One of my greatest writing challenges is how to generate ideas for my short stories. Mostly I find that it is only by actually sitting down, opening my lap top, a new Word document and hitting those keys, that the story starts to emerge. It seems that I have to write it into being. And I’m surprised at this? Why??
Still it would be a little bit reassuring if just sometimes I had a bank of ideas which I could turn to, something to refer to on those days when no stories come. I hesitate to call these experiences “writer’s block” as apparently this phrase is not quite so much in vogue as it used to be.
According to Jeffery Deaver , “I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block.”
Which implies that the method of choice for coping with a recurring blank page and scared witless mind is to source ideas.
Priscilla Long suggests that “writing every day, even if only for fifteen minutes, makes you a writer. It renders moot the whole aimless discussion of writer’s block…….. You write to find out what you have to say and that in turn opens out the next thing you have to say……Writers who write every day can open out all that is given to them to write. They always have material to work on, to shape, to craft.”
Which is all well and good and really, wonderful advice, but the practical question still remains – what does this writing practice look like? What am I ‘supposed’ to do when I sit down at my desk with pen and paper ? (Most writing mentors recommend writing longhand rather than with the key board for all forms of writing practice.) I needed to develop an actual method which I could do and which I could turn to automatically, every day, a method which required no more thought than simply picking up the tools of my trade and just doing it, knowing that this exercise has a set beginning and a pre-established ending.
Finally the answer came. It wasn’t a new idea. In fact it had been around for at least as long as Julia Cameron identified and named it as ‘Morning Pages’. Except that as in most things in life, I took her concept and adapted it to my needs and circumstances. So Morning Pages for me rarely get written in the morning – way too hectic in my house and I am not prepared to rise in the middle of the night to get my writing time in before the first alarm in our house goes off at 5am! No way!! So MP’s get written somewhere between arriving back in the house after school drop offs and before sitting down to the ‘serious’ writing of the day. Sort of like a warm-up for my ‘real’ writing. Except that often what actually happens is that the MP’s develop into the real writing because my imagination is gripped by an idea, a story, a theme, which I can’t let go of. It will need re-working of course, because after all MP’s aren’t even technically ‘shitty first drafts’.
Some days I use my MP’s to write a response to a writing prompt. [My favourite source of writing prompts are found in Judy Reeves A Writer’s Book of Days.] And now and again I even write the kind of MP’s which Julia herself designed and described in her book The Artists Way. The point is really that I am prepared to take any and every idea and suggestion and twist it and turn it any which way in order to squeeze something from it that I can use to benefit and improve my writing.
And if you need any further proof that there is no such thing as writer’s block check out the following blog post from Kristyn Kusek Lewis over at Writer Unboxed.