writer's block

Is your brain feeling rusty? If being creative feels impossible at the moment, try something more or less "mechanical," suggests Gerald M. Weinberg, author of Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method. Weinberg, a computer industry consultant and author of numerous books and articles, as well as several of what he calls "nerd novels," offers a range of practical tips for entering or re-engaging with a writing project. Once you're in, you have a chance to reach the creative zone.

Don't just sit there, writes Weinberg, but draw up a list of small discrete tasks. "Fieldstoning is about always doing something that's advancing your writing projects. List tasks of all sizes, to fit your mood, resources, whatever amount of time you have." For instance:

  • Check what you've written thus far for correct spelling and grammar.
  • Use the Internet to find some supporting material. (One of my own favorites is to search for a more precise term to replace a generic one, such as a particular shade of blue for a character's eyes.)
  • If you've got an outline of some kind, update it to reflect changes you've made in the process of writing.

When you have to write something for work or school, that is, when you're not writing exactly what you most want to be writing, Weinberg suggests that you ask yourself to describe "an approach to converting the assignment into one you do care about." Flow theory agrees: any activity can be turned into a flow activity if you raise the challenge just enough to engage your interest.

For example, say you've committed to writing an article for a club newsletter. In fact, a friend of mine recently had that experience, and she made it compelling for herself by using analogies from aspects of the current political situation that most interested her. She had great fun with the task, and when she was done, she was utterly shocked that a whole hour had gone by.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE STONES?

The crux of Weinberg's so-called Fieldstone Method is to continually gather stones, which are individual ideas, images, insights, and other bits and pieces that may eventually help you build your wall (the thing you're writing). Many writers put such stones into a writer's journal, which I wrote about previously here. Some of the stones (phrases, concepts, whatever) will soon fit nicely into one of the projects you're working on or have in mind, but others will simply appeal to you generally. He calls it the X pile.

on writing

Weinberg, like many other creative artists, recommends working on several projects at a time to avoid getting stuck. And when you do feel temporarily at a loss, ask yourself if you have too many ideas, in which case you need better tools for organizing what you already have), or too few (which suggests it's time to get gathering).

One kind of stone-gathering involves triggering your own memories. The way I do it personally is to make a list of "times I felt shame," "times I felt sorrow," and so on. Such emotional events evoke intense feelings and always offer me something fresh to write about.

Weinberg suggests, as an exercise, to write a series of memories triggered by starting phrases. Examples:

  • Time (When I was eight years old, I...)
  • Place (A certain town makes you think of what pivotal event?)
  • Sound (When you hear a particular piece of music, what do you remember?)
  • Touch (When you pet your dog, what might you be reminded of?)

And so on through sight, feelings, taste, smell, particular people, and more. You can combine such triggers for even richer cascades of memories.

Weinberg blogs about writing here, and you can listen to him talk about the "myth of writer's block" on YouTube here

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