Tag Archives: writer’s block

On Writer’s Block and Morning Pages

Writing

A friend of mine and I were recently chatting about writing, online writing courses, and our favorite writing books. Then she asked me a question: “How did you overcome your writer’s block?”

I tried to keep down that bitter laugh building up inside me. I could have answered her with one of my blog posts on writer’s freeze, but when I thought about it some more, I realized: I have never gotten past writer’s block, and it’s not really something you get through once and then you’re done with it.

Let me explain. Writer’s block, or the inability to get past one form of what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance” in The War of Art, is something we writers are always complaining about. It’s debilitating, crippling, and a death sentence for a writer’s career. But it’s not a disease with a cure. It’s more of a condition. What I have found is that it is something you just have to grit your teeth and bear, and write through.

Easier said than done. If it’s a block, how can we write through it? One tool I’ve fallen in love with and have found to be indispensable is what Julia Cameron dubbed “morning pages” in The Artist’s Way. Every day, as soon as you get up in the morning, just sit down and write three or more pages. It will take you about 15 minutes maximum, maybe less, maybe more, but the effect on your writing and even your mind is almost magical.

But first, I have to admit something. The longest I’ve been able to stick to a morning pages routine is a couple of weeks. It’s not because they are difficult, they aren’t. It’s not because I didn’t see any effect on my writing, I did. It’s simply a case of lack of self-discipline, and a load of other mental baggage.

And when I did stick to the morning pages routine? I soared. All my mental loops, those trains of thought that go nowhere in my mind, were silenced. The cycle of being preoccupied in our minds is broken when we allow our minds free reign on paper.  The rules are: no editing, no stopping to think about what you are writing, and these pages are for your eyes only. Whether you decide to share any of them with the world later on (as I once did here) is your decision, but you should feel utterly safe writing them, no censors, no taboos.

And once those words start flowing onto your screen, or paper (Cameron encourages writing them longhand), your mind begins to adjust yourself to its new task: writing. The more you do it, the more you are able to do it. And the more excuses you give yourself, the more obstacles and “what ifs” you put in your own way, the more difficult it becomes to break through that Resistance.

So if you want to break through your writers’ block, or any other form of Resistance, start with morning pages. Advice I should take. Thank you for reminding me, Rahma, with your question.

Two excellent posts and a video about morning pages:

Have you ever written morning pages? I’d love to hear about your experience with morning pages, and if you have any tips about sticking to the routine.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under writers, writing, Writing related

WRCE bookmarks? Or, I need help.

Used with permission from http://www.smashingmagazine.com under Creative Commons License.

First, a note about this post’s title. I admit to a serious case of brain freeze. I simply cannot come up with a good title for what I am hoping will be a more or less regular feature on this blog: a roundup of  links to the very best of what I’ve been reading or watching online about writing, reading, creativity, and, occasionally, eating chocolate. WRCE is basically the initials of the blog title. Completely banal, I agree, so help me out here and suggest something better (anything you suggest is bound to be better).

In no particular order, these are the best articles I’ve read this week:

on becoming creative: keep trying

I could praise this post till the end of the year, and still think it deserves more. This is one of the most inspiring and insightful pieces of writing on creativity. Diana Bauer of A Certain Simplicity writes about the relationship between creativity, talent, and the fundamental importance of technical discipline. I can sum up her post in three sentences, but if you don’t go on to read the whole article, you’d be missing on what may be the most important thing you read about creativity.

She starts out with a statement which I believe does wonders in calming jittery creative nerves. “Not being able to do something well does not mean that a person does not have talent.” So relax, people.

But, she says, “so many people don’t make it over that first hurdle because they believe that in order to start, they have to magically produce some sort of talent they don’t believe they even have, when what they should be doing is starting to understand the technical part of the art which they might be interested in.”

Thank you, Rose Deniz, for suggesting this article.

