In all the writing classes I teach, this writing lament comes up at least once from a student: “I don’t know where to start.”
Maybe they’ve started something and it didn’t pan out. The story didn’t hold their interest. Or they have this need gnawing at them to write, but they haven’t figured out what to write about.
Most of us have moments of writer’s freeze. Most of us get stuck at some point because we get into a mindset of being too orderly. But the birth of a story or poem or essay is a messy, disorderly act and imposing too much order in the beginning doesn’t work so well when you’re capturing the energy of a first draft.
It begins with letting go of your analytical mind. Ultimately every writer has to find their own way into that well. But identifying your obsessions can be a powerful way to figure out what to write about.
The beauty of writing about your obsessions is that you will fully engage, feel completely alive, and have energy to write to the end. The passionate force of your obsessions turns your writing into a transformative act.
So how do you tap these obsessions? One sure way to open the well of words and ideas is by simply writing. It always starts with moving our fingers on the keys or notebook. And in that act, our deepest fears, desires, and obsessions come to light. Try these ideas: Read more
In a recent interview by Joel Chafetz, author Jack Remick, talked about how learning Natalie Goldberg’s timed writing technique totally changed his writing.
Remick who is a poet and author of the novel Blood, among other works, said he learned to use timed writing to craft his scenes. He breaks it down as follows for a 30-minute timed writing session:
- 5 minutes on setting, place, time, season, temperature
- 5 minutes on character description and problem
- 5 minutes on action and dialogue
- 5 minutes on Intruder
- 5 minutes on Climax and Resolution
- 5 minutes on Hook to the next scene down the line Read more
Recently, I read Jacki Lyden’s memoir again, Daughter of the Queen of Sheba: A Memoir. I don’t normally read memoirs more than once. But I wanted to re-experience her word riffs and stream of consciousness writing to see if I could find a way to use these tools to go deeper into the minds of my own characters.
Lyden tells the story of growing up and living with a mentally ill mother. Her parents divorced when she was young and, after her mother marries a doctor who turns out to be controlling and abusive, she begins to speak to God and believe that she is the Queen of Sheba.
The author writes the lines below in response to a letter from her mother, who says that she was really never mentally ill, and that her behavior was the result of the prescription drugs her doctor-husband gave her. Lyden writes:
“Never crazy. It never happened to you. Ant Trap Zap! It never happened to me. We’ll throw out those old pages and get some new ones at the K Mart. There is a life I’d like you to try, size six. We can always take it back if it doesn’t fit. You will be a housewife heroine, pushed into adversity by a demanding doctor-husband and prescription drugs, and I will be free forever from the taint of your insanity. Prescription drugs, I tell my friends confidently. Misdiagnosis. Miss Diagnosis. Clodhopper attendants, Nurse Ratched on the case. Dolores naked and chained in a pit. Lions and tigers and bears.” Read more
I woke up feeling blah this morning. A gray Northwest day still affects my spirits despite the fact I’ve lived here for nearly half a century. Did I just say half a century? Now I’m really depressed. But I have to get out of my funk because it’s my writing time. Husband is gone for a few hours (we both work from home), and that’s always the best time for some productive writing. The question is—how do I inspire myself instead of continuing to stare out my window and count shades of gray?
I make a list. For me, list making is almost as satisfying as eating dark chocolate. Okay, maybe writers do exaggerate. Off the top of my head, I write down four of my favorite ways to get my creativity and inspiration back on track. I’ll share them with you as long as you promise to add your own favorites to your list. First on my list is: Read more