Monday, August 24, 2009

When Mini Marshmallows Fail to Inspire

I had to laugh when I sat down to write this post about what writing struggles I have. After twenty minutes, one cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with a hefty dose of mini marshmallows, a piece of gum and about six trips pacing around the house, the post still looked like this:


Which is a great lead in to my biggest struggle: Writer's Block.

I've heard theories that Writer's Block doesn't exist. I'd like to meet the people who claim this. Maybe they have a stronger inspiration than mini marshmallows and caffeine. Maybe they have the jumbo marshmallows and a Red Bull.

I think Writer's Block exists. And if you need proof, stop by my house sometime. I'll let you watch me alternate between staring at a blank Word page, checking some of my favorite blogs and websites, and trying to decide what I'm going to make for dinner.

It usually starts like this: I have an AMAZING idea. One that will probably land me on the New York Bestseller's List. And these ideas usually hit either: a) when I'm going to sleep, b) when I'm in the shower, or, c) when I'm in the car.

Which means that I either: a) Try really hard to remember it in the morning, b) race through my shampooing, or, c) barely pay attention while I'm driving.

None of these are good plans of action, by the way. Skimping on shampoo is just gross and you should always be cautious and aware while driving.

So, I make it back to my computer as fast as I can and by the time I get there, I've got nothing. And what I do have sounds like the cheesiest idea I have ever come up with. And trust me, I've had my fair share of cheesy ideas.

There's been a bunch of writers way smarter and more successful than me who have listed methods upon methods of combating writer's block. "Always carry a notebook around with you" (I can see my driving getting even worse with this method). "Always carry a voice recorder with you" (Um. No. I don't even use a Bluetooth for my phone because it bugs me when people talk to themselves in Wal-Mart. I always think they are talking to me and that just gets awkward).

As Christa mentioned in her last post, if you want to write professionally, you don't get the luxury of waiting for inspiration to hit. There's always one more deadline, one more proposal to write, one more synopsis that needs to be finished.

When I'm dealing with writer's block, I try to at least write something. Whether it's a blog, a potential scene for a story, or a character synopsis, just getting past that initial I-can't-get-anything-written-today stage is extremely helpful. I've discovered that as soon as I realize that yes, I can write today, it's a lot easier to get the wheels rolling again.

If that doesn't work, then I resort to giving my brain a break. I move as far away from my computer as I can get and I either workout, read a book, play with my dog, find something to cook or clean. Sometimes, just the change in scenery can help! One time, I had an idea for an entire suspense novel just by reading the word "DELTA" on my bathroom sink stopper while I was scrubbing away at it.

Other things I have tried:

* Drinking Coffee. I once consumed a full 12 ounce pot while trying to get a story off the rocks.
* Taking a Walk. Fresh air will do you wonders. Mom was right all along. :)
* Baking Cookies. No commentary needed.
* Calling Someone I Know And Complaining. Thanks Mom and Nama for listening.
* Pilates Stretches. Nothing gets blood to the brain quite like the Downward Dog.
* Taking Pictures of Random Things. It eats up your computer's memory, but seems to jog mine.

And if everything I'm trying just completely and utterly fails, I do what one of my previous bosses taught me. After a ridiculously hard day at the office, she would get her coat, grab her briefcase, walk out the door and slam it behind her while yelling, "I QUIT!" And the next day, after that emotional release, she'd be back and raring to go.

Sometimes you're just going to have off days. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away and try not to think about the story, article or blog anymore. Go read a book. Take a bubble bath. Listen to music. I've heard of one guy who could always inspire himself to write by listening to big, dramatic movie soundtracks.

How about you guys? What are things you struggle with when you are trying to write? And what are your remedies?


  1. I feel you on this one, Sister! ;o) I had writer's block that lasted for YEARS. What I discovered is that for me, writer's block is often my own fears getting in the way. Sometimes it's feelings of inadequacy, that I don't really have anything worthwhile to say. Other times I'm afraid to write about what I need to be writing about, because it brings up painful memories, or because I'm afraid of what others might think of me if they were to read it.

    One trick that I have found that helps, is to set myself a page limit. I'll say, "Today, I'm going to write three pages to the very last line, even if it's only about how I can't write." I'll usually get about a half a page or so down when suddenly a thought kicks in and I usually have to start to rein myself in by the time I'm getting close to the bottom of the third page.

    Another recent discovery is Freewriting, which is basically clearing your mind of all thoughts, and then taking off with the first word that comes to mind. One word sparks another and another, and then a phrase or a line of a song, and before you know it you've got a whole page of this delightfully meandering creative thought. It's quite liberating!

    I'm also big on writing prompts, just little ideas that spark a poem or a short story. Because it's more of an "excercise" I tend not to put as much pressure on myself, and what results is usually pretty decent. And with a little polish, it might even be quite good!

  2. Yay! Great post, Erynn. I'm looking forward to continuing this discussion tomorrow!

  3. I always seem to come up with great ideas at the worst possible moments! Places like work (where I don't have access to a computer) or when I'm exercising. It's always where I'm not around a computer! It's never when I'm sitting down here, surfing the web. Never.

  4. You're right. Sometimes one of the best things you can do is walk away for a little while. Even though you may not consciously be thinking about your writing, your subconscious does a lot more than you realize! That's how thoughts/ideas just "pop into" your mind. There's a bit of psychology knowledge for ya. =)

    I get the most ideas at night, especially when I'm trying to fall asleep. I write whole poems, articles, etc. while I'm desperately trying to slow down my brain. Plus, I narrate life. Any time something happens that I find interesting, I start rehearsing how to tell people about it. I usually don't even realize I'm doing it. Honestly, it's like there's a voice in my head narrating, making comments, cracking jokes. Sometimes I feel like Anne of Green Gables. "If you only knew how many things I want to say and don't." If you only knew the ideas that whirl around in my mind that don't see the light of day!

    Give me the right music and some coffee and I could accomplish just about anything.

  5. I find myself getting ideas when I can't write, also; very annoying. They usually come to me when I'm working in our printing ministry. We'll be on a run of 20 Bibles, and as the book of Fapte (Acts in Romanian) spews out of the printer, I get some amazing idea. But then I realize only 9 out of 20 Bibles are printed, and I'm just going to have to wait to write it down. Thankfully, I have a good memory when it comes to writing :P LOL.