One of the questions that one hears in Writers’ Groups, especially online, is, “How do you beat Writer’s Block?” The simple answer? Write. I know, I know, easier said than done. How do you write when you’re blocked? you say. It’s the same thing you do to “Write your way outta the Trailer Park” per se.
WRITING YOUR WAY OUT OF WRITER’S BLOCK
I don’t keep a Journal or a Notebook. Those two things have always been a source of Tyranny for me. I buy blank books for Journaling, and Notebooks for, um, Notebooking. But I’m too inconsistent to Journal on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. So, those Journals and notebooks are a source of near-crippling guilt for me. Plus, in recent years I’ve developed diabetic neuropathy in all ten fingers. Writing longhand hurts. I can type on my laptop or phone and it’s tolerable. But pen and paper, or worse pencil and paper, are too painful. I save those for short pieces like poems, song lyrics, index cards, and Post It notes.
My solution? I get out my laptop and I write what Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron both call “Morning Pages.” But, sorry Dot and Jules, I don’t actually write them in the morning. I write them whenever I find the time. I write them at night, sometimes after Midnight, so that could qualify as Morning. But, for me, the Morning part of Morning Pages is more a suggestion than a Commandment.
I don’t do mornings well. Writers writing at the crack of Dawn? Ha! Only if we’re still up. Am I right? You know I am, my fellow scribes and/or degenerates.
HOW MORNING PAGES WORK
Okay, now that we have things defined a little better, here’s what you do with your Morning Pages. You write whatever you feel, think, wonder, whatever. Natalie Goldberg, in “Writing Down The Bones,” called it Writing Practice. And what Natalie suggested was this: keep the hand moving. Keep the fingers typing. Keep the pen or pencil moving on the page. If you don’t know what to write, Natalie said, then write THAT. Write, “I don’t know what to write. This is stupid, my head hurts and I’m a nauseous. I can’t believe I have to write this stupid page for the next ten minutes…” Do this for, you guessed it, 10 minutes.
That’s what Poet Laureate Rita Dove calls, “A Ten-Minute Spill.” Don’t edit yourself as you write, don’t stop to correct spelling and grammar mistakes, writ RELENTLESSLY for 10 minutes. In fact, if you want to be more productive as a writer, NEVER let your Writer and your Editor write at the same time. As Peter DeVries said, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.” For 10 minutes, Let it fly, baby. When your 10 minutes are up, stop. Later on, you can experiment with 15 Minute Spills, 20 Minute Spills. I’ve done a 60 Minute Spill before, but it was terrible.
When you start doing the 15 Minute or 20 Minute Spills, set a Pomodoro Timer AKA a Tomato Timer. These timers are usually set for 25 minutes. It’s a common Office Productivity technique to do timed-spills of 25 minutes. They call these 25 minute spills Pomodoros, with a 10 minute break between Pomodoros.
But, hey, we’re writers, not office workers. Let’s set our Pomodoro Timers to 10 minutes to start. with 5 minute breaks between each Pom. Four Poms to the set and we’ve done 40 minute of writing in one hour. Later, we can do 20 minute Poms if we want, or even full-out 25 minute Poms with that 10 minute break
I don’t mean to use the Pomodoro Method with Morning Pages. Using that method will come later.
HOW THIS HELPS WRITER’S BLOCK
How do you use Morning Pages, and Freewriting, to help your Writer’s Block? Simple. Once you start writing your Morning Pages, you’ll find it natural for your mind to transition from, “I hate this. I don’t know what to write…” to “What if an alien became Pope? IS the Pope an alien, hmm,” or even something like, “It occurred to me that my Protagonist has TOO much backstory. If I cut that out of the story and gave my Protagonist more of a Mysterious past…” Those things will happen once you learn how to Free-write.
That’s how I do my Morning Pages. I keep my morning pages private. It’s okay to write Laundry Lists in there if I must. But I’ve ALSO given myself permission to cut-and-paste any story material I want to use or to develop. More on that in the section below.
Freewriting works apart from Morning Pages or from the Timed-Spill Method. Professional writers use a technique known as “Writing your way into the story.” It works like a Timed-Spill, but it’s not timed. Call it an Untimed-Spill. You write any old thing until the story or the scene starts working, then, later, you cut out the warm up material. If it’s good stuff, cut-and-paste it into a Tickler File, or even into a dedicated Word doc labelled “Story Ideas” or some such title. Because, as my old friend Helen the Hoarder used to say, “Ya never know.”
Remember, fellow scribblers, writing is supposed to be fun. If you’re a writer and you’re not having fun WHILE YOU’RE ACTUALLY WRITING, then stop doing it. Or better yet, do what you have to do to make it fun again. Fall in love with storytelling again. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination. One day, maybe when you’re a Multi-Zillion Selling Author with-a-capital A, you’ll realize what so many successful Artists have realized before you:
The Journey IS the Destination.
Keep reading, and keep writing,