Five Weird Ways to Get Writing Done

IMG_0059Towards the end of any month-long writing challenge, the average writer finds herself grabbing at straws for inspiration to keep writing. All the great ideas that had been incubating up until the beginning of the journey are exhausted and she’s left with either a lengthy, cumbersome tome or yet another blank page of reticence representing the next poem or short story. All of the conventional approaches to consistent writing   adamantly advocated by leading writer’s magazines, websites, and blogs are likewise worn thin and their effectiveness called into question under the scrutinizing gaze of the inner wild-child — who simply wishes to create with abandon.

If your wild child has grown bored with the carefully arranged, safety-approved environment of adequately structured playground equipment designed to stimulate just the right amount of brain activity and instead is testing the parameters of the playground itself, here are a few ideas to consider:

Honor the Block: Like all other demons of the psyche, writers and artists fear the dreaded Block; but fear only gives it more power. If you feel a block on your path, acknowledge it and invite it to your table. You may discover that it has something of crucial importance to impart, and it is your job to make way for its message. What questions would you like answered? Entertain a discussion and welcome the inevitable discovery of self that opens access into the deepest reservoir of your creativity. There are answers there. Some grave, some simple. Your Block’s presence may indicate major changes are in order, or it may simply mean that it is time to rest, or time to move.

Clean Something: Ever notice how cleaning off the kitchen table somehow leads to doing your taxes, a chore you’d been putting off for months? Just as our intentions are triggered and honed by unrelated activities, so can writing arise from non-writerly pursuits. And just as intent to write brings household chores to mind, so do household chores bring writing projects to mind.  And obviously, writing, for most of us, is much more appealing.

Work Backwards: In a culture that advocates putting difficult chores first, days and weeks can fly past before we get around to doing what we really want. In writing, the difficult parts include, well, writing. Take time today to imagine the day you read from your published and wildly popular work. Imagine what you are wearing, where you are reading, and even the occupied seats of the venue. Design the cover of your book or get an author photo taken. Practice your signature and what you will write when fans ask you to sign their copy of your book.

Catalog Your Work: On days when I feel overwhelmed with things to do, I make a list of things I have accomplished. It immediately puts things in perspective and takes the pressure off. Instead of worrying about all the work that stands before the present moment and the moment when you can say you’re finished with your project, take a look through the work you’ve accomplished so far. I don’t just mean in the month of March, either, but through all the days of your writing life. This includes the comic strip you wrote in Jr. High, the love letters you penned in college, and the Journals you wrote as an undergrad. It should be obvious that everything you wrote for your college classes belongs in this survey as well. Impressed? You should be. Now to really bring to light just how much you’ve written over the years, index your journals, create a spread sheet of your papers, or stack everything you have in hard copy smack dab the middle of the floor and walk around it for a week. As a penultimate exercise in self-appreciation, check your Submittable account and wallow in the success of having actually sent your work out into the world. Some people never make it that far!

Go Where You’re Unknown: At the extreme end of this spectrum is moving to a differentIMG_0075 state or leaving the country. Culture shock will send you running to your Journal, your only true friend in the world, to normalize your experience, as a plethora of raw material pours forth. But even if you are a lifelong member of your community with no plans for ever uprooting, just going to an unfamiliar coffee shop or opting for a different branch of the library — ones your friends do not frequent, whose “regulars” are new to you, and whose location is in an outlying area — can trigger the kind compulsory focus needed for productive writing.

Remember, challenges like the Writers’ March are meant to work for you, not the other way around. If you find that any approach leads you down an ill-fitting path, simply turn around. You can always return to your comfort zone any time you like.

Good luck, good work, and happy writing.

Lisa Hase-Jackson

Day 17: The Power of Limited Choice

By Lisa Hase-Jackson, guest blogger

Fear is a familiar feeling to all artists, and writers are certainly not immune. Some of the more common triggers of fear include anticipated failure or, as is often the case, anticipated success. For writers in particular, fear is often triggered just by considering the likely ostracism that may occur from revealing family secrets, or by the realization that what was written in a passionate moment of active imagination will appear to be worthless drivel in the light of day.

Perhaps the biggest fear faced by many writers on a daily basis it that of the blank page. Even assuming a writer can overcome the overwhelming number of possibilities represented by the blank page, there are still myriad choices to make – or choices to rule out – once the page is no longer blank and writing has begun in earnest. Let us posit, then, that the progressive limiting of possibilities which occurs during the act of writing is perhaps the most difficult fear for writers to overcome – for though the writer experiences the anxiety this progressive limiting of choices represents, the underlying reason often remains obscure.

Most writers agree that the first line of any piece determines what that piece will be, as well as what it cannot be. Setting aside academic arguments over what constitutes a poem versus what constitutes a short story, it’s reasonable to suggest that once a writer ends a first line of writing somewhere before the right margin, the work in question can be labeled a poem. Conversely, this small but significant decision to hit the return key before the punctuated end of a sentence reasonably rules out the possibility of such forms and genres as the essay, the article, the epic novel, the play, or even the short story.

And that’s only the first line.

Since each line of a poem necessarily does a great deal of work (or should), the choices made and ruled out with each subsequent line after the first will determine the poem’s rhyme scheme, its form, its overall length, and whether the poem will be narrative, lyric, or something likely to be described as experimental. In the act of writing the poem, then, the poet – whether aware or not – is evoking every craft lesson, every respected opinion, every piece of mythology, and every aesthetic preference they have ever encountered or developed in their respective writer’s journey to this very moment of selective choices. What’s not overwhelming about that? Further, because (and most writers agree) the imagined poem is nearly always better than what appears on the page, the act of writing (and selective limiting of choices) is nothing less than a courageous gesture of considerable mettle resulting in an extraordinary ability to conquer fear on a daily basis.

So while it may seem logical that artists fear a lack of choice, it is in actuality this strategic limiting of choices through the act of creation that triggers fear for most writers. And though it is most decidedly difficult to do so, writers must make consistent effort to avoid brooding over choices sacrificed and believe with conviction in the choices they have made.

Gather your mettle now and try one of the strategic choice-limiting writing exercises below:

  1. From a literary magazine, of which most writers have dozens, select ten words you DO NOT usually use in your writing. Use these ten words in a poem, perhaps one per line. The more foreign they are to you, the more interesting the resulting draft will be (and the more fun you will have writing it).
  2. Formal poem construction strategically limits choices for you, leaving your creative mind room to focus on other aspects of a poem. Most poets find traditional Sonnets relatively rigid while Pantoums and Villanelles are considered by some to be a little more flexible. Experiment with these and other forms regardless of your opinion of their merits.
  3. The blitz is a form that makes choice elimination particularly fun. Follow this link for directions on how to construct a Blitz Poem: