In a recent Thursday Craft Conversation at the 24-Hour Room Lounge, we talked about unblocking, and people shared many strategies. My belief is that any writer who faces the problem of being blocked needs a substantial and varied arsenal of tools to deal with it. Some will work better than others at specific times, depending on where the writer is in their process.
I opened with a list of practices I use, starting with a daily habit of sitting down to write at the exact same time every day of the week — ideally seven days a week. If you do this consistently enough, your body and mind will come to expect that this time is for writing and writing will come more easily.
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The practice of reading before writing is essential for me. It provides a kind of mental jumpstart. If I can get into the flow state, really focusing on what I'm reading and being swept away by it, I may be able to maintain that momentum, that walking or perhaps even galloping rhythm, when I switch over to my own work, writing the words as quickly as I can think them.
Other times, I need what I think of as a jump start, an infusion of narrative that's bigger and more intense than a short reading, so I spend a day (or two) on the couch with a book that carries me away entirely, reading straight through till I finish, and then return to my own work recharged.
Another useful practice is to back up in your text, but just a little, say a page or a paragraph, edit that, and then write forward. I do this almost every time I sit down to write, unless I’m starting something entirely new.
If you're stuck on what to write, going forward, having some sort of armature to lean on can help. It could take the form of an outline, beat sheet, plan or map, or could be a device pulled from an arsenal of writing constraints or prompts. My current project was propelled forward by a series of 140-odd lines borrowed from Moby-Dick, pretty much one per chapter, pretty much in order (and very few of them about whales, as it happens).
Other great strategies offered by writers who came to the conversation:
shredding one's morning pages
handwritten first drafts
throwing dice to make plot or character decisions
using the I Ching
meditating before starting to write
having a distinct playlist for that sets the tone for each piece of writing
using voice memos to capture ideas on the fly
Finally, I'd like to offer the Flow Reading sessions at the24hourroom.org (weekdays at 7 and 10 am ET) as a great way to start one's writing day: reading aloud followed by communal silence in the Zoom studio. It's almost like being at the library!
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