So, what’s next. You’ve got the habit of writing down. You meet your daily goals. You have been reading to sharpen your skills. You continue the cycle of the writer; lather, rinse, and repeat. Yet you may still face times when the well is dry. You sit down at your desk and nothing. You stare at the screen, or piece of paper and you are thinking to yourself, “What now?”
A sudden fear comes over you; You wonder if you have written your last piece.
Then you doubt. You criticize everything you have ever written and doubt your ability to write.
I’ve heard it called “Blank Page Syndrome” You have no need to worry. It happens to all of us. Some days the words flow out of us, and we cannot keep our hands up with the speed our mind is working at, then there are those days when you can’t write to save your life. There are a few things you can do to get you out of the funk and spurred on to writing again. This week that is what we are going to cover; Where our ideas come from.
Write What You Know
When faced with that blank page, it always helps to go back to the basics. Write what you know. This is a big rule of thumb for a writer. I have heard pros and cons about writing what you know, and I can see both sides of the argument, but I tend to relate to the pro side of the discussion, so that is the position I will be covering first.
In quite a few of Stephen Kings novels, the main character is a writer. In Misery, Paul Sheldon was a writer. In The Shining, Jack Torrance was a writer. In Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan was a writer. And in The Body (you may better know it as “Stand by Me”), Gordie Lachance was a writer. So, in some essence, SK is writing about what he knows, or in some cases fears, about being a writer.
I have been a truck driver for about six years now. I know a bit about trucking. In the novel I am currently editing my main character is an ex-truck driver. He knows what it’s like to be on the road, truck stops, and getting that delivery there on-time. I am writing about what I know.
You may be a manager at a bank, an insurance agent, a grocery stocker, or heck; you may even be a writer. To write successfully, you must begin by writing what you know. It makes little sense to write about a ballerina if life is surrounded by truck stops and roughnecks. It’s okay to write about the life of a Customer Service Manager. Why? Because there will be a reader out there who is or was, a CSM, and they will relate to the character you are writing about and get deeper into the story you are telling.
Learn Something New
Just as Ecclesiastes 3 teaches us, “For everything, there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” There is a time to write what you know, and there will be a time to write about what you do not know. This is the con of writing what you know; you don’t grow as a writer if you stick with only the things you know. That is the purpose of reading, to learn new things. As you learn new things, they can be adapted into your next project.
I write quite a few website content articles. Over the last year, I have been writing about things I had no clue what they were about. I was doubtful about it at first. A colleague of mine told me once that content writers are a jack of all trades, but master of none. This comment burned in my mind, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of learning new things.
The more you know, the more you can write about. The more you can write about; the more opportunity there is for you to be successful in writing. Even if you get an assignment that you are vaguely aware of the topic, once you have trained yourself, you will have learned how to quickly study the material and write a coherent, educated piece. It works for all genres, not just content writing. If a secondary character in your novel is a nurse, then study about nursing, talk to nurses, and watch nurses.
Steal, but Make It Your Own
This one can be a bit dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. The worst thing that can be done to a fellow writer is to plagiarize their work. In my line of work of content writing, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen it. I have been handed assignments, written by other freelancers, to fix. As I am editing, I find that nearly half of it is direct quotes from other sites. Stealing another writer’s work is a slap in the face and totally disrespectful to the art of writing. Don’t do it.
One exception to this rule is making it your own. I don’t mean rewriting SK’s Carrie with the title Sherrie. Or writing a munchkin novel called The Duke of the Bracelets. Making it your own is taking an idea and putting your voice, your personal experience, and your words to it.
It is similar to the YA novel series that are out there. The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent. All three are pretty much the same story, but each has its own way of telling that same story. On a side note, if you have not read any of these, put all of them on your reading list. All are excellent. And the movies do nothing to compare with the works of each writer. (I’m ashamed of what they did with The Maze Runner, but that’s another story for another day.)
The point of taking an idea and making it your own is that when you are finished, one cannot tell that it belonged to the other writer.
But still, there are going to be times when you hit that brick wall, and all creativity comes to a stop. There are a few things you can do to try and overcome writer’s block.
The first thing you can do is to free-write. Whether it is a writing prompt, a journal entry, or just typing incoherent blabber, get your fingers moving. Writing prompts can be great at tapping into your creativity. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get you going again. A journal entry can get you past the anxiety you are feeling by simply writing what you feel. Write about your doubts and fears, then try and transition into how you want to overcome those feelings. This exercise can help you climb up over the obstacles in your way.
When all else fails, take a break. Walk away from the computer, the typewriter, or the pad of paper. Do something that will get your mind off of the block. Watch TV, read a book, do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. If you exercise, go take a walk or hit the gym. Unless you are under a deadline, you can always come back later. After you have taken your mind off of the blank page and refocused it on another task, ideas may begin to flow again. That TV show or chapter in your book may spark something, just remember when that happens, be sure to make it your own.