Somebody once said: “I don’t like writing, I like to have written.” Let’s face it, writing anything can be intimidating. The common approach: Stare at the blank screen, full of great expectations and maybe impatience. Better to get comfortable with not knowing where you’re going—at least, at first. But while you wait for inspiration, here are some ways to strengthen your hand-eye coordination as it applies to your writing mind.
From the Sublime to the Masochistic
I love this bit of writing-as-discovery from Joan Didion: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” For many of us, there is an exciting-stressful adrenaline rush while facing that fear and plumbing the depths to find out what we really think. Writing is all about creating order out of chaos. But when the love of discovery meets deadline, writing feels, at times, like a mental cliff dive.
At those moments, you’ve got to schmooze the muse: Buy her that 2-pump-double-tall-nonfat mocha, that lovely fountain pen gushing green ink, or whatever draws forth your wellspring of word-work. For me, it’s an oversized notebook of fine, recycled sketch paper, paired with a marker for smooth rolling.
Now comes the painful (but productive) part: Lasso your thoughts with imposed restrictions, such as a word quota per day, a goal for hourly output, or reaching a logical stopping point for your project. For me, the combination of a brain-stormy warm-up on paper, with a specific objective, gets some momentum.
To Get Unstuck, Make it a Game
Sometimes we just have to get creative to get creative. For a time, my son’s black-marbled composition book was the very symbol of dread. Together, we created an idea jar for possible writing topics. We wrote a bunch of potential subjects on scraps of paper, and when he had to write a journal entry, he picked one out of the jar (favorite holiday, sport, vacation…) We agreed that he could reject up to three ideas before settling on one, or he could come up with his own prompt on the spot. (Aside from: “I hate my brother because…” there were many successes.) Now he writes about skiing and soccer for his Monday-morning “weekend review,” at school, and it’s all good.
Work Hard, but Take it Easy
To start, give yourself low-stakes permission to scribble, and let it fly. After a free-form draft, then I might type in the rough text, put on my editor’s hat, and whittle it down, sculpting out the good stuff. Then I’ll read it out loud, and find as I go that new words bubble up to the surface.
Seek Out Role Models and Get Inspired
Find examples of good writing and see what makes it tick. For instance, the ginormous features in Vanity Fair, Vogue, and the New Yorker teach you storytelling, organization, voice. I’ve even found ideas in Sports Illustrated, though it’s not my usual genre (wink, wink to all the true sports fans in my life). There’s great wordplay to brainstorm excellent headlines.
Now that you’ve gotten your juices flowing, get back to work. And when you get in the groove, give us at Popcorn the Blog a shout-out: How do you beat frozen-brain beginnings to inspire YOUR writing?