What to write when you are completely stuck

Disclaimer: I wished this to be a comprehensive, helpful, enlightening blog post to guide other bloggers to ways to get out of a writing rut/vault over writer’s block/get productive writing-wise. Instead this is a rant cum musing and it doesn’t help that the post has no headings or sub headings to help you skim.

This post title is so me. I face this conundrum every 3.5 weeks of active blogging. What to write about? Without further-ado, let’s take this head-on.

Do a recee: I hop over to the blog categories to recap which topics I write about most often and which ones do well. When I am stuck, there’s nothing better to do than the tested-and-tried.

Take a different angle: So I know which posts attract more readers. I try a different angle to these topics. Some of my book reviews do really well. So, I write a more detailed post on one of the aspects of that book, either focussing on the plot or the characters. Or even do a post on the various book covers a classic book has had ever since it was published. Or the fan-fiction it has spawned. Or the social changes it pointed to. You get my point.

Experiment with formats: Most of my posts are a fixed length. There is a switch in my mind that flips when that word count is reached. I intuitively know it’s time to wrap up. However, I change that consciously just to bring newness to my posts. I post a picture with a short caption a la Instagram. I write a funny piece. I write a listicle. I write a serious, longish, how-to-do post. On occasion, I have written posts with a bunch of pictures showing a journey or a walk in the neighborhood.

Write a book: Whaaaat, weren’t we talking blog posts? Those few months when I had no time or the mental space to write, I decided not to let weeds grow on my blog. I committed to writing one post a week, in the form of a listicle. A year later, I collated those listicles to publish an ebook. Later, when I got another writing block, I decided the subject of my next book. That gave me the impetus to start researching and writing shorter posts around the topic of my book.

Copy your heroes: There is the curious case of a writer who loves to type out the books of his favourite authors. What a waste of time? Not really. I don’t copy my favourite book verbatim but each book has a special element, each author has his own voice. Identify that unique quality. It could be the length of the sentences, a particular mood or visual imagery. I try to recreate that in my own writing. I may only write little pieces that way but it helps to get started. Also, I have used those little snippets as a starting point for other stories. This helps me the next time I feel stuck.

Prompts: There’s something about writing prompts that screams ‘forced’ to me. I used to be petrified of them to the point of avoiding them completely. But in the end, I made them work for me. I channelise my rebellion to write the opposite of what the prompt offers. If the prompt is about the mountains; I write about the sea. If the prompt is about something dead serious, I infuse humour in my story. If the prompt is about what’s outside my window, I write a story of the things on my desk.

Talk to the people in your head: I do that when the people in my life don’t want to listen to my ramblings. There are situations where I thought of a retort seven minutes too late. There are things I read where I want to give my two cents. There are the theories which I am sure would change the world when properly implemented. I write them all. It makes me feel better and in the end I can always crumple up the paper and throw it away. But yes, it gets me started on the writing path again.

What are your tips to looking for topics when you don’t know what to write?
P.S. If you can, please answer this existential question: if we can’t think of what to write, why don’t we just let it be??

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Conquering the Writer’s Block

Most of us think that writing effectively and clearly is an inborn talent. It is not considered a skill that could be learnt or improved upon much. Either you have the flair for writing or you don’t have it. 

While it is true that most people have a natural inclination for certain types of skills, yet writing well is not something that cannot be learnt. For people to whom it comes naturally, there is a certain joy and they pursue that joy. They do it again and again and they get better due to the sheer persistence and through the learning they get along the way. It is true of writing just as it is true of every other skill. 

But even for long timers, a very real deterrent comes in the form of a feeling of being stuck after a while or being in a rut. It is referred to as the dreaded Writer’s Block. 

When can the Writer’s Block strike? It can strike anytime. It can happen when you have taken a longer than usual break from the writing. And it can happen even in the aftermath of a writing marathon, when the going is so good that you feel like God, the creator of your story, the hand that controls what happens to the characters and who gets born and who does what. It might take only a day to come down from the pinnacle of that writing and go deep in the dumps. 

