I don’t think I could have written a grocery list.
It seems like the creative process in novels have a natural momentum, at least for me anyway. The first draft always writes itself. The words just flow; the story just goes naturally where it wants to go. There is no discipline, and absolutely zero concern for narrative shifts, or the overuse of adverbs and pet words, or character names changing halfway through the book. First drafts are generally fun to write but rarely fun to read.
I spent last weekend revising a second draft of an upcoming murder mystery. As I sat on the couch with my laptop in my lap, I discovered I’d been zombiefied. In other words, I was brain dead with the dreaded Writer’s Block. So instead, I thought about a few ways to re-energize.
1. Hit the treadmill and focus on one scene
I like to write out a scene outline on a large flip chart sheet of paper then tack it to the wall in front of my treadmill. Once I can adequately stare at page on the wall, I hit the treadmill for 30 minutes and focus on the scene. Playing out dialogue and structure in my head as sweat drips down it seems to break through my writer’s block. Obviously jogging releases endorphins, which make you feel good, but a solid cardiovascular work-out pushes blood through your brain and body too. It de-zombiefies you, so to speak. I often find myself back at the laptop shortly after any light exercise.
2. Get out of the house and write
Shake it up. Personally, I like to go to a crowded location with lots of people and noise — such as the food court at the mall or a local fast food restaurant — and set up shop. I spread out my papers and laptop and note pads and pens. I take over an entire table, and people watch and eavesdrop. But, it generally works. I’ll be blowing through a scene and not even aware of time passing .Since I live alone, that activity is stimulating my zombie brain and pushing me past the writer’s block. For writers who live in a crowded, noisy house, the opposite is probably true. They like serene picnic areas by the lake and secluded tree houses that look down on scenic, inspirational views. To each his own, I guess.
3. Put the current project away and dust off an old story
When treadmill and the food court just don’t clear the cobwebs out of my head, I resign to surrendering the current project and switching tracks. Personally I have about 20 different murder mystery manuscripts in various stages of completion. Digging an old story out of the archive — especially one that I haven’t touched in a couple of years — can spark the creative bonfire. When that happens, I’ll work on that old story for a few weeks to a month, then come back to my current project with fresh eyes. I often find the writer’s block is a bottleneck in the plot that I instinctively know isn’t working, but either don’t see it at the time or can’t write my way out of it. Coming back to the story after a short break brings clear skies and a clear head, and the proper path for the plot is right there waiting for me.
Of course, I didn’t attempt any of these exercises to knock out writer’s block this weekend, and just simply embraced the affliction and turned on the TV. Appropriately, there was a season four ‘Walking Dead’ marathon on AMC.
It was a good weekend after all.