I don’t believe in it. I used to tell my college students and still tell those attending my writers’ workshops that there are two types of people who experience writers’ block: people who have never been introduced to the tools to avoid or overcome it and people who people who use it as an excuse to get out of working. Then they can talk about “their muse” and charter a plane to fly off to the Bahamas to sip Mojitos on the beach. Then I talk about “Prewriting, Freewriting and Rewriting.” Right now, I’ll just talk about “Prewriting.”
Prewriting activities are those things you do before you need to write. You need to know how you work best, and you need to have the correct tools on hand for the job.
Getting to Know You (and Your Preferences)
When I was in grade school, my teachers gave me very rigid conditions under which I had to do my homework. I had to have a strong light (some teachers even went so far as to specify fluorescent vs. incandescent, the wattage and which shoulder the light should be beaming over). I had to sit in a straight-backed wooden chair, at a student desk, with my feet flat on the floor. There could be no music or any other distracting sound. I could not eat or drink while I worked but I was supposed to get up every 15 minutes or so to stretch my legs.
Sounds like a good recipe for really creative processes, doesn’t it?
No, I didn’t think so, either.
I often ignored my teachers and did my homework lying on my stomach on the family room couch while listening to the New Christy Minstrels or Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
If your grade school teachers were like mine, I am hereby giving you permission to get those demons out of your head. Intentionally consider under what conditions you write best.
For example, when I am writing nonfiction (such as this blog), I compose best directly on the computer. However, when I am writing fiction (such as my novel), I compose best long hand on regular, old-fashioned lined paper. The pen and the paper I choose depend on my mood. What chair and my position in it also depend on my mood.
And I still like to listen to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
Answer These Statements for Yourself:
My favorite chair to sit in while I write _______________________________________________________
Do I compose best on a computer or in long hand? ________________________________________________________
The type of pen I like best ________________________________________________________
Music that makes me feel creative _________________________________________________________
My favorite snack to have on hand while I work __________________________________________________________
My favorite drink and how it should be served ___________________________________________________________
(One of my friends notes in answer to the last one that the drink doesn’t matter so much as who is serving it: a tanned pool boy.)
Next you should consider when your best time of day is for what type of work. In a corporate setting, you might not have any control over this. If the boss comes to you and asks you to write something immediately, you can’t quite say, “Not now, boss; I would do much better at that if you come back in two hours.”
However, if you do have any control over your daily schedule, think about how your personal body clock operates. For example, I am a morning person. I think best in the morning and I am at my most creative in the morning. I try to get all my writing done before 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
After that, I do tasks that require my getting up and moving around. Otherwise, I get fairly sleepy and dull at that point. I also save phone calls for that time of day, if I can. (Yes, that means I am talking to people at my slowest times. Given my normal talking speed, it probably helps.)
I was asked to give a talk once to a group of inner-city high school students about writing careers and the importance of writing in other careers. First I gave them permission to slouch when they did their homework at home. Then I asked them if any of them hated writing. One young man, a football star, said that he hated writing but he wanted to be an engineer. His friends kind of mocked him when he said he wanted to be an engineer.
I asked him if he liked to sign his name on checks. He said he liked that.
I told him that people who could write better tend to get paid better. He said he liked that, too.
I told him that if you didn’t practice writing that when you had to do it, it was harder. I asked him if he had a big game coming up the following weekend and he said that he did. I said, “So I suppose you’re just sitting around this week doing nothing then, right? Hoping that when you hit the field you’ll be able to do what you have to do?” He said no, they had practice every day so that they could be in shape and know what the plays were.
I told him that writing was just like that. And all he had to do was find some topic that excited him, some pen or pencil that he liked to write with and some paper or computer that he liked to write on. Then I asked him every day to just jot down a couple of thoughts of his own or responses to something he heard someone else say. Then his writing would get stronger and stronger. Will you do that for me? I asked him. “Yes,” he said quietly. “You’re doing it for me now,” I told him, “but it’s really going to be for you down the road.”
Now: Go crank up that Tchaikovsky or AC/DC or Dead Paintball League, grab a quill pen or iPad and slouch your way to better writing!