Writer's Block? Exercises to Clear the Block
The Dreaded Writer’s Block
We writers all suffer from this curse from time to time. How do we get though it, past it, over it, and get on with the business of writing? There are many cures out there, and here are some that have worked for me. I hope you will find them useful as well.
Sit down and write. Write any old thing, stupid or not, sensible or not. Coherent or not. It does not matter in the least. What matters is that you are putting words down on paper. Heck, start out by writing your frustration with having writer’s block in the first place. Here are a few other suggestions of things to write just to write:
- a grocery list
- a silly poem--it does not need to rhyme
- copy dictionary entries
- journal a stupid dream
- make out a bucket list
Any of these things can help get your juices flowing, and may, in fact, end up turning into a topic about which you find you can write an article or short story.
Where are the writing ideas and inspirations? They surround us daily, of course. You can make up a story around any number of things, including snatches of overheard conversations while standing in line.
Jot them down; combine them later. What did you overhear in line at the grocery store? At the pharmacy? At the vet’s office? At the gas station? Mix them together, and invent a back-story for what was going on in the lives of these individuals. Make them interact with each other.
Remember--at this point, you are not trying to create a masterwork, and it need not make any better sense than the offerings of a first-grader’s make-believe story. It is merely an exercise to start putting words to paper.
Do not, however, throw away these efforts. Put them aside for a bit, and re-read them later. You may find a single sentence or quote that is the spark for your next masterpiece.
Listed as a childrens'-level game, that doesn't matter; being silly, childlike and playing with things from younger times can also act as thought triggers
Above, I suggested just copying words from the dictionary. Sometimes that will do the trick. Browse the dictionary--you may find a new, intriguing word you did not know, or for which you never had much use before. Make note of it. find a way to use it in a sentence.
I remember my mother and I used to frequently “get lost” in the dictionary. We’d look up a word, but then get sidetracked reading other, nearby words and definitions, and often as not, flipping to other pages to look up a new word found in the initial browsing session.
My mother once told me of a personal challenge she undertook while in high school. The subject matter was a spelling list, and as is a common practice with teachers and spelling lists, they had been assigned to write sentences with the words.
My mother, however, decided to take this to a whole other level, and challenged herself to write a single sentence using all of the words. She succeeded, and the teacher was appropriately impressed. You might try this with a random list of words, including a grocery list. What can you create with that? A story? A recipe?
Playing word games can be a fun and non-stressful way to stimulate the brain juices. There are many types; oral games; pen-and-paper games; computer word games; or get out the old Scrabble™ board.
A simple word-association list is also useful. Write down the first word that comes to your mind. Then write down the word that your original word makes you think of next. Continue in this manner until you have a decent list of words--10 or more--and look them over for the roots of a story or article.
A couple of my favorites are “make as many words as you can,” and “find as many words as you can with a certain starting word or prefix.”
Game One: Make as Many Words as You Can
For the first game, begin with a word that has at least two syllables; three is better. A good assortment of vowels and consonants is also desirable. The rules of the game are this:
- You may use only letters that appear in the original word
- You may use the letters to make other words only as often as they appear in your source word.
- You may choose your own rules as to whether one and two letter words are allowed, or whether you must make only words with three or more letters
- Archaic and obscure words are allowed (such as those you might encounter as crossword puzzle solutions)
- You may choose, if the original letters permit, to include both singular and plural forms for the words you make, that’s up to you
- You may set a time limit if you wish, but I usually do not
For example: if I choose the short word, “carpet,” I can make the following list:
- pet (but not pets)
and so forth. This is obviously only a partial listing of possible words from “carpet.” I prefer using longer words, such as, “refrigerator.” Why don’t you give it a try and see what you come up with?
Shorter words pose a bigger challenge--are you up for it?
This particular game is a favorite of mine to pass time in places like doctor’s waiting rooms. I always have a small notepad and pencil with me.
Game Two: How Many Words Start With...
The next game is to begin with a word or prefix, and see how many other words you can make that begin with that starting point in a given amount of time, without consulting the dictionary.
For example, “inter.” See what you can find. My list is below. No peeking. You have 2 minutes. Go!
Just pick up anything and start reading. Your favorite author; an old book you’ve read and re-read before; the newspaper; friend’s posts on social media, anything. Reading is an excellent trigger to make you think, and the more you think, (even if idly and without conscious effort), you start to get sparks of ideas, and inspiration may soon strike.
Keep a notepad with you, or, if you prefer, some kind of audio recording device, so that when you are away from home, and you get that wonderful idea for your next best-seller, you can immediately capture it for a work session later.
Yes--I suffered this exact fate recently--had a great short story idea while driving, and no way to record it. By the time I got home, I had no idea what it was that had occurred to me.
Memory can be a fickle thing, and with all the “information overload” we suffer these days, sometimes we are lucky to recall our own names or remember to make the bed. By writing it down, we won’t forget, and sit staring at a blank piece of paper, wondering what it was we thought of in the grocery store, or when we couldn’t sleep at 2:00 a.m.
The Problem Can Become the Solution
See? It Works!
Guess what? I wrote this article because I was suffering from writer’s block, and needed to play around with some words to break the dam.
And here you go: I ended up writing an article on the matter. See? Absolutely anything can serve as your inspiration!
My Partial List of "Starts With 'Inter' "
There are obviously many more; I’ll leave that to you, dear reader, to play with.
My Other Article on the Matter
- On Writers Block As a Pisces
How to overcome writer's block. A look at the problem from the lighter side, poking a bit of fun at myself.
Some Others' Advice
- Finding Story Ideas From Real Life
From Hub Pages' own billybuc, here is another article on the topic: Ideas for stories and articles are as close as your real life. Open your writer's eyes and see all the ideas that surround you.
- Writer's Block Help for Those Who Have Too Many Ideas
And from Heidi Thorne: Sometimes writer's block isn't the result of having too few ideas; it's having too many! Discover questions that can help writers focus and evaluate opportunities when they have too many ideas.
© 2014 Liz Elias
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