5 Power Tools for Smashing Mini-Blocks

Frozen Words
Noelle Sterne

You’re barreling along in the middle of a piece, congratulating yourself on great progress when suddenly, for no apparent reason, you freeze. Paralyzed, you stare at the clock and watch your life, fame, and creativity drain away like sangria from a cracked pitcher. Don’t despair or bury your head in the refrigerator. Just keep going.

This admittedly obvious remedy also frees you from an insidious writer’s malady – the one called the “I-must-produce-only-gold” syndrome. Part of the cure is to accept the inevitable byproduct of writing . . . the “garbage” that every writer creates on his/her way to anything worthwhile.

As a mentor once told me, “Write out the junk.” Doing so is essential to reach your goal. The process is often a means of discovering where you want to go. To keep going, try these five methods.

Freeing Tools

1. Combat the “only-gold” syndrome by repeating like a mantra, “It’s only my second draft” (even if it’s your thirty-fifth). Writing takes time, persistence, and relentless effort. Another worthy mantra is Justice Louis Brandeis’ pronouncement: “There is no good writing. There is only good rewriting.”

2. Talk to yourself in the middle of the draft. I use italics: What do I really want to say? What got me fired up in the first place? What feelings do I want to express? How do I want the reader to feel? Should I use metaphors or straight talk?

You can delete your questions later – but I’ll bet from your asking, the answers will pop up like toast from a hot-wired toaster.

3. Have faith in the self-talking method. The answers will surface. American poet Richard Wilbur knew this: “Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. Something will come to you.”

The secret, and scary part is to “step off,” even if you feel like your brain is as vacant as a twenty-something comedy. Muster your writerly courage and swallow, in a literary free-fall.

4. If you still run into a blank wall, talk to yourself again. One of my first draft paragraphs looked like this: “Or, as Richard Wilbur says, ”Just jump off into the blank of your mind. Something should come to you.” Check quote and correct.

Your mind is a fantastic, retentive, associative computer. You can prompt it to produce whatever you need.

5. Keep writing alternatives. Repeat your last good phrase and begin pumping out whatever comes to mind. However forced, lame, ridiculous, or off-the-mark, write the junk out. It’s only your fiftieth draft.

For these drafts, I’ve also developed a system of slashes and codes. To separate the alternatives, I use slashes: “stupid/stupider/go sell shoes.” Mark your best variations with a special symbol, such as * or +.

I also use several codes:
REP = REPetition of words, ideas, sounds.

Create any system that makes sense to you.

These five ideas may sound elementary, but they work. They’re effective, powerful tools that help you smash your writing mini-blocks. How do you deal with mini-blocks?

Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle publishes nonfiction and fiction in print and online venues. In Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), she helps writers and others apply practical spirituality to release regrets, relabel the past, and reach lifelong yearnings. See www.trustyourlifenow.com.

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April Fool’s Day Writing

Writing During April Fool’s Day

By Joe Massingham
Volunteer Coordinator for Creative Writing Institute

Don’t be a fool – be a writer!

April 1, as everyone in the western world surely knows, is the day for playing jokes on unsuspecting, family, and colleagues – sometimes even complete strangers!

The origin of All Fool’s Day (as the day was originally named) is a mystery in itself; perhaps there’s a crime novel there for some up-and-coming writer! However it began, though, the idea has remained essentially the same.

In France, for some reason that is lost in the mists of time, the most common joke has been to pin a paper fish on the the back of the victim. Whatever jokes/tricks you play in your part of the world, be sure they’re done midnight as vengeful angels supposedly report those who overplay the game.

Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University, conducted research and explained that the practice began in the time of the Roman emperor Constantine, when a group of court jesters and fools told the emperor that they could do his job better than him. The amused emperor allowed a jester to do his job for one day. The jester ‘emperor’ passed a law that called for tomfoolery that day and the custom became an annual event.

“In a way,” Prof. Boskin wrote, “it was a very serious day. In those times, fools were really wise men. It was the role of jesters to put things in perspective with humor.”

This explanation was published in a newspaper article in 1983. There was only one problem – Prof. Boskin invented the whole story! Its publication completed the most widespread April Fool’s joke the world has seen to date.

Perhaps the most positive message in this tale is that it’s possible to get anything published if you start small and work hard enough at it. You CAN succeed as a writer and reap the satisfaction that a byline affords.

Without a doubt, the first draft won’t satisfy even you, let alone your critics. The second may produce a more acceptable manuscript, and the third will probably come close to actually being publishable. That’s the proper time to lay your work aside and let the mysterious creative gnomes that live in your brain cave do a bit of cutting and reshaping on the emerging jewel.

Just be patient. Don’t make a fool of yourself by getting too hasty. One day you’ll find your story finished, prepped, and knocking on your door, waiting to be freed from its cage. No fooling!

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