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Writer’s Block: Turning a Negative into a Positive

Yes, even I the Sage One experiences writer’s block. In fact, I’ve got it right now. But the interesting thing is that I only have it around 2 out of my 4 classes, or I should say 2 out of 4 of my writing projects. Why is that? Bruce Holland Rogers, an award winning short fiction writer offers some thoughts on the matter in his essay Myth of Writer’s Block that are worth taking a look at, especially since he describes Writer’s block as is “a real live monster that you
ignore at your peril.”

Medusa: The Writer's God of Misery. She'll turn your brain into stone!

Personally, I responded to the idea that I have writer’s block simply because something is wrong with what I’m writing. Not that the writing is bad, but that when I sit down to work on these projects all my thoughts vanish behind my brain’s version of the Berlin Wall (clearly a situation where everyone loses). Since this only happens 1/2 the time, there must be something amiss about the blocky 1/2.

I think it’s as simple as this: I don’t give a shit about what I’m writing. Honestly. I wish I could just drop these two projects and work on the zillion or so other ideas that I have and am excited about. But I can’t, because that’s not how academia works. To get the grade you simply have to put your head down, do the work to the best of your ability, and be done with it. I wish I had some better news for you other student-writer’s out there struggling to get your final drafts on the page. I know how you feel, but the only light at the end of the tunnel that I can see is this: if you really don’t give a shit, then really don’t give a shit.

What I mean by that is just do whatever. Write some crap and call it a day, because here’s the gods honest truth about how college creative writing teachers grade (and I know because I am one): they really don’t care so long as you hand something in. That automatically gets you a B for effort, and a B ain’t bad. So if you want my advice, just have a fucking field day and write whatever bullshit comes to mind, string it together with some creative formatting, and laugh your ass off that you’re going to get away with the writer’s equivalent of murder (i.e. producing bad work). In this way you will turn a negative into a positive!

Positive 1 - Negative 0

Now, I’d like to point out that this method of overcoming writer’s block is only to be used as a last-ditch chance to save your ass. There are many other ways to overcome writer’s block that aren’t so cynical or potentially disastrous to your reputation. Let’s look at what those other methods might consist of.

First, you might want to try sneaking around writer’s block.

Like this guy who may look tough but is clearly hiding behind that column.

What I mean by that is this: write, but don’t write exactly how you should. If you’re having trouble writing a screenplay maybe sit down with your trusty marble notebook and write the first few pages as prose. That way you have something you can simply translate into the proper format. Or try this: write it in an email to a friend (though you might just want to save it as a draft and not actually send it). There’s something really soothing and comfortable-making about addressing your thoughts to a trusted friend. Most of the time it’s starring at the blank page that makes writer’s block feel so debilitating, so anything you can do to just get some words down with set you off down the right path.

Next. Just try your best in areas other than writing.

Like jujitsu.

 

Okay, I know I said your professors don’t give a shit about what you write so long as you meet the page requirement, but I lied. We do care, and there’s nothing more heartwarming than a student who clearly puts their all into their work. But here’s the thing: some students just aren’t good writers. That’s not their fault, and I’m certainly not going to dock them for not being born with natural talent. Also, some very good writers are just going through a rough time (creativity has been linked to insanity throughout the ages, so…). I’m not going to dock for that either. What I will dock them for is not trying. Come to office hours, write me a lengthy email about your current mental state, talk to me about what you’re thinking about writing, and always always come to class. Just do anything that shows that you care about your work. Your professors appreciate things like that and if you think you’re getting to the point where you might not turn in your final project, they’ll want to know why.

Thirdly, a lot of writer’s block actually arises out of perfectionism.

This chick was a perfectionist and look where that got her.

 

We think if it isn’t perfect then it isn’t worth writing. But here’s two great (and sometimes frustrating) things about creative writing: a. the work is never done, and b. all art is subjective, which means that there is no perfection in art. Once you realize that, you’re free to make mistakes, experiment, and enjoy whatever stage of the writing process you’re at. Also, along with point (a.), a lot of times when we’re experiencing writer’s block we’re usually jumping ahead, wishing we could just finish and be done with it, but the truth is even if you get to that last page and type the words THE END, that doesn’t mean the process stops there. You can always go back and revise once you’ve got a little more inspiration in you.

And one last final note. DON’T THINK OF IT AS WORK!!! Think of it as an “excercise.” This is especially useful if you’re a student-writer (as opposed to, say, an author accepted a writing grant but is now in the doldrums). Along with my last point about perfectionism, I’ll add that just as you should not expect perfection of yourself, your professors are also not expecting perfection. If you were perfect you wouldn’t need to be in school learning the tools of your craft. Instead, you are there to learn, and learning always always involves making mistakes. So be open to that, and remember that whatever project you’re working on it’s not like you’re competing in the Olympics. This is just an exercise leading up to that point.

