A friend asked for tips. I started to write her this message and it got long enough, I figured I might as well slap it up here. So here’s what I do. How about you?
About writers block –
I don’t know if this stuff works for other people but here’s stuff I do for me.
One, I commit to writing something. And when that’s hard, and it often is, I will do so for defined times (like say 10 minutes or 15), and I use a free stop watch program. If I can’t make myself write anything of substance then I write about how much writing sucks and how I hate what I’m currently writing. That gets super old after 5 minutes and I usually start to then write about something else out of boredom.
Two, I edit those bits, and bits from email and blog and facebook into longer pieces. I do that, and I also try to write short pieces, because it feels good to finish things and that good feeling helps me a little, and I need all the help I can get because writing sucks.
Three, separate out the different moments of writing – brainstorming possible topics/things to write about eventually, brainstorming a specific piece, planning a piece/outlining, and writing about the substance of a piece. (I also don’t really outline until after I’ve done a lot of really bad meandery writing. That kind of reverse outline is very painful but it works well.) When I move between these different facets of writing in one session it’s kind of like biking for 2 minutes then running 2 minutes then cooking for 5 minutes – I get basically nothing done because I find the transitions really jarring. I can sort of sometimes go from free writing/meandering into more planning/outlining but I can’t do the reverse at all, I have to take a break and clear my head and write elsewhere.
Four, cultivate the courage to suck. Show shitty drafts to people. Make them talk about it. I learn more from conversation and from speaking out loud than I do from writing. I put stuff out when I want to have people talk with me about the core themes and I dont wait to iron out stuff, because if I wait till I feel comfortable I would never put stuff out. I feel slightly inadequate and nervous every single time I put something out for other people to read, and I often feel much more than slightly so. These feelings have gotten slightly less intense as I’ve gotten older but only slightly. Mostly I’ve just gotten better at acting despite them, kind of like how I rock climb despite a fear of heights.
Five, talk. Preferably while moving. I do my best thinking while walking. I sometimes pretend to be on the phone because I’m self conscious about talking to myself in public. I talk like I’m giving a public presentation of a piece of writing or just thinking out loud. after doing this a few times I often leave myself voicemails summing up the key points. And this is somewhat efficient: depending on speaking speed, it takes about ten or twenty minutes to read a ten page/2500 word paper out loud. Which means that talking out loud for ten minutes generate words equivalent to about ten pages. (I also edit out loud, and I edit by reading over my stuff a whole bunch of times, and sometimes I read it over a few times then talk off the top of my head about it without speaking the prose I wrote. That usually improves my writing.)
Six, figure out what motivates you. I like being complimented and praised and I like a sense of accomplishment but that doesn’t really motivate me. It’s nice but I don’t do stuff because of it. I’m motivated to write when there’s a puzzle I want to sort out, I like the excitement of figuring stuff out, it’s very individualistic for me. That results in part in me writing a lot of partial things, because I get things figured out enough that I stop there.
And I’m motivated by fear of penalties and embarassment. If I commit to writing something for someone else who I know will give me a hard time, or who I know will be offended/hurt if I don’t write it for them, so there are real personal consequences of some sort, I generally get whatever it is written.
Seven, I talk about what it is I want to write and why – what’s the part that I care about? I write that down and put it somewhere or I say it on the phone enough times that I basically memorize it. I revisit that occasionally to get myself energized a bit and re-committed to writing. And like I sort of said above, I write despite not feeling energized, which is unpleasant but do-able. It’s like exercising. If I only worked out when I wanted to, I’d almost never do so. But by working out even when I don’t want to, I get better at it and I want to do it more.