Posted in Writing, Writing rituals

Don’t cure writer’s block: Avoid it!

So, what is writer’s block? Is it a real thing? Damned if I know. I’ve never had it. No, really. I. Have. Never. Had. Writer’s. Block. I’ve been writing for thirty-plus years and cannot ever say I’ve been blocked.  Stuck from time to time, maybe. But it only lasts for a nanosecond, and I find myself able t move forward. I think it’s because (a) I don’t buy into the notion that it’s a thing for all writers, and (b) I have some habits that seem to help me void the dreaded block.

We all get stuck once in a while. We just get unstuck. Being blocked is being paralyzed by an inability to continue a project you’re working on. This paralysis is a problem and a problem that sits squarely inside a writer’s head. Does that make it real? Only if you want it to be.

I’m not the only writer who doesn’t think writer’s block is a real thing. Or at least we can avoid it.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me, there’s no such thing as writer’s block―don’t even say writer’s block.” ~ Judy Blume

“Writer’s block doesn’t exist…lack of imagination does.” ~ Cyrese Covelli

“Writer’s block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing.” ~ Giando Sigurani

“Writer’s block is just a fancy way of saying ‘I don’t feel like doing any work today.’” ~ Meagan Spooner

Here are the ways I avoid writer’s block.

1 – At the first sign of being stuck in a project or when the characters seem to have stopped talking, I change my environment. I get up and go for a walk. I do the laundry. I make a sandwich. I don’t’ just take my writing to a different space―I put my head into a different space.

2 – To avoid falling into the trap of seeing only the problem―or even letting the situation arise in the first place―I do some writing practice every day. I have notebooks of all types and will write something. Sometimes, I write a script. Other times a blog post for the travel blog I write with my husband. Sometimes, it’s just a few paragraphs.

3 – I always have at least two projects on the go at the same time. I am always writing a novel―always. That’s a given. But I also write scripts for my YouTube Channel and often have another book at some stage of gestation. For many years, I always had a fiction and a nonfiction project on at the same time. My newest novel (out next month) was written while I was also writing How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal that Sells. Stuck in one project? Move to the other, then come back.

4 – I have a writing ritual. Before I begin writing, I always have a cup of coffee. Always. Sometimes, I add a yoga session before the coffee, but the coffee is a ritual that gets me moving. It’s not about the caffeine. It’s about sipping the coffee mindfully. This means that you’re not thinking about your writing during the ritual―you’re thinking about the coffee. Or the yoga. Or the Chopin Nocturne you’re playing on the piano. Then you write.

5 – I have a second creative outlet. I design clothing and create garments. This is a major creative outlet for me that often feeds my primary passion: writing. You might take up sketching, playing music, ballet, oil painting, singing, making Kumihimo jewellery or whatever other creative passions ignite you. You’ll be amazed at how this creative outlet can get your writing muse on the ball.

I’m going to give Erica Jong the last word (you know her, of course??)

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ~Erica Jong

So, if you’re afraid of being judged, just write for yourself. Writer’s block will dry up.

I can almost guarantee it. Almost.

Posted in Journals, Writing craft, Writing rituals

Datebooks, calendars, planners: A year in the life of a writer

daytimerI should have known it wouldn’t work for me. I know that everyone else has transitioned into the new world of technology, and I have to say that I thought I was right up there with the most tech savvy of writers. But there’s one area of my writing life – and life in general – where I am singularly unable to evolve. I cannot seem to give up my real-paper daily planner.

It all started two, years ago when I decided to try to wean myself off the expensive Daytimer™ I had used all throughout my academic career. When PDA’s (remember those Palm Pilots?) first emerged, I was one of the first adopters among my university colleagues. I do have to admit though; I never gave up that Daytimer. In fact, I even bought one of those Daytimer covers that included a paper planner as well as a slot on the inside of the leather cover into which to slide the PDA.  What that really amounted to was using the paper almost exclusively and only removing the PDA at meetings so as not to be seen as a dinosaur.  But I never really did get the hang of the electronic calendar ‘thingie.’. At least I could never figure out how people clung to it both physically and psychologically as if it were their very lifeline. Those early days of Palm Pilots have to be seen as the birthplace of the dreaded “cellphone elbow” that is so ubiquitous these days, soon to be followed by “smartphone neck.”

These days I do use the calendar in my electronic devices. Of course I do.  What would I do without that little ringing reminder of today’s dental appointment and tomorrow’s meeting at the bank? And a significant number of my friends/acquaintances/colleagues are joined at the hip to their devices so send messages that I can immediately add to my electronic calendar.

But what would I do without my leather-bound Daytimer lovingly stationed on the edge of my desk with its week-at-a-glance that not only tells me what appointments I have this week, but also contains notes about what needs to be written when? It also has an add-in page where I can continue to add items that need to be done before I head south on a vacation two weeks from today, as well as make notes on what I’ve accomplished each day. I’m sure that an electronic calendar of one sort or another (there’s an app for that) can do much the same thing, but I have no intention of finding out.

