As I am spending the first half of 2014 building writing habits that, I hope, will further me along in my writing career, I have learned a few strategies about writing when I think that I have nothing to write. These three strategies are a combination of strategies I have learned from others and from my own learning experience.
Strategy #1: Warm up writing
Trying to dive into a story full blast without doing warm up writing is like trying to run the Boston marathon without training. You can do it, but it’s painful. Even with warming up, you can die running a marathon. While you are considerably less likely to die if you write without warming up, the going will be slow and probably not your best shot.
Instead, give yourself permission to do writing warmups. In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she recommends 30 minutes of writing first thing in the morning. This writing should fill up about 3 pages of 8.5″x11″ bound spiral notebook. I like to set a timer because I can be a slow writer on some mornings, but I can get in 2.5 pages in that time period. I feel that’s close enough.
Julia tells you to get up early if you have to work it into your schedule. If getting up earlier is not an option, see if you can switch a few things around: take a shower at night instead of the morning; write for 20 minutes instead of 30 on the days where your time crunch is heaviest; or just plan punt something entirely and replace it with writing.
I hope I don’t need to admonish anyone not to waste their precious morning writing time with ironing clothes instead. No one needs or keeps clothes that are that sharply pressed anyway. The moment you sit down – BOOM! Wrinkles. So forget the ironing (please!) and get to writing. Iron at night, when you come home from work, or not at all. If ironing is that important, get them pressed at the dry cleaners so you can get down to the important work of morning writing warmups.
Strategy #2: write your “less important” stuff first
I bet you are wondering right now where this post lies along my continuum of least to most important writing. I ain’t gonna tell ya! Why? Because less important doesn’t mean unimportant.
So you want to work on your story, but you can’t just dive in right? Doing so would be like trying to dive head down into an empty pool. But you need to write something. Certain types of writing do not count:
- To do lists.
- Purchasing lists.
- Any kind of work-related list that does not lend itself to creativity.
You can use these kinds of writings to get yourself going:
- Morning writing warm ups (see Strategy #1).
- Timed writing. Set a timer and write. Anything! Go! Now! Write for 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 90 seconds. How did you do? Was writing longer easier? Harder?
- Object writing. Pick an object and write about it in all its sense-bound glory. Include all the senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell, feelings, and kinesthetics.
- Combine writing types. For example, #2 and #3 in this list can be combined. You can write sense-bound details about an object for varying amounts of time.
- A work- or craft-related blog post.
You may find that creative ideas come forth in these exercises that you can then use in your stories. Great! Add it in. Our brains like to add in things for one project while being completely absorbed in a different tasks. That’s what I find so amazing about all kinds of writing. One type of writing feeds another. Since you’re always “eating”, you end up feeling satisfied.
Strategy #3: stay focused
Remember, writing is enmeshed with your life. Start with your morning pages, progress to timed writing, and then dive right into the story or blog post that you want to work on. Getting your fingers moving across the keyboard, or the pen moving against the paper. Start writing a story that has nothing to do with your deadline-driven writing project. You don’t have to stay at it all day.
If you get stuck on your story, dive off the page and write something else. You do not have to force yourself through it, nor stare at a blank page and wonder what the hell you are going to write. If you write, write, write all the time, you will eventually find out what works right for you when you need to write.