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Got my pen, got my paper, got… no idea what the eff to write.

March 9, 2011

Writer’s block sucks.  It is the most frustrating, infuriating (insert profanity here) challenges in writing.

There are books, websites, classes and support groups (which disguise their purpose by calling themselves “writers groups”) dedicated to being the writer’s Mucinex. I’ll include some suggested reading at the end of this post, but first, here are my favorite ways to unclog.

1. Stream of consciousness writing:  This is a common way to just get yourself going.  Just sit down and write whatever pops into your head.  Don’t let your pen stop.  Don’t worry about making sense or using correct grammar.  Give yourself a minimum time or page count (I usually do 20 minutes or 4 full notebook pages) and don’t let yourself stop until you reach the minimum.  Feel free to go over.  Not only is this therapeutic and freeing, sometimes you end up with a really amazing idea amongst the gibberish!

2. 10 ideas in 20 minutes:  This is my favorite thing to do.  First, turn off the cell phone and tell the roommates to use their headphones for the next 20 minutes.  You need 20 minutes devoid of distraction.  Get your pen and paper in hand and either lay or sit down; the most important thing is to be totally comfortable.  Relax and wander through your mind.  Let thoughts rise to the surface.  When an idea strikes you, whatever it is, write it down.  It can be as simple as “A gangster falls in love with a missionary” or as complete as a paragraph outlining the plot (in this case, Guys and Dolls).  Don’t set a timer for this, the point of the time limit is to give you a sense of urgency so you don’t just sit around getting bored.  Try to get your 10 ideas formed and down on paper in 20 minutes.  These little sessions have yielded incredible results for me including my one act play First Dance and the children’s musical I’m developing right now.

3.  The Tour Guide:  I learned this one from Rogelio Martinez (All Eyes and Ears, Fizz) and I think it’s brilliant.  Pick a famous pop culture or historical figure.  Write a monologue for a tour guide speaking to a group of tourists about that person while in a place of significance.  Ex:  A tour guide talks about The Poe Toaster at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave.  Once you’ve done that, write a scene between one of the tourists and the tour guide a few hours after the tour has ended.  Finally, write a third scene between the tourist and tour guide three months after their conversation in scene two.  You now have three different scenes with different structures, tone, intimacy and history to expand on.  A colleague from one of my classes wrote a full length play starting with scenes one and two of this exercise.

4.  News Archives:  The New York Times website is rich with stories to spark your imagination.  Enter a random date in the search engine and see what was happening.  Many people like to pay particular attention to the obituaries since they give the scope of a person’s life in just a few sentences.  I favor the Police Blotters; there are some very colorful criminals out there!  You can take this a step further by weaving two events on that date into your story, having Character A coming from one event and Character B from the other.  This exercise produced my ten-minute play Memphis Changed.

5.  Give yourself parameters:  Many artists fool themselves into thinking that if they put parameters on their work, it will be strangled.  Wrong-o.  When you create obstacles for yourself, it forces you to be more creative in reaching your goals and makes for more compelling theatre.  When I started scene two of exercise #3, I had no idea what to write about.  I started by putting the tour guide on a bench with a suitcase next to him.  Now, whatever I did, I had to deal with that suitcase.  So, instead of the looming and terrifying question of “Where is this scene going to go?” I could find my way to the answer of “Why does he have a suitcase?” a much less daunting task and something fun instead of “important”.

Here are some books and websites to help you out in your brain mucus moments:

Books

The Standards:  The Story by Robert McKee, On Writing by Stephen King, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

My Ultimate Find: On Writing Horror: A Handbook by The Horror Writers Association, Edited by Mort Castle (If any group knows how to write good story, it’s this group!  Also where I learned exercise #2!)

Websites

The Standards:  Writer’s Block Help, Language is a Virus, New York Times Archives

My Ultimate Find: NYPD Blotter, Absolutely anything that mentions Lindsay Lohan… we all have our inspiration.

photo credit

 

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