Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Writing Past the Wall

What do you do when you have nothing to write? nothing to say? no spark of creativity begging a bit of tinder and a breath of air?

[There are some this never happens to; there are some who never admit to it; and there are some who mock those who suffer through it. There are also those who abuse it. If this describes you, feel free to skip this post.]

I have several remedies, myself, depending upon the project, the time of year, my mood...

1. Sometimes I write, regardless. I set a word goal and meet it, regardless of the flotsam I turn out. The purpose is quantity, not quality, and the goal is simply to slog it out. Keep writing until I find my rhythm again.

I know Vince Lombardi says that only perfect practice makes perfect, but I ignore that for the time being.

2. Sometimes I let it percolate. This might sound like a cop-out, but it's not. At least not entirely. The human brain is amazing, and left simmering on the back burner, your story may just find its flavor. I don't rush it -- I just sift through thoughts and sensory experiences and play with story lines.

Eventually enough falls into place that the story or chapter or plot piece gushes out, and my hands are merely the tool, trying to keep pace.

3. Sometimes I write poetry. I focus on language, brevity, impact, the senses. I don't write for others or post my endeavors or secretly hope to someday publish a packet of poems. But I focus on quality, on falling in love with words again, on writing.

4. Sometimes I blog about it. I approach this, most often, obliquely, not wanting to complain or whine or rail against the writing gods. Or bore my readers. Something happens, though, when I do finally put it down in black and white. Answers pop. Plot lines untangle. I find a trail, sometimes faint, which I can follow -- and it's always surprising.

5. Sometimes I read. When all else fails (or, more likely, when I'm feeling rebellious and unwilling to try), I read. I start with mindless drivel and work up to something I'd like to eventually emulate. I start by just trying to immerse my brain in something other than "work" and end up analyzing character and plot and subplots and conflict. And, more often than not, I'm inspired to return to my own writing.

Unfortunately for this post, my problem of late is not of the Wall but rather of the Obstacle. As in "must go to bed" and "must go to work" and "must eat" -- because, for whatever delightful reason, the words are rushing forth and I can barely keep up.

I hope I suffer from this problem for a long, long time.


  1. 1 - ditto
    2 - ditto
    3 - not a chance, not a chance, not under any circumstance
    4 - ditto
    5 - ditto
    6 - insert cd, hit play, write something about every song that plays

    I'd much rather have your obstacle, which I did once upon a time, in a land far, far away where a fair maiden was locked in a tower and protected by a dragon . . . those were the days of endless writing, taking notes at stop lights, sending myself countless emails throughout the day, and voice messages as well. Those were the nights of barely eating dinner because all I wanted to do was . . . write, write, write. Those were the days when my Size 32s fit me loosely. Ah, those were the days.


  2. It sounds like you are in the zone right now Alex. That's great. I love being there. I am at the start of a new book, and letting things percolate a little.

    I have a sort of plot in mind, but if I follow it through, I feel it will be predictable, and stale. I want to make it different, and that's the hard part.

    I'll get there. I just have to let it steep.

  3. All great suggestions. I often pick one word and write around it. I've also been known to pick a memory from my childhood and write every relatable memory that surrounds it. It gets the creative juices flowing again.

  4. All of the above. Really. I do utilize every tool in the box. I think, as writers, we need to accept there is an ebb-and-flow to this work.

  5. I agree with all of it. I don't often suffer from the problems you mentioned but when I do I've learned that the only thing that works for me is to let it stew in my brain for a while and then I get a wonderful feeling as whatever I'm trying to create takes shape - it's hard to describe the feeling when it all starts to come together and make sense - but I'm sure some of you will know what I mean?!

    I like to write something different too. If I'm stuck on a short story I'll go and write an article or vice versa.

    Works for me. I agree with Tricia about there being an ebb and flow effect to writing.


  6. Hi there, great blog - hope to be back regularly!

    Re. 1: "Sometimes I write, regardless". I completed the first draft of my first novel a while back, and without this principle I'd never have done it. Forcing myself to write sounded like a bad idea, but it generally turned out that I just had an initial hump in the road to get over - once that was done, things began to flow more easily. And the writing you do under those circumstances isn't necessarily worse, either.

  7. I would so like to be able to claim this never happens to me, but it does. I use most of your techniques though I haven’t tried my hand at poetry - yet. Sometimes I find all I need to do is take a nice brisk walk.

  8. Fun, fun post.

    I love how you covered the topic from some many different point of view or approaches.

    Also, I must say that your blog style or writing form inspires me and teaches me the value of the following: image, bold points, brief paragraphs with to the point substance, and of course the personal touch or real life struggle.

    I don't always stick to that form, but when I read it I see the value once again. Notice the bolded points in my latest post and take some credit for inspiring me to organize a post point by point, even if I do go on a bit aiming for some depth.

    What do I do as of let when faced with the problem? At the moment I find inspiration in what others are accomplishing. I just look at it in the spare moment and feel a sense of awe for what they have done, and a sense of distant wonder that makes me think, with a teary eye, "Gee, I used to be getting it done to. Where's all the time going?"

    Sooner or later I get a spare hour or two that coincides with an idea that's been percolatig and I go for it.

  9. Thinking about writing is sometimes just as valuable as the writing itself. Sometimes things need to stew and the work is better for it.
    The most important thing to remember when it comes to Walls is to not let 'nothing' go on for too long. A week without writing can turn into two or three or four in the blink of an eye.

  10. @scott: you are too funny :) but seriously, poetry is not bad. it's remembering that you're paying a hundred grand for every word, so they better count!! unfortunately, the average English teacher has destroyed the love of poetry for most of her students. drat those English teachers!

    @douglas: well, this is a story-line that has stewed for a year in my head. i've jotted notes and ideas and outlines, but i wouldn't allow myself to write until i felt it was "right". this is a different method than i've used before, so i'm interested in seeing the end result. good luck w/ your ideas -- and sometimes percolating is just what the doctor ordered!

    @Tess: yes, there are days when simply getting any idea on paper is worth the endeavor. great idea.

    @tricia o'brien: wisdom indeed. there IS an ebb and flow, and we're silly not to recognize it, give ourselves permission, and embrace the flows :P

    @Julie P: i know exactly what you mean about the way things just sorta come together and take shape. it's kinda spooky, but it feels so right. *click* yeppers - that works perfectly!

    @martpol: welcome! glad to see you here. And yes, sometimes the only way to win is to be the turtle: slog through and keep going. congrats on finishing your first novel! may this be the first of many...

    @Jane K Sutton: the purpose, of course, is to focus on craft. to see the world through new eyes. to zoom in on details. but i like poetry, too :)

    @Dave: thank you so much -- you are too kind and so sweet :) As for your writing, don't despair. You are doing amazingly well for someone who has moved, left his blessed water & sailboat, changed jobs, and began writing a different type of book. You rock, dear dave. Don't forget that! Things will begin percolating soon enough, once again. Give it a month. Then give yourself heck if you're not into the swing of things ;P

    @lindsay: too true! and how many books have you read that would have been better had the writers decided to simply THINK? as for your second point, you're right on as well. some moments i feel that Time flees us, as if we were hunters, intent upon its demise.

  11. I really love your list. What I think is important about reading a book is to pick memoir. I can share of list of page-turners you won't want to put down.
    Was the Book Thief on your list above?


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