Since I’ve been called upon twice in the past week to share this advice, I guess it would be appropriate to include it here, to share with my audience of spammers: If you’re stuck in your writing, if you’ve let that crucial day (or two, or more) go by without working on whatever project you have and now find yourself in a creative desert, this is how to fix the situation:
Set aside one hour a day and write during that hour. That sounds easier than it is, so here are some other rules to follow: That hour must be at the same time every day. During that hour, write nothing except the project you want to get back to. Do not think during that hour. It may be tempting to do so, because your inertia will create storms of sudden pseudo-creativity in your mind. You must not pay attention to these, as they are meant to distract you. The inspiration for a fabulous new recipe. The solution to your perennial babysitting problem. The answer to your financial woes. Do not listen; they are not real.
What is real will be the one thing that seems unreal: the dreck that you are writing. What I’m saying, to spell it out, is to write really fast, without giving any thought at all to what you’re writing except that it’s connected with your project. Now, this will be a lot easier if you know beforehand what you want to write about. If it’s a novel, you would do well to have at least a vague idea of what you want to happen. It doesn’t matter, though, if it’s not crystal clear to you. That, believe it or not, will come out in your writing.
Prepare to throw a lot of what you’re doing in this hour away. In fact, your first few days may seem completely worthless. Just tell yourself that what you’re writing isn’t as worthless as the nothing you’ve been writing prior to this experiment. What will happen is that slowly something will evolve from the words you’re putting on the page. And it will be something of value.
I know, it sounds astonishing, miraculous, impossible. But it works. You must do this for 28 days, the length of time it takes to form a habit, although you will probably find your way back to your book long before your month is up. But you do want to form the habit. Otherwise, as soon as your inspiration leaves, you’ll stop writing again.
Other rules: Write in longhand. That connects your mind to your heart.I know that sounds woo-woo, but I speak from experience. I compose at the computer most of the time. I’m doing it now. But when I have something sensitive to write, something difficult or subtle, or if I don’t know exactly how to get to where I’m going from where I am, I write in longhand. In a safe place. (If you don’t know what I mean by a safe place, you don’t need one.) Once you’re out of the woods, go back to the keyboard.
Also, write whatever comes into your mind, but keep focused. Resist the temptation to write about your mother, spouse, child, or arch-nemesis — these are the subjects for therapy, not publication. Believe me, I know. My ten-year hiatus was spent mostly ruminating about broken relationships. What a waste.
Most importantly, don’t judge your work. Don’t even consider it to be work. Just call it scribbling. Block happens when the author forgets that he is god. He feels, at times, that he’s not good enough to be god. That’s he’s not good enough to be anything. But he — you — is the only creator your book has. You are not playing god. You ARE, and it is necessary to your work that you are. So forget trying to be good enough to publish. Just concentrate on bringing your book to life by finishing it. It does deserve to be finished, doesn’t it?
If, after 28 consecutive days of writing, you still don’t know what you’re doing — or if you can’t make it to 28 days — then man up and admit that you’re not yet ready to work on something so difficult, and give yourself a break. But if you’re serious about your craft, and you are ready to bring forth your creation, this technique will help.
By the way, I’m writing again, and even swimming again. Crisis over. I do follow my own advice.