But if you want pumpkin pie, you might need special tools.
Writer’s block comes from rejecting our thoughts as not good enough. We may think our minds are blank, but they really aren’t. What we’re doing is rejecting what’s there with the hope of writing something that isn’t there. The solution is obvious. Allow yourself to write whatever is there.
Natalie Goldberg says, “Sit down with the least expectation of yourself. Say, ‘I am free to write the worst junk in the world.’”
We call this “free writing.” Suppose you have an idea for a scene. What are you going to write? Typically, your mind goes to work, trying to separate the good possibilities from the bad. An hour later, you still may not be sure where to start. This is the hardest way in the world to write.
The best way to start is to put down whatever is on your mind. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. You don’t even care if it makes sense. Just write possibilities. Later, you can sort out the treasures, throw away the trash, and have a much better scene in less time.
Another approach is called “clustering.” Begin with a blank sheet and a single word that represents your idea. Then draw lines like spokes from the center and write a word or phrase for whatever comes to mind in response to the word in the center. From the end of each spoke, branch off with more lines, letting the spoke’s word lead to other related words. Pretty soon, your array of related words will lead you to that “Aha!” moment where you know where to head with what you have to say.
After so many years of education, we’ve become so well trained to think inside the box, encouragement to think outside the box isn’t enough.
Would you consider sliding down the banister or skipping out to the mailbox? How about driving a different route to work or the store? Try wearing your watch upside down or walking the opposite direction around the park. Look for ways to force yourself to pay attention so what you thought was ordinary can be seen as extraordinary.
We must see the world differently, or we will be boring writers like so many others, just following the style of what we’ve been taught and what we’ve read.
In September 2009, Frank Ball attended a Writing Intensive with literary agent Donald Maass in San Antonio. He was sitting on the front row, where he could see out the picture window to the River Walk below. Two men in white uniforms were sweeping the sidewalk. He was impressed by the city’s diligence in keeping the place clean for tourists, but that didn’t explain why Maass was smiling. What had he seen that Frank had missed? Maass began his explanation with what Frank had observed, and then he said, “There’s a crane down there, turning his head back and forth, supervising.” That’s when Frank realized he needed to become a better observer.
A child’s mind sees everything as something new. The adult mind tends to say, “Everything is pretty much the way I’ve seen it before.” If there’s nothing new under the sun, we have nothing to write about. But if we can restore our childlike mind, everything becomes interesting again, and we’ll never lack for something extraordinary to write about.