To be clear, I also use my devices for note-making – in fact I wrote the draft of this post on a mini-IPad, but it will never take the place of either my paper calendar or all those journals I love so much!

So, to justify my existence just this side of the Luddites of the world, I offer you my top five reasons for using a paper calendar.

  1. It enhances my creativity by forcing me to find innovative ways to remind myself about appointments without benefit of that annoying little sound effect.
  2. It gives me an opportunity to ensure that the lost art of penmanship is not entirely lost in my own world. Since I write longhand less and less, when I do have to write someone a note, it is usually barely legible.
  3. The sound of the pen or pencil on paper soothes my racing writer’s mind. This might be a throwback to a simpler time in childhood!
  4. It enhances my ability to see the bigger picture of my week/month/year. Maybe others can do that with the electronic calendar, but I can’t.
  5. It requires me to physically connect to the notes I write. As dumb as it sounds, I have long been a person who remembered something more easily if I wrote it down. Tapping on a screen doesn’t seem to have the same effect. So, if I write down that appointment, I’m more likely not to even need the reminder.

As I start a new year, I have a new calendar and it’s a bit like having a clean slate that is actually physically present. I’m going to use it and stop feeling like a Luddite for not being able to wean myself off!

Posted in Journals, Writing craft, Writing rituals

Blogging as writing practice

Just like athletes and dancers, those of us who call ourselves writers need to “practice” our craft and “warm up” before embarking on a new piece of work.

Whenever I’m faced with the prospect of a brand new writing project and find myself sitting in front of that blank computer screen, fingers poised over the keys, I need to feel that I am in practice and that I’m warmed up to begin properly.  So, how do writers practice when they’re not writing something destined for publication in one way or another?  And how do we warm up for the task at hand?

Over the years, many writers have simply kept journals.  I’ve done that myself and I continue to do it.  I love my journals as any of my regular readers know. I have journals for a wide variety of things.  But they do serve me two very different purposes.

The first purpose is for me to have a place to write down ideas as they come to me.  Most writers do this and these days many will do it electronically on IPhones and IPads or other electronic devices.  I do this as well, but for me there is nothing like my nice pen and my Moleskine journal(s).

What kind of book notes & ideas reside in this journal? Hmm...

The second purpose for me in keeping journals is for writing practice.  Writing guru Natalie Goldberg says, “It’s good to go off and write a novel, but don’t stop doing writing practice.  It is what keeps you in tune…”[1]  I’ve always loved her approach to writing practice; keep your hand moving.  That works fine when I use a pen and notebook, but it’s not so useful when I’m at a keyboard.  Maybe it should be, but it isn’t.  That’s where blogging comes in for me.

Just like everyone else out there, when blogging first started to become a force, I started a blog.  I thought that I could use the blog to make some of the work I do at the university available to a wider audience – but I wasn’t committed to it, and as I look back on the exercise now, I think I really wanted to learn the technical aspects of blogging more than I wanted it to be good pieces of writing.  But blogging can be that practice Natalie talks about.

Consider this: if you are a writer, you need to write every day – or at least those five days a week that you devote to “work.” (I know, some of your friends don’t think you’re actually working when all you seem to be doing is sitting at home diddling away on the computer – my mother thinks that if I’m not in front of a class or at a meeting, I must not be working.  I wonder where she thinks those books come from?)  But you don’t always have a big project – and sometimes when you do, all you seem to be able to do is stare at that blank screen.  This is where blogging as writing practice comes in.

Blogging, however, can only be a practice if you are committed to it.  This means that you commit to writing almost every day and posting at least every week or two.  But do you have to make your every blogged thought available to the masses?  In a word, NO!

Not every blog has or needs to have an audience.  You can actually blog away with your settings set on private.  It does not need to be searchable by the Googles of the world.

For most people, blogging requires an idea that triggers a personal response that then becomes the basis of a blog post that begs for reader response.  Blogging in this scenario is a very public activity that begs for that dialogue.  Blogging as writing practice, on the other hand, does not need an idea, or an angle.  It does not need an audience, and certainly doesn’t need any feedback.  It just needs the writer to begin with a word or two – such as “I remember…” as suggested by Natalie Goldberg – and fingers to the keyboard, repeating that two words every time the ideas stop flowing.  What’s very important here is that what you write doesn’t even have to be good – it just has to be.

This is how I justify spending time on this and my other blog – the other blog is one that chronicles my other passion – travel.  They started out as ways simply to practice and warm-up before a big project.  They have, obviously, evolved.  That’s the nice thing about writing practice (even in your journals): you never know where they might lead.  They just don’t need to have an objective at the outset.  Happy blogging!

The Common Craft video reminds us that blogs are “news” of the 21st century – but as writers, we know better.  Blogs can be anything we want!


[1] Goldberg, Natalie. (1986, 2005). Writing Down the bones.  Shambhala Publications, p. 17.