Ever feel like the guy in that cartoon? I sure do! Every writer suffers from “writer’s block” from time to time. For me, it takes a couple of forms, but I don’t know which I hate most, frankly.Sometimes I have the idea and desire to communicate it, but simply cannot get the words to flow from my fingertips.How many times have you found yourself aimlessly tapping the keys hoping the rhythm might stimulate your fingers to type something cogent and meaningful? It happens to me more often than I care to admit.
At those times, I have to walk away from the computer for awhile. If I am at the office, I will probably stroll down the hallway in search of conversation with a colleague or two in order to forget about the project for a few minutes. At home, those are good times to start or fold a load of laundry, make a telephone call, practice my flute, watch a little t.v. or do some reading. If I resume work on the piece only to find after a few minutes that I’m still not making any progress, I switch gears again, taking a longer break. I have learned the hard way that I cannot will myself through such a creative block. And yes, this can be problematic if a deadline is looming.Tonight, as I surfed a number of blogs looking for inspiration for this post, I noted many instances of blog owners posting about the more common form of “writer’s block,” a lack of subject matter.
When people ask me why I left the private practice of law, I half-jokingly explain that I feared I would turn into a stereotypical lawyer trying to eke out a living who has never met a person who wasn’t a potential client. Writing is much the same. Good writers seldom have a thought or life experience that isn’t a potential idea for a poem, short story, novel, blog entry, . . .
In reality, I am exactly like that stereotypical lawyer when it comes to writing. Inspiration is really only in short supply if we aren’t paying attention because everything that happens to us or we observe is a potential trigger. We simply have to remain observant, receptive, and flexible.
Inspiration might be lurking where we least expect to find it, as this post demonstrates. I was toying with a lot of other ideas for this weekly entry until I happened upon the aforementioned bloggers. I was astounded to find myself reading comments like “I have nothing to write about,” “I can’t think of anything to say,” or “Nothing has happened for me to write about.” I sure didn’t expect to be motivated by those entries, but after stumbling upon so many of them, I found myself compelled to comment here.
Truthfully, those entries angered me because they evinced a lack of respect for my willingness to devote my time and energy to reading those folks’ blogs. Needless to say, I did not bookmark those sites.
To be blunt, those writers are lazy. Good writing doesn’t just happen — it requires a lot of hard work. So why do so many folks expect the inspiration for their writing to just happen serendipitously? Aside from those rare occasions when an idea practically falls out of the sky and onto the keyboard, finding inspiration for thoughtful writing often requries just as much, if not more, work as does the process of writing.
My experience this evening illustrates the point. You might be thinking, “Hey, you just stumbled onto an idea. You got lucky!” You’re absolutely right. But in order to happen upon something that inspired me and sparked imagination, I had to be vigilant and receptive to ideas and revelations. My search for motivation was deliberate and concerted. Fortunately, my efforts paid off and I found the stimulation I was seeking.
Bear in mind, too, that ideas in their original form frequently are not reflective of the final product. In other words, we have to be willing to analyze, evaluate, and, as necessary, modify our writing as insights are revealed during the process of drafting, editing, and re-editing. Too often, we are inspired to write about a particular incident, event or person, but then get bogged down by our initial notion of how the final draft will read. How often have you heard a writer say that the finished piece was a surprise to him/her because, as he/she allowed the creative process to guide him/her, he/she was inspired to take the project in an entirely different direction than the one he/she originally envisioned? That kind of flexibility and fluidity is critical.
So where might you find inspiration for your writing if it seems to be eluding you? Well, I’ve already mentioned one gigantic source of ideas: Blogs. I am constantly amazed and awestruck by what I read in blogs.
Memes are a cultural phenomena in and of themselves. Strictly speaking, a meme is:
- An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.
- A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation.
- A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); “memes are the cultural counterpart of genes”.
There are many popular memes to which bloggers subscribe to receive a writing “prompt” every so often (daily, weekly, monthly). Check out The Daily Meme for a list. Some memes allow the writer to pick his/her own topic, with the expectation that a particular format will be followed and an entry posted at specific intervals. An example is Thursday Thirteen. Participants post a list of thirteen items built around a theme of his/her own choosing. Friday’s Feast provides a list of questions to be answered, while Sunday Scribblings and Wordless Wednesday each provide a weekly one-word theme, as does Photo Hunters. Even if you don’t want to participate fully, review the questions and themes to stimulate your inventiveness.
Examine some old or new family photos. Is there something about a family member — an experience they had, a characteristic or trait, unusual occupation, the way they motivated or inspired you — that you can either share with your readers or use as the springboard for a fictional story? Looking at photos of yourself taken some years ago might cause you to remember an incident, event . . . maybe an interesting neighbor or friend from somewhere you lived long ago. How have you changed over the years? What have you learned?
Look at your calendar or day planner. Did something happen at work, school or within a community organization to which you belong that you want to explore or assess via your writing?
Have you read a book, newspaper, magazine or journal article that contained an idea you want to expand upon or take issue with? Seen any movies or television shows lately? There are always plenty of storylines that can serve as the basis for a discussion of societal or civil issues, cultural trends, or a particular artists’ performance or body of work.
There are many websites such as The Quotations Page that are repositories of quotes from famous folks. Click on the name of an author or topic and see if an excerpt arouses your interest.
As these few simple suggestions illustrate, the possibilities are literally infinite, limited only by your willingness to hear that “still, small voice” that awakens your interest in a particular topic and goads you into sitting down at the keyboard.
Keep an open mind and heart. You just never know where your next remarkable idea might be lurking.