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m just reporting someone else’s research.)

Wear green if you are anxious, bitter, resentful, and you want to overcome these negative feelings. Wear green to ameliorate allergies, circulation or breathing problems, or upper back and shoulder pains.

Wear green for creative thinking. If you have writer’s block, wear a green hat, switch to green ink, go outside and contemplate the green grass and green leaves. But if detached, analytical thinking is required, stay away from green. Especially green beer. But then, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, so who cares about detached, analytical thinking?

Unblocking Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a term, like chronic fatigue syndrome, that covers a multitude of ills. Sometimes it means an inability to begin writing that book, sometimes it means a stoppage in the flow of words or ideas, sometimes it means a lack of desire to write. It is only a critical condition when the blocked writer is on a deadline, otherwise time or a change in writing habits can help.

For me, writer’s block generally means that I have taken a false turn in the story, that I’m heading in the wrong direction. This often happens in the middle of the book when all the ideas that I had in the beginning have been used up, and I need to fill a hole in the plot. The only thing I can do is go back through the story, make sure every action is motivated, every scene necessary, every character operating at his or her full potential. Usually I can find where I went wrong. After I change it, I continue in the proper direction with renewed vigor.

My latest attempt at writing, however, stalled at the beginning. I wrote three and a half pages almost a year ago, then nothing. It seems ludicrous that I could have taken a wrong turn so early, but I must have, otherwise I would be well on my way to finishing the novel. Ironically, it was supposed to have been fun to write, a take-off on the apocalyptic fantasies that have been so popular in recent years. Then why is it so hard to get going?

Perhaps the story isn’t worth writing. Perhaps my characters aren’t strong enough. Perhaps I begin with too many characters or too few.

I decided that the story is worth writing. I have a great hook, high stakes, and a delicious ending. So the problem has to be in the characters. I was going to tell the story from two points of view — a man and a woman who come together in the end — but the problem seems to be that one of their viewpoints is superfluous. Showing both of their reactions to the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it would be repetitive, like those lawyer books that rehash the entire story during the courtroom scene. Yawn.

The man has the stronger story and will have to make some of the more poignant decisions (for example, he is a devout vegetarian who will be forced to kill to feed those dependant on him) so today I deleted the woman. She didn’t even have a chance to come to life before I had to do her in. Poor thing. May she rest in peace.

Now maybe I can get going on the book.

Coloring Your Way out of Writer’s Block

How color vision actually works is still a mystery, but there is no mystery about the profound effect color has on human physiology. Red tends to raise blood pressure, increase pulse rate, and excite brain waves. Blue tends to have the reverse effect, and green tends to be neutral.

So, if you are having writer’s block, try a little color therapy. It can’t hurt; at the very least it will give you something besides your computer screen or those same old walls to stare at. And it has the benefit of being exceedingly simple. All you have to do is choose your color from the following list, wear it, hang it on the wall, find a knickknack or a bouquet of flowers that color to put on your desk, then focus on it.

Purple will boost your creativity, and help stimulate your intuitive abilities.

Yellow can help you feel optimistic if your blockage is making you anxious and depressed. It can also induce enlightenment, which is what you are looking for.

Dark blue encourages meditative thinking, so it’s especially helpful if are having difficulty focusing.

Green helps promote harmony if your inability to write is making you irritable.

Red will energize you if you’re too tired to think.

Even if the color therapy doesn’t bring about the effect you wish, playing around with all those colors will give your mind a rest from writing, and perhaps when you return to your keyboard, the problem will have resolved itself.

If not, do what I do: go for a walk.