Trump Cards…writing tricks to try when you’re stuck or ‘blocked.’

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(1) Lower your standards and keep right on going
(William Stafford &
Charles Bukowski must share credit for that idea!)
Peel a layer of skin off the onion: challenge yourself to go a layer further in, in truthfulness, by going a step in recklessness. (In other words drop your guard/ disable your censor and keep on going).

Make it more physical.
Cut it up, spread it out and move it around. Woody Allen and myself both seem to favour this! Joyce was a huge cut ‘n paste man as well, an “engineer” with his writing, he said. And on Brain pickings somewhere you’ll find 20 top writers’ tips including one from…was it Flaubert?… who says he is “more a scissors than a paste man.” I think we lost a lot when we created computer cut and paste!
“Go back through and hunt for the lies that are obvious”…(Michael Ondaatje) By this I think Ondaatje means the places where you are trying to get away with things, trying to pawn the reader off, trying to have an easy life rather than being rigorous and true. If it sits uncomfortably with you in the small hours as you walk to the bathroom– and that’s when it will sit uncomfortably with you – the reader isn’t going to thank you for it or enjoy it.
(5) Make it physically easier. Get a cuppa, sit where you long to sit rather than at a table. Take the work to bed or start it there. Didn’t Michael Holroyd write all his biographies in bed because, in his estimation, it was the only place his laziness could stand to spend so long at work?

(6)Head towards fun.
Keep your inner creative compass working freely. Keep the needle pointed towards fun, excitement, and discovery. (Credit here to Ray Bradbury and me!) If it’s not fun for you, it won’t be for the reader. Clearly.

I want first drafts to feel like a dive into a pool. I want to be weightless, for them.

So (7) there’s another one: write yourself a description of how you feel when it’s going well. Be alert to the moments when you lose that feeling. I believe you are following paths synaptic and sensory when you write, physical as well as intellectual. You know when you have wandered off the path. You know it in your body.

(8)Still stuck? Create a shape- challenge or structure- challenge; create a word-count challenge to give you a reason to get something done in THIS writing session. Keep to twenty-minute bursts. Or write when you know you have to leave the house/ your desk shortly.

(9) Still stuck? Let your standards hit the floor now. Rave, draw pictures, (Fellini created his LA STRADA clown, Gelsomina, that way!). Talk to yourself on paper (Elizabeth George and me). Or out loud as the kettle boils for yet another cup of tea   (me!) We are miners. Prospectors for gold…Until we hit a seam, and then we are as Czeslow Milosz says “the secretary of an invisible thing.”
(10) The invisible thing will only come dictate to us when it knows we’re listening, when it sees we’re at our post/ desk/cafe/armchair/floor/writer’s bed…(Picasso, Elizabeth Gilbert, me).

(11) Check in specifically to write badly, to write unbelievably badly. Do it. Write your “worst fear” version of your writing style. Let your flaws run riot. Writing has to be your sandpit, your playpen, where you are let throw things around.
(12) Even in this atrocity of a piece, there is probably a lot of good. Find it and work from it.
(13) Let feeling be your engine. Let words get drawn to them.
(14) Write to yourself about what stumps or scares you. Journal and noodle your way in. You’ll find yourself writing sentences for your piece without planning to.

(15) Let the words out to fit the rhythm of the message. Urgent, staccato, stuck…
(16) Stop and read like a writer. Pick up your favourite books. Read, but just until you are excited about words. This excitement contains your own creative excitement as well. Throw the book over your shoulder and pick up your pen!
(16) How would a seven-year-old write it?
(17) How insultingly plain could it get.
(18)Write what you mean- what you MEAN, I mean – on a separate scrap of paper. Move it down alongside your masterpiece. Find a place it fits.

Creating well requires us to be tuned in to how the world is feeling to us, as its transmitters, yes, but equally as creative machines. Listening to what’s working on us creatively and to where we want to be while we crack open a draft are equally important.

STUCK or STALLED at a more global level:
Make it
more comfortable on a routine level for yourself to be writing. Lower your physical/ psychological
expectations of yourself and keep right on going. How? Move from desk to armchair, from armchair to floor, from floor to bed. From home to cafe. To train. Keep going till you can produce the goods. Move from computer to pen and paper, from cut and paste to pen, paper, scissors and glue as mentioned above.
Ask for a smaller time commitment. Ask for fewer words. Then try asking for more, faster.

Promise to show someone something by date X.
Hang a tea towel over the computer screen so YOU can’t see what you’re doing till a certain point.
Buy THE MOTH and THE STINGING FLY. THE POETRY BUS and BARE HANDS. Buy the Indo once a month for new writing. Go to readings. Start showing yourself what you could do with your writing and where you could fit into your local scene.

And when you find projects you love, nourish them every way you can. Give them time, books, other kinds of learning. Give them trips. Promise them outings in print; find places to read pieces of them for audiences while they are works-in-progress. Never talk about them, though. Let them speak for themselves.

Let your pieces thicken up slowly via all the scraps of ideas you have for them. Honour all those scraps. Be prepared to write with them, be prepared that they may be all the first draft material you’ll ever have. Try to never lose a single scrap, a single possibly interesting creative thought.

Learn to know your project as you know people. What suits it? What language will communicate with it? Who needs to read it? Are you writing to them? If not, why not?

Lose the television. Lose the expectation that you’ll be out two or three nights a week. Learn to write in every short burst you get. If you don’t use those, think of all the waste to which they add up.

Write to yourself about your project before you get going on it each day. What are you afraid of? How badly do you fear you may write, this day? Work things out before you start today’s patch of work.

And believe that some day you’ll be looking back on work—a mountain range of work—and you’ll hardly believe how you have got  across it to here. Already now, though, the next two or three impossible projects will be bubbling up in your head!



© Yvonne Cullen and WRITING TRAIN 2013.

Yvonne Cullen’s Writing Train/ facebook

New term of my writing classes starts late January/ early February  2013 in venues around Dublin. 086 1701418 for more information.

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