“I think that writers need to be out there, be in contact with people, struggle with other things and then come back and bring it to her writing.”
– Chitra Divakaruni
Whenever I feel like my writing is losing focus, or that I’m losing the edge or spark, I begin to panic. Mainly because these symptoms preclude a wicked case of Writer’s Block. If you’re lucky enough to have never suffered from this horrible disease, let me be the first to congratulate you and explain what I mean. Writer’s Block is a common disease and hard to recover from; even if you do recover, there are always those pesky flare ups. Its symptoms include staring at a wall or out the window, willing something creative to flow from your mind to the paper, with nothing doing. You will be given to bouts of depression as you walk past your neglected computer/journal/legal pad on your way to your day job. Your characters shun you. Your plot turns trite and your dialogue cliché.
What is a writer to do??
I like to follow Chitra Divakaruni’s advice, as in the quote posted above. If you have Writer’s Block, you have sapped all of your creative juices. We writers tend to think we should write all the time without replenishing our imagination, which is as unhealthy as exercising all the time without stopping to replenish fluids. How do you replenish your imagination? Get in contact with people! We attempt the impossible by trying to transcribe the unorganized chaos of life into an organized plot that (dare I say it?) makes sense, is engaging, and means something.
So if your characters are flat or your dialogue stilted, have a dinner party or meet some friends for lunch. While you’re with them, watch how they speak. What are they doing with their hands? Do they maintain eye contact, or look away while speaking? Or better yet, go to your local park, sit on a bench, and pretend like you’re reading. Or have headphones on, without the music playing, and eavesdrop. You’d be amazed how detailed and intimate conversations get when people think no one is listening.
Is your plot lagging? Read the newspaper, or tune into your evening news station. Truth is stranger than fiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of that strange truth to inspire you. I once read about a woman who dug up her boyfriend because his family didn’t invite her to the funeral or visit him at the hospital while he was sick. Now that’s a short story in the making. Edgar Allan Poe would have loved that, I’m sure. Or better yet, use your own life as inspiration, with some tact and restructuring, of course, so no one gets insulted.
What about your setting? Have you even thought about it? Are your descriptions tired? Go out and enjoy a bit of nature. Pretend you’re new in town, or you’re doing a study on local names/descriptions for the flora and fauna of the area, and ask people what they think that flower is named, or how they would describe that park. Don’t take their idea as your own, of course, we don’t want another Cassie Edwards case on our hands, but allow their ideas, if imaginative enough, to spark a few of your own.
…Still distracted? Unable to focus? Clear your desk so you’re not fiddling with the items there. Move your pens out of the way, file your bills, hide your mail. More importantly, if you do your writing on the computer and you use a program like MS Word, use the “full screen” option under the View menu. This will make your writing the only thing visible on your monitor/screen, thus preventing you from wanting to check your e-mail again, or answer that quick IM, or (if you’re like me) re-organize your files. Simple as that sounds, I get so much more writing done with Word in full screen mode. It prevents my usual multi-tasking, which is refreshing and a little nerve-wracking at the same time. :-P
Do you have other suggestions or little tricks that work for you? Let me know, I like to be prepared… You never know when another case of Writer’s Block will knock you unconscious.