Feeling stressed about writing or not writing is also a cause for the block to get heavier. 

And a very real reason are the expectations… others expectations from your work and your own. You might want to reach the pinnacle of your writing again and again but it might not be possible to produce everything of the sane quality all the time. 

Whatever may be the reason for the Writer’s Block, it really can strike anytime and it is best to be prepared rather than go deeper into despair and taking a long time to surface. 

Writer’s Block typically manifests itself into ‘what to write’. 

To counter the dearth of topics when you don’t know what to write is to have a list ready… of the things, situations that talk to you, that get you so excited that you cannot wait to sit down and wax forth on it. 

Make the list of the things you are passionate about, make a list of the things that jump out at you, as you go about your life. Know what you like to do, like skating or gardening or sculpting or knitting , things of which you could talk intelligently and possibly can teach others something as well. Think of your favourite foods and make a list. You could probably tell others how it could be done and how to improve upon it. Think of the books you have always liked and you can tell others why and what you liked about them in the first place. You could think of the restaurants you like and why and the places you have traveled to and how they enriched your life. Take them all together and make a long, long list or write them on little slips of paper that can act as mystery subjects that you can pick and treat as your prompt. 

Your very own prompt list is ready and you would not be able to say that you do not know what to write about. 

The next thing is the inability to write well, coherently, cohesively. You may have a certain style that you are very comfortable with. In dire circumstances, which are the times when the block is sitting heavily on you, step out of the comfort zone. The writing that you are doing is terrible already and there is nothing to lose by being even more terrible, so change that style. Go for longer pieces if you normally write shorter pieces. Explore different voices, from serious to a little funny to tongue in cheek to slap stick. Write poignantly or at least attempt to, if you write only funny pieces. 

We all have these elements in mind, the entire gamut of human experiences and we let out only a few sides of ourselves. Write poetry if you abhor it. Write a journalistic piece if you hate news items. Go analytical in your pieces if you like to talk of only feelings and emotions. Be a reporter if you have never been. Write a memoir if you are scared of writing about yourself. 

Another thing is to not care about being judged. It is one of the main causes of the block being there in the first place. You write well and then you get a lot of appreciation and support and suddenly you cannot reckon how on earth could you live up to those expectations. It seems that everything you write is under scrutiny. One sure way to counter this is to tell yourself or to fool yourself into thinking that you are only writing in your private journal and that no one would be reading it. If necessary, think of the pesonal journal having a padlock with the key secure in a good place. Then, write. Some say, bleed. Write whatever is in your mind, is in your heart, makes up your fears and disappointments and fantasies and joys. Later, when you are out of that scary place and in the warm glow of the fireside and feeling cozy and comfortable, you can take out the personal journal, unlock it and read it back to yourself and decide what it is that you want to share with the world. If there is nothing that you would rather share, you are still lighter by a few tons of emotions and thoughts that were a recurring pattern in your mind. 

The best advice I myself have ever received about overcoming the Writer’s Block and I am sure every writer has had it too, is the ‘butt in chair’ trick. In other words, just write. It does not matter what and it really does not matter how and remember there are no devils or witnesses perched on your shoulder as you lurch from one disastrous paragraph to another. Just write and by and by, you would get the flow and voila, your voice too. 

What are your tips and tricks to get the better of the Writer’s Block? 

Witness

The witness to my creative process is also the reason for my block. One moment I might be writing, thinking over the words and the next I am engaged in an imaginary conversation with my reader. I explain this and that, things I might have wanted to elaborate upon but left out for the sake of brevity. Sometimes, in my writing I tend to ramble on; I love to digress really, for that is how the mind works but I cannot let the structure of the written piece be influenced by my whims.

