Saturday, October 12, 2013

Writer's Block: Conquering It Just Like Any Messy Room by Stephanie Fowers

“Clean your room!”

Raise your hand if you remember this moment. Your mom looks narrowly at the mess of your room and packs you inside and says you can’t leave until it’s clean. Well, to any eight-year-old, spinning straw into gold seems an easier task than picking up the stacks of clothes and toys and school projects. And instead of tackling the mess by picking up one toy…and then another…and another, what do you do? Well, of course you sit in your room all day—singing prison songs and running a metal cup against the doors. Slight exaggeration, but who hasn’t lost a whole Saturday to this kind of procrastination?

So you’d think we’d learn.

But have we?

After all those years (I won’t say how many), you sit at your computer, ready to write the great American novel and you are (check the following):

A- Reading blogs (like this one)
B-Checking stats on Amazon
C-Looking through pictures
D-Checking Facebook
E- Basically doing ANYTHING than writing your story.

Oh, the delights of writer’s block. It’s comparable to standing in the middle of your messy room and being told that you cannot leave until it is finished. So how do you tackle that mess like you did in the old days?  The first step is figuring out what’s stopping you from cleaning that room (yes, I have every intention of pounding this analogy into the ground). Is it frustration, exhaustion, a lack of motivation, a life imbalance, boredom, feeling overwhelmed, getting stuck, laziness, or a drop in your creativity? Maybe you just don’t know where to begin.

Well, let’s listen to your mom on this one:

Goal Clean this room!”  I want to write a book. Great. Not good enough. One, it’s too overwhelming. Break it down into smaller goals (story idea, outline, chapters). And two, make it meaningful—make your goal for writing your book resemble a mission statement (what, where, why, how, when).

Prioritize “This room looks like a pigsty!” Your goal is important. Put it on the list of all your other priorities and see where it lies. Everything you place behind your writing will come second to it. This will give you an idea of how much time you should dedicate to it.

Sacrifice “You are not going to bed until this is done.” This means you might not get as much sleep, you can’t watch as much TV, the kitchen won’t be as clean, etc. Be aware of this before you begin.

Deadline “This had better be done by the time your father gets home.” You will have so many words, chapters, books, etc. done by end of each day, week, month, etc. No matter if you make it, working toward a deadline will increase your productivity.

Writing Schedule “Put your things away when you get home from school.” Treat your writing like a job or like you’re preparing for a marathon. Set aside a specified time to write. 

Checklist “Make your bed first.” There is something satisfying about checking off that list, so make one daily: 1-Give Mary a motivation. 2-Find a reason she gets mad at John. 3-Write the “I can’t pay the rent scene.” And then check, check, check it off.

Reward “I’ll give you a sticker to put in your sticker book.” If you work until a specified time, you can: 1-Watch your favorite TV show. 2-Read a chapter from that book. 3-Hang out with husband, friends, sister, dog, cat, whoever. 4-Take the kids to the park. 5-Make dinner. Whatever it is, make sure it’s tempting.

Feng Shui “How can you live like this?” Do you write better in a hole-in-the-wall café, a dark corner with a dingy light, in a garden with a view over the city? Figure it out. Try all sorts of places and keep track of which settings worked best for you, and change it up sometimes.

Sit “Just get it over with.” Turn on your computer, pull out your chair, and get in.

Clear Distractions “No, you can’t play Barbies in there!” Put the phone on silent (not off, just in case emergencies), turn off the Internet. Can’t work with family and/ or friends in room? Work while they sleep, put headphones on, distract them with each other (let them play and if they won’t—put them to work, or involve them in their own hobbies) or remove yourself from the room (this works when you have a writing schedule, so that loved ones know they can have you at certain times).

Inspiration “Put some music on if you have to.”  A little entertainment goes a long way. Listen to music while you write. Pin up pictures on your desktop (yeah, I cast my book with my favorite actors). Change the font and color you're typing with—you can change it all back to boring Times New Roman later.

Balanced Life “You have until the timer goes off.” Not getting enough social interaction, exercise, fulfilling other responsibilities, etc.? Then take a break—just make sure you set a time to start again.

A System “Rake it up!” Yes, I raked my room—it helped me get organized. I’m also a big-time outliner. But everyone has a different strategy. Some tackle the biggest obstacle first while others start small. A few prefer to go from one side of the room to the other (or shall we say beginning to end). Find what works best for you.

Resolve Technical Problems “It looks like a tornado went through here!” Don’t feel overwhelmed. Identify the reason you are stuck in your writing—do you not know how Billy breaks out of jail? Write it down as a question and address it in a brainstorm.

Productivity “If you just got it over with, you’d be outside playing with Molly by now.” Start writing, even if it’s out of order, or if it’s not the writing project you thought you’d be working on that day, or if you hate what’s on your screen—you’ll eventually get some gems out of it.

Brainstorming “Go get your big brother to help you.” When stuck, it’s helpful to tell someone where you are in your story and where you are trying to go and then ask how to get there. Usually, by the time you’re done explaining what you need, you’ve already come up with a solution.
Support Group “You did such a good job!” Find people who love what you write and write for them, feed them chapters, have them threaten to break your knuckles if you don’t deliver on those chapters—they’re sometimes called a writing group.

Enjoy Yourself “Would you stop cleaning your room and be a real kid!” Okay, that’s never happened per se, but that DOES happen when you’re writing. We’re writers because we love it. And if you’re NOT loving it then maybe it’s because you NOT approaching your writing like it’s a messy room. So roll up your sleeves and defeat that writer’s block. I promise, it’s going to be a work of love.

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