6 Tips to Ease Back into Your Writing Routine

Suzannah Freeman on Write it Sideways tackles the struggle to get back on track with your writing when you’ve been away (whether physically or mentally) for a while. She starts her post with the following sentence, which grabbed me, because it describes me to a “t” (although I’m still not as disciplined as she is): “If you’re anything like me, it only takes a few days away from your regular writing routine to throw everything in your life out of whack.”

And then she outlines six tips for getting back on track. I particularly identified with her suggestion to “organize your surroundings”. I can never think straight or otherwise in a messy room.

Rhythms of Writing

Darcy Pattison of Fiction Notes writes about what she calls the “messy and unexpected” nature of her writing process. She says: “Once I know the direction that I need to go, I don’t mind letting go and doing the unexpected.”

In my opinion, this is a very important balance between the never-ending “debate” between the outliners (in which the writer outlines the novel/story) and the pantsers (in which the writer does not outline the novel/story and just writes “by the seat of his/her pants”) in the creative writing world. I don’t think that you have to choose one method of writing over another, but believe that both can contribute positively to your writing.

So What Exactly Is Creativity?

This is the third lesson in Mark McGuinness‘s free 6-month online course for creative professionals, called The Creative Pathfinder. I have tremendous respect for Mark’s articles because they are not only well-written, but are extremely helpful as well. It’s obvious that he puts a lot of thought and effort into each article. Case in point, his third lesson in the Creative Pathfinder course.

In this lesson, he outlines different definitions of creativity and suggests how these definitions can help creative people. He starts out by stating the obvious, and then points out the not-so-obvious that makes all the difference. This is an example of what he has to say:

Creative thinking is often the first thing we think of when we think of creativity. But any real creator knows that creative thinking isn’t worth doodly squat unless you do something with your ideas.

On the other hand, if you focus too much on execution, you can get caught up in foolish productivity, busy all the time yet somehow never creating anything remarkable.

Warning: Mark’s articles usually run a little long, but from experience, they’re worth reading to the very end.

Your Time Is Your Currency

So how do (successful) writers balance writing with the rest of life? Laurie Halse Anderson of Mad Woman in the Forest, has three valuable lessons. These are: seek out kindred spirits, be clear about your true priorities, and take charge of your life.

But these lessons aren’t as simplistic as they sound. Laurie’s post is excellent inspiration for writers and other creative people to read over and over again. Thank you, Debbie Ohi, for suggesting this post.

When Life Gives You Writer’s Block, Build With It!

An interesting premise. I’ll be the first to admit to usually just sleeping/hibernating, dreaming, cooking, eating, movie-watching, and generally  doing anything but building when I get hit with writer’s block. I’ve been trying to deal with it more creatively and have written about this before here.

But Christopher Rice on Fuel Your Writing has a new take on how to build when life gives you (writer’s) block. “The goal”, he writes, “is to analyze why you’re bogged down with writer’s block.” If you think that sounds like a therapist’s take on writer’s block, read the rest of the article to discover just how this analysis helps move your writing project forward, and why analysis works.

And now, over to you. I’d love to know what you’ve been reading lately about writing and creativity. And don’t forget to suggest another title for this feature.

Update: As per the suggestion of the wonderful Nadia El-Awady, the winner of the best suggestion for the title gets a batch of what she generously calls my “world famous brownies”. But alas, the winner must be a resident of Cairo, Egypt and be willing to arrange for pick-up in 6th of October in order to receive the prize.

8 Comments

Filed under links roundup, writing, Writing related

Defrosting for writers

Used with permission from http://www.inkygirl.com under Creative Commons License.

Most writers call it a block, but I personally prefer the term one of my writer friends used in a comment on my last post: freeze. When I get hit by the inability to write, I feel frozen rather than blocked. I feel like my body and mind have been stuck in some kind of writer’s Ice Age and need to thaw out in order to get my brain and fingers to start functioning again.

