Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Way to Use Writer's Block

Once, a few months ago, I was stalled with my middle grade novel. I couldn't get going on it. I was in the middle of a rewrite when I realized that one of my minor characters needed to play a much bigger role than I had realized, which was going to impact the last third of the book. This was a character I hadn't done much back story on, and the back story was going to need some research. Since this was a rewrite, I knew basically what was going to happen, but I didn't have her voice or personality in place enough to write the scenes. So, while I was doing the necessary research, I was at a standstill for the actual writing.

I seldom get writer's block. From time to time a lull does arise, and I turn to doing crosswords or house cleaning projects or weeding the garden. But this time was not a "lull" This time it was prolonged. So I decided to make the time useful. I started making lists. What kinds of lists? Whatever occurred to me.
I described clouds every way I could think of.
I listed names of trees.
I described hairdos and hair color.
I listed every kind of cloth I could think of.
I listed verbs of motion.
I listed sounds -- everything from peeps and tweets to lilts and drawls, honks and buzzes... you get the idea.
I listed smells, and words associated with the sense of smell.
I went through colors of the rainbow, listing every name for red I could think of, red, then red-orange, then orange, then yellow-orange, etc. Then names for brown, black, gray, and white, and descriptions of metals. Here are three samples:
red – alizarin, apple, beet-red, blood red, cadmium, cardinal, carmine, cherry, cochineal, crimson, fire-engine, flame, lobster, madder,port, rubicund, ruby, ruddy, scarlet, strawberry, vermilion,
red-orange – auburn, claret, coral, ginger, peach, rusty, salmon, sandy,
terra-cotta, Titian,
orange – amber, apricot, ginger, cantaloupe, copper, marmalade, peach,
salmon, tangerine, terra cotta
And one day I finally was finished with all that and was able to go back to writing. But not before I typed all these lists and filed them on my computer in a folder I call "Grab Bag". It was a useful venture. From time to time I open that folder to find another way to describe something, and I'm really glad I wasn't just doing crosswords or laundry during that period.

How about you? Do you ever have writer's block? If so, what are some of the things you do to work your way out of it?


Lindsay N. Currie said...

Oh goodness, I do get writers block from time to time, but it helps that I primarily co-author. So, when I really am stumped, I tend to pass off the MS:) Your ideas are very insightful though and I've noticed that if I clear my head with something completely different then it frequently will help me out of my rut!

Kimberly said...

Fantastic post! I will oftentimes jot down words that I come across that I like a lot and think I can use. I might find these while using the thesaurus to look up another word, or just hear someone use a word I like.

I definitely get stuck and usually this is because I don't yet know how I want to write a scene, or describe something.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, LIndsay, thanks for following me. How nice that you co-author. How did that come about?

Kimberly, I have the same experience when I'm looking up things in the thesaurus. In fact I can get quite lost in all those lovely words!

Anonymous said...

For me it depends on the severity of the block. If it's a little block, then a walk or change of activity is enough to get me started again. A few months ago I alleviated a more serious block by writing something different, writing free without too much thought or planning, simply scribbling. It seemed to work and got me going again and enthused. Problems faded after that.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Elizabeth...I often get stuck, then I move onto some other bit of writing: like my articles for the newspapers or a blog post.

I love your ideas. Will give them a try. Thanks for sharing them, its a great way to get new descriptions.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Christine & Rachna, yes, I do think it helps just to switch over to something else and let the blocked stuff cook on the back burner. I read once that Margaret Atwood said she never got writer's block because if something wasn't working, she just switched to something else. Glad you liked the ideas, Rachna. I still use those lists, by the way.

Carrie said...

Fantastic idea! I love the concept of having a grab bag. Will definitely try this next time I get stuck.

I really enjoy your blog and I am giving you the Stylish Blogger Award. Take a look at my post (click here) for more information.

Thanks for the great posts,


Glynis Peters said...

Hello, Elizabeth. What a great idea, a grab bag of ideas!

I will try and adopt your listing method, it sounds useful. When block sets in for novel writing I tend to write a poem or two.

Jayne said...

I'm impressed by the listing of cloth. I think my list would be very small! I tend to wade very slowly through writer's block, refusing to believe in it. Also, like Christine, I try and go for a walk or sit somewhere different, if I can. Love the names of colours - aren't they glorious?!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Thanks, Carrie & Glynis, for following me. Carrie, thanks for the Stylish Blogger Award, I'll be posting my thank you and nominees soon; meanwhile, Glynis, I often am driven to poetry during "dry spells" too. I think it's the idea of something short and to the point that is reassuring when something big like a novel gets stuck! Jayne, I'll send you my list of fabrics, if you like.

Rosi said...

I also try to move to a different kind of writing when I'm stuck. But I love the idea of the grab bag and will try to build one for myself. I keep your color list (thanks for sharing it!) on my computer and use it now and then.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Thanks, Rosi, and I've also liked the colors you've added to it via Word a Day!

Unknown said...

That is SO useful! I am going to create a Grab Bag too :-)