I love this piece of art at the Riverside Public Library in Illinois. The little red book by the typist says “20,000 words.” I think I know the artist, but want to check and will update this post once it’s confirmed, but for now suffice to say this is how I feel on any given day.
Writing sometimes feels like you’re disgorging your dreams directly from your brain onto the typewriter. That’s when the words are flowing and you know exactly what you want to convey. Well, not exactly, because you’re going to revise, revise and revise again, but for the moment, when the words are flowing, it feels great.
And for those times when they’re not? I have a few tips for that.
While I don’t advocate stopping a regular flow of words to research, when you’re blocked a little can go a long way to unblocking you. Often research gives you an insight into a character. I was halfway through my first book in the Covert One series, The Janus Reprisal, and looking into financial shenanigans when I came upon the (then) rare world of Bitcoins. I loved the idea of a currency not tied to any country, not subject to regulation and freely mined on the Internet. I resolved to buy some, but once I read that they were created by a Japanese man no one had ever seen or even was sure existed, I backed off. Suffice to say I wish I have bought them now! But just reading about them gave me an idea for a character in the story.
When I’m really blocked I head out for a run. Right now I’m writing in California (see my road trip post here) and I have the luck of being a block or two from the gorgeous beach in the photo you see below. I run there, kick off my shoes, and continue to run barefoot. By the time I’m done, I usually have some inspiration. Exercising rarely fails me and I highly recommend it.
Third: Power Through
Sometimes when you’re blocked you just have to power through the moment, refusing to leave your chair until you’ve written your daily requirement, whatever that may be. After staring at the computer for half an hour I’ll sometimes tell myself “Okay, done. You have forty five minutes to write one thousand words. Now GO!” I start pounding the keys and the self imposed deadline seems to motivate me. While I don’t always make those thousand words in that short of time, I always end up getting it done within a few minutes of the goal. Which tells me that deadlines motivate me in a way that nothing else will.
I hope these tips help the writers out there that find themselves staring at a blank screen in frustration. We’ve all been there, and you’re not alone. Write on!
Best, Jamie Freveletti
I agree that deadlines help motivate. Also a daily requirement, whatever it may be. And I tried running for about ten days for twenty minutes in the middle of the morning. It got the blood flowing to my brain, and I'm now a strong believer in taking that time to exercise. Probably not running, though. My knees just didn't hold up.
Jamie – your mention of Bitcoins reminds me that it was about 3 years ago when I wrote the first draft of my new thriller (coming out next Sept.). Back then we were interested in the development of Bitcoin and in fact bought some (glad we did) — and I included a section about it in that thriller. Then I put that story aside and worked on other projects until I got a new contract for the thriller. But, of course, I had to go back and edit/revise those chapters and refer to "crypto-currencies" instead, among other big fixes. Things are moving so fast these days, especially technology, that it seems an author has to do constant updates. That process in addition to working on deadline, as you suggest, can certainly help to unleash the "Writer's Block." Thanks for a very interesting and helpful post!
Writer's block is one of those writerly events that most of us endure. Thanks for great ideas to tackle it, Jamie!
Glad you agree on exercise Sandy, but it can be hard on the knees. And Karna, you bought! So smart. I agree about keeping up. When I wrote The Janus Reprisal the value of a bitcoin was very low. I called them "kilodollars" in the novel and glad I did, because almost immediately after publication the value of bitcoins started creeping up and the scene where they're using them would not have held up. They would have been spending too many for a simple cup of coffee. Gayle-glad you like the tips!