This is exactly what I’ve been going through. I have spent so many years frozen, thawing out temporarily, and then getting frozen again, that I’m becoming an expert on the subject. Forget what Hollywood says, because the Ice Age is NOT a fun place for writers — woolly mammoths, sloths, and saber-tooth tigers maybe, but not writers!

Working in the media as an editor, manager, and sometimes-journalist, completely drained me, and I simply had no energy or motivation to do anything after I got home from work, especially if that thing was writing.

I’ve been labeling myself as a writer ever since I was in 9th grade, and used to write a lot of poetry and short stories when I was in high school in India. I had the good fortune to have teachers who recognized my dream and encouraged me to write. I was so into it that I diligently researched the whole publishing process and started to send out to publishers when I was 17. That year, I received a bunch of rejection slips which I think I still have somewhere and I’m very proud of. I’m proud of them because out of about 10 rejection slips, I got one acceptance letter and two of my poems were published in a Canadian poetry magazine. All this before I started college.

Once I started college, I got too busy studying, reading, writing essays and research papers, and then I went on to do my MA when I got back to Egypt, and then started working as an editor/journalist/media manager. Most of the writing I did was some articles, book reviews, and reports. The only creative writing I did was about 5 or 6 poems, a couple of short stories, and the assignments of about 4 online writing courses I took in a bid to keep the creative spark alive. In 8 years! Needless to say, that is a pathetic portfolio for someone who labels herself a writer.

I left work in August 2009 in order to stop my dream from being completely destroyed, and knew that because of the creative drain that 8 years of that work had on me, I wouldn’t be able to start writing seriously right away. I gave myself time and didn’t put a deadline on my “recuperation” time. I decided that I had experienced enough stress for 8 years and was going to give myself a real break.

Within two months, I had written down an outline for a novel, started doing some light research, and wrote the rough draft of the first two chapters. After that, I realized I needed to do more research, but wasn’t really ready for that kind of dedication, so I let it go. Now, almost 6 months later, I feel that I’m ready again, and hopefully soon, I’ll start doing the heavy-duty research needed for the novel and writing out some of the scenes I outlined earlier.

For now, I’m happy to do stress-free blogging about what I’ve learned the hard way about the writing process in a very personal, down-to-earth, non-professional manner, and whatever else I want to write about. I’m also starting to get a little more active in online writers’ communities, especially through Twitter and through other blogs (check my list of great blogs & sites in the side-bar for some of them) and the Writer’s Digest website. Again, I will never pressure myself until I heal what the 8 years of stress has done to my creativity.

What’s more is, I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering from this kind of freeze/block. Many of my writer friends are going through the same. And when I read what other professional, published, famous authors say, they also sometimes go through these phases.

I think that the important thing is to know that this is a phase, and to not beat yourself up about it. Relax. Don’t pressure yourself more than you already are. Forget about writing “for publication”. Do something fun and completely unrelated to writing. I started gardening, drawing, and learning how to crochet, for example. A friend of mine took painting classes. Take some language classes in whatever language you’ve always wanted to learn. Take horseback riding classes or grab a camera and start photographing whatever you find interesting.

All of these non-writing activities will not only allow you to de-stress, but will also provide you with new experiences which you can bring to your writing. It’s all food for your writing soul.

But I think it’s important to always keep one foot — or even just a toe — in the writing world. That foot/toe may be different things: reading (that always ends up motivating me to write), lurking around writers’ blogs, listening to or reading author interviews (there are a ton of them on the Internet — check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust podcasts, iTunes Meet the Author, Barnes and Nobles Meet the Author, Book Reviews with Simon Mayo, Writer Unboxed, authors’ websites, and so on), and/or reading about writing.

These are my suggestions about how to defrost your writer’s soul. Some of them I’ve learned through personal experience, and others I’ve learned from other writers.

I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you defrost?

Remember, it’s ok to hang out in the Ice Age for a while, but it’s better for your writing career if you defrost before you turn into a woolly mammoth.

9 Comments

Filed under writing, Writing related