Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writer's Lull...

I would say "writer's block" but I don't know that I believe in it. It's not that I can't think of anything to write, it's that there are SO MANY things running through my head that I can't pen down a single idea (yes - "pen", pun intended).

I felt like I was on a roll for a bit there - churning out young adult stories that were wining contests and gaining attention and then it just stopped.  I can't come up with a good YA story to save my life right now and my attention for ideas has turned to more adult fiction.  I've decided my pull away from YA stemmed from being a part of a YA writing website - rather than channel my desire to write for teens, it actually diminished it.  I'm not sure if I should be grateful for being on it or not.  And I love general fiction.  Which is fine, if I could just get one story line going instead of twenty.  I realize there are writers with the opposite problem, then again they've actually written entire novels.

Some of my issue I think is exhaustion.  It is quite hard to be an aspiring writer, a full-time wife and mother, and an English teacher. My day revolves around deciphering student writing and poorly constructed ideas and sentences, by the time I get home, I can't complete a thought myself.  Some of it's probably fear.  Fear that what I do write, if I ever get a novel together, will be shot down by the industry.  I completely expect it.  I've not read a lot of novel success stories where the manuscripts was accepted in round one of queries; it could happen, but not likely.

I read an article about creating a writer's life in Poets and Writers, a publication I read monthly and it gave some amazing tips on creating a writing schedule.  I hope to give it a shot this summer, hope to find time for my brain to develop the ideas that keep whirling.  I also stumbled up this article in Writer's Digest about overcoming "writer's block" - they gave four inspirational ways to move forward:


To unleash your full creative potential, you must first quiet your brain’s frontal lobe, the powerful control center that directs planning and problem solving. But before you tune out your inner taskmaster, you can prime it to generate and seize upon useful ideas—in the background and without conscious effort on your part.

When starting a project, take a moment to reflect, suggests Harvard psychology professor Shelley Carson, author of Your Creative Brain. What’s the subject of the piece? Who’s the audience? What main idea do you want to convey?

Once you’ve set creative parameters and constraints, your brain will scan your stream of consciousness for usable ideas, Carson says. Connections that fit the bill will then enter your awareness as those “aha!” moments writers crave.

Now that you’ve programmed your mental DVR, it’s time to turn down the volume on goal-directed thinking. If zoning out doesn’t come naturally, try research-proven strategies like exercise, meditation or deep breathing to lower your frontal lobe activity. Anything that relaxes you, from yoga to a hot shower, can do the trick.

To foster a sense of calm engagement, Elsbach recommends scheduling some “mindless work” into each day. Spend 30 minutes cleaning, gardening, sorting mail or doing any chore that requires some concentration but isn’t mentally taxing.

“Don’t feel like you have to come up with something creative during that time,” Elsbach says. “If nothing happens, you got something done that needed to get done anyway. But it often helps people to have those creative leaps.”


You don’t need to ride an elephant or hike across outer Tajikistan to get your neural network firing along new pathways. Volunteering, spending time outside, visiting old friends or writing at an unfamiliar coffeehouse may all provide enough novelty to spark innovative thought. In this respect, the oft-derided day job may actually offer part-time writers a creative advantage. “They’re exposed to different kinds of problems, different co-workers, different environments,” Elsbach says.

Relating a new experience to previous ones forces your brain to reprocess stored content, which can set off a chain reaction of original ideas. “Take everything you come across in life and try to either connect it to something else or think, what if?” Carson suggests. “What if one thing about this were different? What would happen?”


If a laid-back approach doesn’t spark any creative breakthroughs, Carson suggests the following proactive exercise. List key ideas, characters and phrases from your story and look for new and unlikely associations between these elements. What does your protagonist’s secret mean for her archenemy? How does the war-torn setting color your character’s first romance? “The more connections you make, the more interesting and novel ideas will come to mind,” Carson says.

Stretching your story’s possibilities may also help. “Really start playing with your imagination and ‘what-iffing’ all the crazy directions the writing can go,” Carson says. “One of those may, in fact, work for you.”

A final caveat: Treat creative downtime as a strategy, not an excuse to coast. Your best ideas will be wasted if you avoid the laborious work of crafting them into a finished piece. “It behooves all writers to be authentic with themselves,” Carson says. “I think deep down we all know when we’re procrastinating.”

So - in a nutshell, today's writing is brought to you by someone who can't think of anything to write!  How's that for irony?

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