27 August 2012

What Do You Do?


by Jan Grape

Jan Grape
Since I have been lazy and unproductive and not feeling like my usual self (and who do you feel like, Jan?) I decided to see if my fellow SleuthSayers will help with this column.

What do you do when you have writer's block. Or you sit down to the computer to work on your latest project and your muse is asleep or your brain is empty or whatever you might happen to call the weird thing that happens to all of us at some time or another?

What Do You Do?

I remember hearing Sue Grafton speak at a conference once and she said sometimes she sits down at her desk, fires up her computer, and sits there and sits there and sits. After a while she types "The." And maybe that's all she types for several minutes, maybe even a hour. But, she has committed to sitting at the computer for four hours each day. And some days she just types nonsense after "The." The quick red fox jumped over the fence… maybe. And somehow words start popping into her head and she starts typing.

So I decided to test Sue's theory, "The…" I sat here for a while and suddenly I began typing. "The man sat down, ordered a drink, talked small talk to the bartender and after a few minutes the man tells the bartender 'I just killed someone.'" Okay, that's pretty good. Who is this man? Who did he kill? Why did he kill? And why would he tell a stranger, the bartender this? Maybe Sue's onto something here? Who knows?

I also looked at a book on my shelf called Break Writer's Block Now! by someone named Jerrold Mundis. I don't know who this person is and have no idea when I bought the book, but it's autographed so I probably bought it at some mystery con I attended years ago. He sorta gives the same idea. After telling you to have a few minutes of meditations or relaxation before you start writing, then sit down and just start writing. He advises to use a pen whereas nowadays we almost all use a computer. But he says just keep the pen moving. It doesn't matter if your words make sense, or what you're writing about. You can write about last night's dinner, or a part of a letter or a journal or just stream of consciousness, whatever. Just keep the pen moving. After a few minutes, finish your sentence and put a period. Then sit back. You have finished this exercise. Now read the next chapter in the book.

Another wonderful book I have it titled Techniques of the Selling Writer, by a man named Dwight V. Swain from Oklahoma. I met Dwight at a writer's conference and later when we had our bookstore, Dwight came to Austin and did a book signing. This book was first published in 1965 and the copy I have is from the 5th printing in 1988, but most of his techniques are as true today as then.
He specifically mentions how as writers, we allow other things in our everyday life take over. The kids, the bills, the spouse, the headache. And one big thing you have to try your best to do is realize there is a creative part of the brain and a critical part of the brain. You have to keep those two apart if possible. Face your fears. Build your self-esteem. Don't demand too much. Again, it's almost the same as others have said.

What are your fears? That no one will like your work? Okay, so maybe no one likes this book, but what about the next one? Is the earth going to shatter if you don't sell this one?

Build yourself esteem. That's often easier said than done. But try to be around people that you like and that like you. Tell jokes and listen to them laugh. Have coffee with people that make you happy. Keep thinking you're a writer and a good writer and soon you'll feel like you are.

Don't demand too much. Accept yourself as you are today. You're an okay writer, but you know if you keep this up for 5 years or 10 years that you'll be a better writer. Don't get frustrated because you're not Sue Grafton or Stephen King. You may not ever be in their category but you still can be a damn good writer if you keep writing.

And finally, my last word. Give yourself permission to write. You may have obligations, family, spouse, job, bills whatever that keeps you busy with that other life but if you intend to keep writing, then give yourself permission to do so and keep writing.

Anyone have ideas, suggestions, thoughts, fellow writers?

8 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Whoa! I could feel you gaining energy as you wrote that.

Jack Getze said...

One trick: Start by rewriting the most recently completed page. Naturally leads you back into the story. This is how I've started writing almost every day for 40 years. Second trick: "Practice" writing. Take a character from your story (someone you haven't written much about) and run them through a scene. Don't worry about the scene -- any scene will do. It's just practice. (But you will learn something new about that character that could affect your whole story.) These are not my original ideas, BTW. Stuff I've been taught.

Fran Rizer said...

Jan, my method is the old,"What if?" I think that phrase, and inevitably, words follow.

David Dean said...

I follow Jack's advice about rewriting to get started again. It usually works. But ultimately, I think it's important to just write--the muse will catch up eventually.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post! I will read it again. Maybe even a lot. I agree with Jack. The rewrite is like priming the pump - we had a pump at our Girl Scout Camp in Suffolk, VA, when I was 200 years younger and this is a good analagy. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

Eve Fisher said...

Anne Lamott said "give yourself permission to write shitty first drafts." I always tell people write something every day - a line, a paragraph, a page - it really doesn't matter what length. But write something. You get enough of those lines, paragraphs, pages done, and you'll have some work. Some days, of course, are easier than others.

Herschel Cozine said...

I sit and stare at the blank screen for awhile, then I check websites such as SleuthSayers, SMFS, (NOT Facebook!) my homepage, etc. Then a little solitaire,and then it's time for dinner.

This is not--I repeat, not--recommended to cure writer's block. But you asked.

Anonymous said...

I guess my answer of "I cry" isn't a very good one . . . :-)