A blank page should be appealing to those who regularly write, like a mountainside of untouched snow to a skier. But not always. Sometimes it can look up at you with a blank stare daring you to come up with something worth writing on it. Behind an unfilled page can lurk many fears—I call them “reluctancies.” The most common is that you’re not in the mood to write. Mood should never be allowed to determine whether you put pen to paper. It is the contrivance of a lazy brain inventing rationalities not to work. You need to learn to write your way through such moods to the other side to find the smoother road to writing.
Being in the “right mood” is as silly as thinking you need to be in just the right place and/or time to write. These are excuses for slacking off or simply not getting to work. Each such excuse is a cop-out and lets your lazy brain (a redundancy by the way) to take control. The first time you give in to it the easier it is to give in to it a second time. From there, it’s all downhill, and not in the positive sense.
The lazy brain will grab onto the most flimsy of excuses to not write. Try using “I wasn’t in the mood” as the justification for missing a deadline for a daily newspaper. People who write against deadlines understand this. Writing requires more than a dedication to the idea of being a writer. Absent execution, any claim to being a writer is not worth a farthing.
When it comes to writing, discipline requires more then an effort to avoid excuses not to do it. Discipline is the doorway to inspiration. In fact, discipline is the key element of creativity. If you want to start a fire, you need sufficient heat. Same for creativity. Discipline is the source of the heat needed to fuels creativity. It starts not so much with the physical act of writing, as collecting and combining and aligning the various thinking processes required to transform an ethereal sliver of an idea into the beginning of completed literary product.
The best way to avoid the temptation to not do something is to do the something. I’m reluctant to suggest ways to prime your creative engine because I believe it all boils down to good old-fashion effort. Without delving into a list of esoteric exercises to motivate your creativity, try this simple one to ignite your engine: Close your eyes, look out the window, and then open them . . . your eyes, that is. Write a paragraph about the very first thing that catches your attention. Then review your paragraph and think of the ways you could make it better. If you want, and as an alternative, have a little bowl on your desk with a pieces of paper with short, description or specific subjects. Randomly pick one and write something about it. You don’t need to be exhaustive, just a paragraph will do; but, you’re a writer, so you’re obligated to make it a good paragraph. Choose the perspective—first person, second person, a child, an elderly female/male, an alien seeing the sunrise after crash landing on the edge of a lake. It can be a monolog or a dialogue, even a debate, but don’t forget your priority is to get to your main project. Your “slips bowl” constitutes your emergency creative reservoir—a bowl of “primer fluid.”
Ideally, this process will become unnecessary because you will have already started a project and are itching to get back to it, or, you are already champing at the bit to begin work on a new idea that’s been banging around your cranium. You may have already jotted down some notes. The procedure is to get you up and running, and passed or over the occasional obstacle that inevitably tries to block your path of progress.
If this doesn’t work when you need it, then take a little time off and think about or do other things. Don’t dwell on non-productivity; that will just make matters worse. A good physical activity that requires some level of focus will work nicely. Polish the silver. Wash your car. Clean a closet. Go to the bookstore and consider how all those authors were able to get to the end of the writing process. (Try not to get depressed!)
It’s best not to let any thought of writer’s block enter your mind. There is no such thing, anyway. It is merely your lazy brain trying to create an excuse or a diversion. (“Mom, I can’t go to school today. I have a cold” Sniffle, sniffle.) Remember, despite your age, your brain is more like an unruly child than a disciplined adult. But, your creative brain occasionally needs a bit of a rest—some time to run free, amuck, and untethered. Give it a break. You will know when it’s time to get back to work.
Don’t feel bad about having to occasionally use this technique or another one you have come across to give your brain a respite and to restart your creative engine. Our brains were not originally designed to write. For millennia, the primary motivation was to obtain food, clothing, and shelter, and stay alive. That meant avoiding or conquering those things that would have you as supper instead of over for supper. Think of how much time we had to spend finding food or a place to reside before we got organized and lethally effective. But that’s what made us independent from the drudge of staying alive and able to contemplate the meaning of being alive. Those efforts allowed us some free time, and free time is the playground of creativity. It allowed us to become inventive and creative.
As natural as the need to find food in our early days was the inclination to want to share with others our exploits in finding it. Somewhere back then, an ancestor took a burnt stick from the fire and drew pictures depicting a hunt. It was only logical we would want to tell of the hunt and who did what that led to victory. And we needed to teach others how best to do it. That is what archaeologists found on the cave walls—our ancestors’ pictographs were as much instructional materials as stories. From stories art evolved.
As language developed, verbal stories became more refined. Likely, it was the desire to share experiences and adventures that drove the development of language in the first place. Language added incredible depth and breath to our interactions and helped make us human. Actions and adventures have been the source of stories from the beginning of our time. Wanting to tell about them was the easy part, developing ways to tell them was the intellectual challenge that made man uniquely different. But as important as relating tales of the hunt was the need to be able to relate where and how to hunt for various game—birds here, rabbits there, the best fishing here.
On the heels of reporting and teaching came the art of embellishment. Small factual stories grew into tales that became legends, and the legends motivated the youth to press the envelope of exploration and achievement ever forward. The tools for killing game became the weapons of conflict as territories and boundaries expanded and came into contact with those of other and differing groups and tribes and races. The initial expansions of technology most likely involved adding a handle to a stone to create an axe, then a longer one to create a spear. These were amazing technological breakthroughs that ultimately led to the invention of the bow and arrow. Think of the impact that advancement had, not to mention the brutality of those early arms races. Early man invented the wheel. Think of the impact that had on expanding territory and acquiring new knowledge from facing new challenges. (There’s a lesson for writers in there, by the way!)
Literature arose when man discovered that he could embellish reality and invent stories of conflict between man and beast and with different tribes. He could even invent the beasts and battles fought. Man’s growing ability to communicate within his own tribe and ultimately others undoubtedly gave rise to improved and greater levels of cooperation and encouraged the creation of villages and the invention of community. Staying in one place created free time needed to improve, discover, invent.
This is the raw material of story: the invention of characters and their actions and interactions and using our imaginations to expand and embellish tales and stories of them and their encounters in new and every-changing places. It’s an ancient activity that goes to the core of human existence—creating and telling of story, to lift a page of reality and write of people who never existed.
You’re in a cave. Oh, look! A blank wall . . .