Beating Writer's Block
"If you can't think what to write, tough luck; write anyway." - Philip Pullman
I wasn't sure what to blog about today, and then I thought: why not write about not knowing what to write about.
I've had that Philip Pullman quote in my head and over my writing desk for years and years. I came across it young enough in life that it was pretty powerful in shaping how I look at writing. I'm not saying that writer's block doesn't exist, but that quote reminds me that writer's block is never an excuse not to write. (Unlike binge-watching Netflix which is totally an excuse not to write.)
So if you're not sure what to write about, here are some tips, tricks, and prompts that I've picked up over the years from teachers and writers who are much older and wiser than myself.
1. Freewriting. This is the most obvious solution to writer's block and the first thing they've taught in pretty much every writing class I've ever taken. In case you don't already know: the idea is that you write for a pre-determined amount of time without stopping. Set a timer for one minute, or two, or ten, and keep that pen moving until it goes off. The only rules are that you can't stop writing, you can't re-read what you've written, and you can't revise until the timer goes off. Doesn't matter what you write. You can even write "Monkey Money Underpants" like Lorelai did when she tried this on an episode of Gilmore Girls. When that timer finally goes off you can go back, pick out the best bits of writing and go from there. Most of the prompts below are versions of freewriting, but they all flex your writing muscle in different ways.
2. Find a paper bag or a box of some kind. Anything that can be closed so you can't see what's inside. Take your empty bag or box to your writing desk, sit in front of your computer or notebook and open your bag or box. Write about whatever you see inside. Go with the first image that comes to you. (Yes, I know it's empty. Use your imagination.)
3. Go outside. Write about what you see. Don't worry about writing a story or coming up with characters. Just write pure description of what's around you. It's easy, it takes the pressure off of coming up with a narrative or a theme, and it gets the creativity flowing.
4. Invent two characters. They don't have to be fully formed, just pick two or three telling details for each person. Put them in a room. Pick two or three details about the room. Write down what the voices in your head start talking about. Don't worry about plot or description or anything else, just write down what these people might say to each other.
5. Pick up the nearest book. Turn to page 40. Go to line 3, find word 5. Write everything that comes to mind about that word. Let yourself get carried away. If the word is an article or a preposition you can move to the next word, or you can soldier ahead and write anyway if you like a good challenge. Remember: just pick one word. If you pick a whole sentence that's not inspiration, that's plagiarism.