Seven Ways to Jump-start Your Writing

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By Bev Walton-Porter

It’s unwelcome, but inevitable: someday you’ll face the dreaded affliction known as writer’s block. This damnable malady may wreak havoc on your creativity for a day, week or month (let’s not even consider a full year!), but you don’t have to be a willing victim! You can combat and conquer writer’s block with these seven, sure-fire remedies designed to crank up your creative urges and jump-start your writing for the new year.

1. BEGIN A DREAM DIARY

Some of the best scenes and storylines are those which spring unbidden from the deepest recesses of your unconscious mind. If you’re not inclined to snapping on the nightlight to frantically scribble down the remnants of a fast-fading dream, buy an inexpensive compact tape recorder and record your impressions upon awakening.

If you’re unable to recall every last tidbit of your dream, don’t fret! Just as snippets of newspaper articles can be used as a catalyst for your next story, dream snippets can provide unique bits and pieces which can be woven together later on to spice up plots, characters or spark ideas for nonfiction articles.

2. KEEP A PRIVATE JOURNAL/BLOG

Keeping a private journal is one of the most effective ways of combating writer’s block. Make your journal or blog as nonrestrictive and nonthreatening as possible. No one will be sitting behind your shoulder counting off points for grammar, punctuation or paragraph structure! Silence your inner critic and write honestly about what you’re sensing or experiencing. Are you angry? Sad? Euphoric? Why? Be as specific and descriptive as possible. Don’t set limits on the frequency or length of your entries; instead, concentrate on consistently writing in your journal/blog, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly.

A word of advice: although some writers use online journals or blogs, the aesthetic experience of journaling with good old-fashioned pen and paper appeals more to the writer within me. It’s your choice, but regardless of your preference, the basic idea is to give your creative self free rein. You may be hard-pressed to sit down “cold” and produce the first chapter of your book, so allow yourself a “warm-up” by journaling.

3. PURCHASE A BOOK OF BABY NAMES

The purchase of a pocket book of baby names can not only be a tool in naming your next character, it can also be used as a way to recharge your imagination. Each week, choose a name or two from the book and develop a character sketch out of the impressions you receive from saying and thinking about the name you’ve chosen. What would this person look like? What personality traits would they possess? Who are their relatives, and what are their names? Where would a person named Beauregard be born, and under what circumstances? How would they dress, and what foods would they prefer?

Whether you’ve chosen Maribelle or Myrtle, develop a person from that name using your impressions and personal poetic license. The stable of characters you create can then be used to people your upcoming short stories or novels, and the plot twists will evolve naturally from your characters’ flaws and weaknesses.

4. HONE YOUR POWERS OF OBSERVATION

If you’re not already an avid people watcher, become one. Begin ferreting out expressions and mannerisms of members of the general public engaged in daily activity. Note any habits that could be used as an effective “tag” for your fictional characters. Carry a small notepad and record not only people’s characteristics or witticisms, but the surroundings, as well. People tend to behave differently depending on whether they’re attending church or attending a football game.

Jot down the flora and fauna of your hometown surroundings, as well as any areas you visit or vacation. Observe the similarities of people living in small towns, mid-sized cities or large, sprawling urban areas. Use these simple notes and observations as a springboard for setting in your next story.

Although your fictional setting may not be a real town, you can easily fool your reader into believing there is a town by adding authentic sights, sounds and smells borrowed from your people/place-watching notes.

5. BRAINSTORM/FREE-ASSOCIATE

Brainstorming and free-association ranks at the top of effective ways to energize your brain cells into a more inventive mode. Simply allow yourself five minutes to jot down any words that come to mind. Put your pen to paper (or your fingers to keyboard) and write as many as you can within the time allotted. Don’t allow your internal critic to censor anything–write every single thing that pops into your mind.

That done, take an additional ten minutes and read each word you wrote down, writing the first words that come to mind when you go back over your initial list. Don’t just shoot for associated words, dig deeper into your subconscious and give voice to any impressions you receive. Once your time is up, study the words you’ve culled from your subconscious. Are there any obvious storylines or characters there?

Play the “what if” game with each of the words. Pair the words together, using different combinations to spark your imagination. Then re-pair them, using the resulting combinations as a beginning for a whole new range of plot/character possibilities.

6. CUT IT OUT!

Cut pictures, photographs and headlines from magazines and newspapers. Anything that strikes your fancy or piques your curiosity should be perfect targets for clipping. Use both people and objects, as well as beautiful scenery that inspires you. Add your collection of clippings to a large basket or box and randomly withdraw five clippings.

Use the clippings to develop a story, asking yourself who, what, why, where, when and how. Who is the little girl in the picture, and where are her parents? What is her hometown like, and how long has she lived there? When is she due home for dinner, and why is she happy/sad in the picture?

7. RELAX, DON’T DO IT

Sometimes one learns to do by not doing. Meditation, creative visualization and guided relaxation may sound like New Age buzzwords to the practical, no-nonsense writer, but any or all of the above can actually help your writing performance. Go to the local library or bookstore and check out the latest books on relaxation. Just as an athlete’s body needs cooling down after it’s been stretched to its physical limits, we as writers need a mental cool down as well.

Choose one day per week to relax by taking a walk, meditating or utilizing creative visualization. Allow your mental processes time for recuperation and repair. If you’re using creative visualization, actually see yourself as successful and productive; explore the feeling finding a check in the mailbox instead of a rejection letter. Let your mind conjure up as many positive, reinforcing images of writing as you can. See yourself in your own mind, and notice how confident and optimistic you are, excited to send off that next book proposal or query letter. Envision how relaxed your shoulders and neck feel; in you, there is no tension, no anxiety. You are a writer; you are doing what you truly love.

Though there are as many ways to inspire your creative self as there are to write a book, these are just some of the little things you can do day by day to stretch your imagination and enhance your productivity. Some may work for you, others may not. But if one single idea benefits you on your quest to become the best writer you can be, then that minuscule amount of effort will reap words upon words of reward.

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