Saturday, January 31, 2009

To a Friend on Writer's Block

Letter to a flash-writing compatriot...cleverly recycled into a blog entry. We are nothing if not green!

I find the short fiction harder sometimes than novel writing. Although I had problems this November, too. Here are some things that worked for me:

1. Lowering the jumps. Of course, NaNoWriMo is all about lowering the jumps to nothing, but like you, I have standards. :) For me, it meant breaking down the 1667 into 500 word increments, real minimums I knew I could reach.

2. Remembering I was supposed to enjoy the process. Strange, but when I consciously decided to enjoy NaNo it started getting a lot easier and fun. Coaches and touchy feely types would call that reframing... Jill Badonsky, I think, came up with saying "Now I get to..." instead of "Now I HAVE to..." about your to-do list. But really, if you can get back in touch with why you like writing--what kinds of stories you enjoy and what kinds of subjects intrigue you and write about those, it helps.

3. People swear by timed writing. I sort of swear by it. First I have to get my butt in the chair. :) Five minute timed writings have gotten me all sorts of interesting things. I recommend at least one a day, but you could do a bunch back to back. Take a handful of prompts (I have a prompt basket--make it FUN) pick one, set the timer. Before I even start writing, I cluster the idea or set of ideas. Usually within 90 seconds BANG, it hits, and I write about whatever it is for the rest of the five minutes. Kind of like improv acting, if you ever did that. The time constraint makes you come up with a story FAST. Perfect for flash.

4. Sometimes you can use an additional prompt to narrow your focus further. Jurgen Wolff has a wonderful podcast on how he generated lots of ideas for TV writing, and it required combining two subsets--characters for the TV show (his given parameters) with random words.

5. Finally, I recommend going and doing something else, but specifically what Julia Cameron calls the "Artist Date"-- a twenty minute session to "refill your well." Go do something novel, like visit a model train store, or look through a magazine you would normally not buy. Or surf unusual websites. Here is a Chris Carter (X-Files) favorite, the New Scientist. Just a cursory look gives us all kinds of food for thought. Bacteria that causes rain. A baby who was genetically selected to be "cancer free." Video games used to treat trauma. Walking rocks on Mars.

6. It's entirely possible you need a break. Sometimes if you are not writing you might be in a better position to edit. Pull out something old and redo it. Even a new improved ending. The important thing is to keep moving if you can. Don't forget to check your ideas notebook and see if there's something you haven't developed yet. Eventually you will come up with something new again.