A common lament of writers is they run out of ideas.
I’m no exception. My website blog had nearly shrivelled up and died. I couldn’t imagine what I could write about that hasn’t been said already–by better writers than me.
Here is the good news:
I’ve discovered how you can set up your own inexhaustible powerhouse of ideas. Follow this longish series and you will find more than enough tips to inspire you all the way down to your toes and hit the road running.
Steinbeck likens ideas to rabbits. This isn’t to be taken literally, naturally. If you leave rabbits alone, soon you’ll have a colony of them. If you leave ideas alone, they will wilt and die.
Without going into needless natural history, two rabbits turn into a colony not just by sitting together, staring into space. They interact with each other.
To produce ideas, you have to let words interact with each other. The more of them there are, the more words they will produce. When they get together, these words turn into ideas!
But what if you no longer know how to produce words–or write? What if your words have frozen into silence because you turned the key on them?
When words freeze, you say you are suffering from writer’s block. Some writers pooh-pooh the idea and refuse to accept that there is anything called writer’s block. Others know it to be a real affliction.
Until recently, when still under its grip, I could have sworn writer’s block was a palpable force. Now that I know how to diffuse it, I am as convinced that it was just a mental construct.
I hadn’t run out of words. I had set up too narrow a tunnel through which I wanted them to emerge. You can’t do that to words. They are too fragile to survive that treatment. They froze and I had a writer’s block the size of a mountain, sitting on me.
Since we identify the phenomenon as a block, it is logical to presume there would be some debris involved, right? What if this debris was the underwhelming, unspectacular writing which lurks in the best of us? What if it has been kept bottled up because it had pokey edges and did not look pretty?
I bet you are thinking of clogged drains now. Let it be known, however, that I did not bring it up. You did!
I have heard that in colder climes, the water in the supply lines freezes in winter. Then you either wait for spring or you call someone in so they can unfreeze your supply line. That’s a whole lot of hassle—and costs dear.
The only way to prevent it is to leave the tap open a tiny bit. The tap would keep dripping and the water in the pipes wouldn’t freeze solid. We may apply the same technique to defeat writer’s block.
Today, I advised a student to set a timer for twenty minutes (or ten, or five) and just write whatever pops in her head. She could describe her room, what she had for breakfast and how it tasted—the texture, the aroma, the taste.
It could be a description of the view from her window in as much detail as she can manage it. She could say why she doesn’t feel like writing!
Or she could do what I am doing at present. She can pick a quote—it could be on any topic—and write on that. She can say whether she agrees with the thought or not; how it aligns with her own experiences, how it deviates.
The truth is, there are PLENTY of things to write about. The mistake we make is to set up a narrow framework first and try to write within it. Instead, why not let your mind free and write what you will?
It may occupy a few bytes of space on your hard disk at worst. Or it could be something utterly spectacular. Later, MUCH later, you can set the frame where it suits best. Think of the beauty you will create! And imagine the flexibility of the approach!
Years ago, I saw a video where this woman was trying to create a painting for her dining room, with zero experience in creating art. She bought a canvas and a bunch of paints and began dabbing on the colours randomly. She was done in a couple of hours.
Once the ‘painting’ was dry, she noticed that on the right lower corner she had dabbed on some yellow, orange and red while the rest of the canvas was mostly inky-blue or other dark shades.
She turned the canvas upside down and decided to create a round shape with yellow. This yellow orb became the sun. She trimmed off the (now) lower part of the canvas which did not align with the ‘sun’ placement. Then she got the canvas framed. Voila! She had an abstract painting—unlike anything she had ever seen!
But I digress, as usual. Back to the student!
I told the student that when she sits down to write, she is not to wonder whether her words are coherent or not, whether she can ‘use’ the piece later or even if she is making sense. She is not to re-read what she has written that day either.
Once her timer beeps, she is to close the file or her notebook and walk away from her workspace for half an hour to ten minutes. On her return, she is to do something else–NOT read what she wrote.
The more she writes, I told her, the easier her words will flow. Somedays she will write badly, somedays she will write well. The pearls of good writing emerge from the depths once the top layer of debris is gone.
You will write effortlessly when your mindscape unclogs. When words begin to flow, so would ideas. After all, words are containers for ideas, right?
There you go then!
Note: If you wish to find more simple writing exercises to help you break your writer’s block, sign-up for my Free newsletter Indelible Ink or write to me at email@example.com.