How to get over Writers Block? – @markmccarthyUK
Coffee. I’m just being honest. Who knows if coffee is good or bad for you. But I start writing on my third cup of coffee for the day. Since it’s an addiction, at some point I will need four, or maybe five, cups to get me started. Somehow coffee gets my brain over-stimulated and ideas start to happen and then I write them down.
Reading. I always read before I write. This morning, for instance, I read some William Vollmann (an essay he wrote about writing), some Bukowski, some Miranda July (she has the breathless “love me” way about her), Michael Hemmingson (who was writing about William Vollmann), and a little of my all-time favorite author – me. When I’m reading I often get ideas about what to write. No idea is totally new. So if a writer experienced something I’ve experienced or makes me think of something I’ve experienced, I can repackage it and spread the love in my own, hopefully unique, way.
As an example, the other day I was reading Tim O’Brien’s short story, “What We Carried” about the physical items he and his fellow soldiers carried into the jungles of Vietnam and how they also carried emotional and mental baggage.
Well, for me, going into NYC, working to support my family, trying to struggle against the competitive fire of everyone else trying to take money with their grubby fat hands during the course of my day, reminds me of that. So I wrote about what I carry during my day. Did I copy him? Of course, but it’s also my truth and not his.
Same Time Every Day. If I wake up at 4:30, and done with my reading and coffee by 6, I’m sitting in front of the computer trying to write. Your brain is your slave, not your master. So if I tell the brain every day that at six AM he has to jump through hoops and ride an elephant than he better do so. (Or maybe he is a “she”. Can a man have a female brain? Sometimes I think I do.)
Start in the middle. This is the best technique on the list and will always work If you have a topic already. The other day I was writing one of those “7 Things I Learned from X” sorts of posts. I was staring at a blank screen. I couldn’t figure out the intro. So I said to myself, “how about I just start with the list?” I then wrote: “1) Honesty” and then I couldn’t think of what to say underneath honesty so I went to #2, then #3, etc. Now I had a list of seven things but no descriptions/reasons for each item and NO intro and NO conclusion. But I also had NO PROBLEM because the content was done. So I just filled in the blanks like a game of Mad Libs.
Start with the blood. This only applies if you have a topic. I wrote a few months ago “5 things I learned from Isaac Asimov.” Or maybe “10 things”. I forget. But when I think about Asimov and me the first line that stands out is, “The first time the police were ever called to get me was when I was 15.” From there I have a story and will lead into the 5 things, particularly when I follow “D” above.
Don’t EVER Talk about what you’re going to write. When a piece of writing is inside of you it’s like a baby that’s growing. The baby is feeding off of your vitality, your brain, your emotional strength, and over time it grows. If you talk about it, then you’ve given birth. I’ve given birth to more dead babies than I can count. Give birth on the written page first. Then you can talk about her as she matures.
Inspiration. Sometimes I get hard-core writer’s block. I did my reading, my coffee, my analysis of my big past failures, etc. and I can’t figure out something to write. I do several things then to look for inspiration:
I look around my room: This inspired “The Tooth”, and also “The Ugliest Painting in the World”, and also “Is Burton Silverman Dead Yet”.
I go to some websites that always have intriguing photos that might inspire me: Boingboing.net, Brainpickings.org., thebrowser.com, extragoodshit.phlat.net (warning: explicit), etc. For instance, “7 Things I Learned from Louis Armstrong” came from the first item on the list above.
My own material. I look back to stories I’ve written and see if there’s a way I can slice it up further. For instance, I’ve written about starting a company in the 90s called Reset. But I never wrote about selling it so here I wrote about that.
The most embarrassing things. I had hard-core writer’s block one weekend. So I picked the most embarrassing stuff you can possibly write about and just spewed it out in a post called, appropriately, “Writer’s Block”.
Make yourself the bad guy. If I’m writing about the love of my life I can write “I broke up with her with a text message to her phone.” Or you are writing about how to make money you can start with, “The worst thing I ever did was steal money from my parents.” Then that leads to: why you stole, how much you stole, what you did with the money, how you found a more honest way to make money, and what those 7 ways of making money are. Voila! A post!
Honesty Check. Make sure you’re not trying to protect yourself. Protecting others is important. Do No Harm. But if you’re going to tell a story, it doesn’t have to make you the hero. For instance one of my more popular posts was “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat Out of $2 million.” Right off I said I needed $100 million. Nobody needs $100 million.
Then I described what I would do with $100 million, everything I did to try and get that hundred million, and ultimately what Yasser Arafat had to do with it. The story told itself. But I was arrogant, foolish, a bad guy, and at least at that time, had no idea what I was doing. If I tried to protect myself in the writing then there would’ve been no story. So always do an honesty check. Are you saying something because it’s true or because you are trying to protect yourself?
Solve a problem. If I have a problem like, “I’m angry” then I have at least two delicious courses that will make a full meal. 1) What am I angry about? 2) How I deal with the anger. This not only solves my problem but I think gives the world a little advice on how to deal with anger. So how do you do this? Look inside your stomach. What’s making you feel a little sick or inspired today? Your job?The prospect of being an entrepreneur? Jealousy of Larry Page? It can be good or bad. But it has to be inside of you so you can get it out, analyze it, kill it, destroy the beast, and solve the problem.
The above ten techniques have basically produced every piece of writing I’ve done this year plus five books. Now my only problem is I promised Claudia I would cook fried chicken for lunch and I have no idea what to do. I might fake it by going to a restaurant while she is napping and getting fried chicken from them and pretending afterwards that I cleaned the whole kitchen. Sometimes I get away with that.