There are times when the future reader is pushed back by the ghosts of my encounters with people talking of their own memories and experiences that have shaped them. It is especially true when it is a memoir I am writing and I am recreating events and places from snatches of conversations I have had with people.

The contributor to my stories turns into the reader in my mind. I remember his raw emotions as he talked, that kept bubbling up and how he tried to put them down, hiding behind a veneer of sanity and maturity. I can think of the way it would move him when he stumbles on my piece and reads and remembers that he told me all that. I hope then that I have done justice to him.

When I write or capture a scene, I know I am almost looking over my shoulder for a critical look from the masters looking at me trying to attempt what I am learning to be good at. I think and try to imagine the helpful suggestions and the critical explanations.

Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation with someone I have just met and getting to know through tentative questions, my mind thinks in a parallel mode of what I could really tell her about following dreams and aspirations. She, then is the witness to the hacks and the advice pieces I have.

My creative block also comes from the ways my witnesses expresses themselves. I compare myself to them and feel daunted by the ease of their expression. If I could express myself in a vacuum, being just at home with the muse and letting it flow, I might be prolific but I would miss a crucial link in the chain of my expression.

How to break out of a Blogging Break

My blogging break was unintended. In my mind, I was fully dedicated to my blog. I could write under all circumstances. Standing, in a crowd, cooking, eating…. And then, it happened. The pin prick in ego’s balloon.

I got a little busy. Just a minor crisis. The kind we can tide over if only we wait long enough for things to sort themselves out. But, I had made up my mind to be unhappy over it. Be disturbed even because life of late had been easy and smooth and there is nothing like pathos to spice things up or to feel more alive.

Well, the pathos turned real and the whirlpool sucked me in. Days turned to weeks and then to months. I could get back anytime I wanted, I thought, but each day gone made it more difficult. The stitch that should have been put in time was not and things unravelled.

Things unravelled in my life too. Writing was a safety valve, a mechanism to stay sane and its absence brought on things that put together could only be part of a syndrome.

I thought about it and then some more. Analysed the problem from different angles. Writer’s block? Blogging ennui? The Dip? A search for greener pastures and worthier goals? The need to hide? The need to be heard on a different platform? But the fact remained that writing was the reward. The end to the means.

There was the problem of an artistic temperament as well. An artist is supposed to be in exalted company, creating at will, and the will subservient to certain conditions considered conducive to creation. Was I an artist? I was tempted to say yes but the depths of my conscious mind screamed no. I realised that I was not exalted after all and I could create with practice and a teeny bit of talent. And some wit thrown in. Mix in the bubbling cauldron that is the mind. Not for me was the luxury of waiting for the muse to strike me. I was destined to chase it down.

What about my readers then? I would still much rather go across to them and say hello and appreciate their work for every reader is also a writer, more so on WordPress. Especially when I have written something cringe worthy. Or something that mirrors the style of the most boring and non versatile writing pieces I come across.

Deliberation has been difficult. Getting back has been easy. As easy as picking up a pen and putting it to paper and thinking and writing that down. Or the ‘butt in chair’ technique. Or the advice about writing regularly. And practicing your writing muscle. Reading others. Reaching out to say hello.

“If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by”- Sun Tzu

How the Muse deserts you…sometimes

Writer’s Block is a much talked about phenomena. I myself have wondered about it earlier. Apparently, there are different kinds of writer’s blocks. When I last searched the web for answers, I came upon an article listing ten (!) types of writer’s block. As I read on, I felt giddy but I was able to categorise my denseness and the block into recognisable excuses.

There are many reasons too, for the dreaded block. Some of the commonly cited ones (cited by me, not by an article by some know-all) are imbalanced yin and yang, decreased flow of energy, more receiving than giving.

And for the past couple of months, I have been suffering more from writer’s block than writer’s unblock (there, another word coined). But why? It could be that I have nothing to write about. Is that possible in the world of daily writing prompts, weekly prompts, photo prompts and numerous articles about a successful writing process? I have been exhorted to delve deep in my past and memories to write my life story and if that sounds too daunting, to just write a memoir.