And remember, I think you're a champ!

Hope that’s helpful!

Happy writing,

Holly

 

 


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Top 10 Writerly Things to Do at 3am

1. Post on your blog even though you know no one reads it.

"I'm so sad. No body loves me."

2. Keep on drinkin’ away at that bottle of cheap red wine that depicts a foot or a penguin on the label.

"Screw you guys, I've got the Truth in a bottle."

3. Look up pictures of kittens doing everything you wish you were doing.

"Uhhh..." Oh that's right, you don't know what you want to be doing at 3am. Hence the problem.

4. List all the shitty things your significant other does to piss you off.

So obnoxious!

5. Look up all your old boy/girlfriends on face book and reminisce about your first kiss.

Steamy.

6. Look up job postings in your area. (A writer should always have 6 or 27 back up careers.)

You get the picture.

7. Make a list of all the words that annoy you. Like “moist” and “engine.” Seriously, en-gin. Ennn-gin. Who came up with that?

"Dunno. But I like my ride."

8. Make a list of all the people who have had the most influence on you life, good or bad.

"Rememer me? I did that thing that time."

8. Learn how to count.

"Mathz iz hard."

9. Have a snack.

I said a sanck, not a bloody feast!

10. Write about the thing that scares you the most.

"It wasn't me, I swear!"

But what ever you do, just don’t do this:

Seriously. Don't do it.

Ah, shit, it’s almost 4 am. Now what do I do?


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Writing on a Deadline

We all know deadlines are arbitrary things to get our lazy butts in gear to produce something that other people can judge our worth by. That’s just the way life works. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it. In fact, most of the time when you should be doing this…

Studying dilligently...

…all you really want to be doing is this…

This is a real photograph of me procrastinating.

This begs the question, how does one find the motivation and stick-to-it-iveness to sit down and crank out pages? Here are some helpful tips to keep you one the right track.

Professor Meow says you need glasses to stay focused, but I don't beleive him.

First things first. Wake your ass up, and sit your ass down in front of the computer screen. Sounds like common sense, I know, but often I find under-the-gun writers doing anything but sitting down and writing. It’s no small wonder, and I’ll tell you why. Usually when you’re coming up on your deadline, your self critic steps in and tells you everything you’re writing, or thinking, or thinking about writing is shit. That’s when things start to look like this:

Not a good look.

So just tell your self critic to shut the F up, and remember that you’re a tremendous writer who can do anything once you set your mind to it. All you need is a little focus.

Next tip: Focus. Here’s what it doesn’t look like.

Don't be like this guy. Lolling about in a dreamy daze is also not a good look to be wearing when someone comes in and says, like, "Don't you have a shit ton of work due in a few hours?"

So how do we focus? Anne Lamont suggests taking things “bird by bird” and I agree with her. Just imagine that whatever you’re working on is broken up into tiny segments that we shall now call “birds.” Oh, right, you don’t have to imagine it because screenplays are broken up into neat and tidy little sections called scenes. These scenes or “birds” are all you have to focus on. One. At. A. Time.

“I’m gonna git you birds!”

Do you see what’s wrong here? This kitten is trying to go after two birds at once. At look at him, he’s totally confused and incapacitated by his indecisiveness. He doesn’t know which bird to go after first. The obvious answer is the one closest to him. For you, a writer, that means picking up the idea that is the most fleshed out in your mind; the one that will require the least amount of thought to get down on the page. Picture that scene or “bird” in your mind, sit down at your computer, and start swatting at it. Start at the beginning and don’t stop writing until you’re at the end.

Now you're on a roll.

Awesome! Once that scene is done, go straight into the next one. Don’t even think about what you’re going to write. Just do it! You’ve probably got files on this scene stored in the dark recesses of your mind that will come to the fore once you clear out all your cluttered thoughts and let your unconscious do the work.

That’s it. Two tips. That’s all you need to get yourself going. Once the ball is rolling you just need to remember to stay calm, stay awake, and stay focused on catching that bird. And once you get all of them, I highly suggest that you do this:

That's right. Rock the fuck out.

Happy writing!

Holly


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Procrastination Sensation

So it’s Monday night and you’ve got a lot of work to do, but if you’re anything like me you’re procrastinating by doing something else like this instead:

Iron Man. Yes, please.

…And 2 hours later it’s back to…

These guys. Smoke if you got 'em.

Then maybe a little of this…

Ahhh, but if only.

No, but seriously. Get back to work.