5 Power Tools for Smashing Mini-Blocks

Frozen Words
by
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:
W = WORD, VERY BAD.
FIX = FIX THIS!
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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