What if then, a deep lethargy overcomes you, even the act of putting pen to paper seems indomitable? What if you do write a bit, then cross it out, write some more but the words seem all wrong? You find that the energy and passion is missing!

On the WordPress, I read about ‘seeding’ a prompt box. It seemed like a good idea. You put in a box, multiple slips of paper, written with words that trigger strong feelings in your mind. When you do not know what to write, pick up a slip and elaborate on that word. A readymade prompt!

Yet, in all this time of dark meanderings, I have found only a couple of things that work for me.

The first one is free writing exercises. This is precious. It may seem silly to be writing whatever comes to mind. But with time, the words flow easier and faster. There is no pressure to write perfect sentences or even meaningful ones. There is no thought of a structure or even making a point. So, it is just the ideas that flow and make ready a blueprint.

The other thing that works for me is regularity. Yes, the ‘butt in chair’ idea works well. And if done regularly, the writer’s block melts, as if it were ice in the heat of your ideas.

Writing is all about expression, of putting out whatever is in the mind and whatever has affected us deeply. And if at the same time, it touches the reader and he can recognise a part of himself in it, then that comes in the realm of good writing.

Writer’s Block

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”
Charles Bukowski

I am a writer, though not the highly revered published author, but one that writes nevertheless. I like writing because I love to, because it is a form of self expression and because I feel that every person has a right to express himself/herself. The days I go with whatever life brings me, reacting and defending, are the days I feel I have lost touch with myself.

I used to read about writer’s block and laugh secretly, thinking a lot of fuss was being made about short periods of unproductivity. What was the big deal-I thought, after all, people in all professions burn out. Take a break and rejuvenate, simple, is it not? And writers being writers, custodians of words, twisters of sentences, inventors of ideas; we are the ones who defined writer’s block, glorified it and made a monster out of it.

Till I started my blog, I was a prolific writer-in my journal. I would write as and when I felt like and would feel pleased after a finished piece of work. When I started my blog, I was pretty confident about being a productive blogger. Just a matter of sitting down and writing. I was cruising along fairly well and then it struck me! I was down with Writer’s Block!

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Calvin's take on the Writer's Block

Hmm..I was important, after all. The most talked about malaise in the writer’s fraternity had hit me. I walked about with a smile on my face for a couple of days. The third day I sat down to write something. The words wouldn’t come. I was not worried. After all, I had just ended a very productive period when I wrote at all times of the day. Another day passed. I sat down to write. That day I managed to scrunch up a few sheets of paper and throw them around. The floor looked pretty. I must have a home office soon, for I am a bona fide writer now-I made a mental note to myself.

The real worry started a few days later or was it a few hours? If I do not produce something soon, my followers are going to desert me. My blog would wrap up. I would be back to zilch-cooking and cleaning and taking care of kids. I would not be able to look down upon people mentally and repeat the magic word ‘blogger’ when I made the introductions. Anxiety came in waves. And the waves got bigger each passing hour.

I did some research on the dreaded block. It said that writers must know how to generate ideas and explore their own thoughts so as to retain creativity and stay inspired. Okay, I filled up pages with prompts. I examined my thought processes. Zilch! I was scared of writing something that would not be good. I was afraid I would put out something not worthy of me. I knew people were reading me and that frightened the wits out of me. My nerveless fingers dropped the pencil…umm..OK..I can avoid the dramatisation.

I tried to relax. To nurture myself, mind, body and soul. I did not drown myself in decadent activities like TV or parties. I walked, I spent time with myself, I ate good food, I listened to good music, I read my favourite authors and I made myself feel loved.

And magic happened…

Relax. Put pen to paper. Smile. You are now going to produce a masterpiece. Or a terrible first draft that might have to be published as it is. In any case, I love free writing exercises. Either way, I am writing and I am a writer again.