Tools and Writer's Block

This past Monday, on the Creative Penn podcast, Joanna Penn talked about her recent experience using dictation. She said she had a very productive day using this tool, and then the next time, she had a difficult time. For me, it's always helpful to be reminded that even very successful writers have good and bad days. And then she elaborated. She said that on the day where she produced a lot of content, she was working on a scene that she had already thought about quite a bit. On the day when it was challenging, she was working on a moment in a place where she had never been, a place she couldn't speak of off the top of her head, a place where she needed to research and look at things. It got me thinking about different tools and what I use when. Hopefully, this will be helpful to you, too.

  1. When I'm scared, I cluster. If you're not aware of clustering or know it by a different name, that means I write words and phrases all over the page. I circle each “cluster” of words and I connect them to different clusters on the page. It's a great way for me to imagine a moment. I can add in physical details, sensory details. I can ask myself questions. I often have inspirational moments working this way, things about character and story that I hadn't considered before.

  2. Sometimes in the middle of clustering, I find myself writing full sentences in paragraphs. I often don't know immediately that I've shifted to that mode. When I discover I am, I roll with it.

  3. I generally type after I've clustered or I've written linearly by hand in a notebook. And I don't always write linearly by hand in a notebook. Sometimes I go from the cluster straight to typing. But if I start to type, and I look at the blank screen and have the willies, I will return to the notebook, and I will write based on my clusters linearly by hand.

  4. Some days I know I need to type. The words are coming up fast and furious, and I can't write them down fast enough.

  5. I also type when I've tried clustering and writing linearly, and I'm having a lot of critical voices in my head, and I feel like I'm just digging myself into a hole. I type then to get the words out. That happened this morning. Here I am, writing.

  6. In this process, I'm accompanied by music. It's an incredible comfort to me. It gives me something to listen to other than the critical voices in my head. But it has to be a certain kind of music. I listen to jazz, instrumentals and classic vocalists—Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Etta James. That's the type of music that works for me.

As the reader, you might say,”She seems awfully scared.” You know, at this moment, I feel that's true. But it's part of the process. I'm currently working on early chapters in a new book. I'll write about that more in another post. But I do feel that this strategy of listening to yourself and using various tools at different times combats what is commonly known as “writer's block.” When it seems you can't write or the critical voices and the fear feel overwhelming, try another way, even if only for five minutes. You'll build muscle. You'll collect memories that you can then use in the future. “I didn't think I could do it then, but I figured out a way, and I wrote.” And, someday in the future, I would like to try dictation. I think that could be a powerful tool, and I am curious to see how that would fit into my current strategies. I would love to hear how you approach writing. I feel we can always learn from each other.