Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bust Through the Clog

Although I maintain that I don't believe in writer's block, experience forces me to admit that the words don't always flow like water from a tap. My personal writing pattern often goes something like this: Pull out the notepad, scribble five-hundred-or-so words and -- bam! -- run right into that proverbial brick wall. Sure, it isn't a proper block. After all, I'm able to get something useful down most of the time. But often I find myself wishing that a few more paragraphs would dribble onto the page.

That desire surfaced last week when I found myself stuck in the middle of a lousy scene, every line of dialogue coming out as flat as day-old soda. Fine, it wasn't working, I'd do something else. I grabbed a list of errands I needed to run, hopped into my aging vehicle and pulled out of the driveway. And soon after, something strange started to happen. As I navigated the turgid south Florida streets, the ideas began to flow again.

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders
once suggested resorting to repetitive physical activities to bust through mental clogs, anything from short walks to routine chores to push ups performed at predetermined periods. Inadvertently, that was exactly what I had done with my driving. Occupying my hands and feet had somehow given my mind freedom to focus on what I wanted it to. A trip around the block may not solve every compositional dilemma, but I'm to give it a try next time everything seizes up prematurely.

(Picture: CC 2009 by


B. Nagel said...

Awhile back, I did an interview with a singer-songwriter buddy and we touched on this. He said,

"I find that the more sedentary I am, the less I can write. Honestly, if I watch TV for four days, I am probably not going to write a song. If I am mowing lawns for 9 hours a day, I will probably have several ideas floating around, waiting to be fleshed out."

pattinase (abbott) said...

For me, the only way to think of something new is to not think of something new.

Loren Eaton said...


Physical activity generally helps me unless I get absolutely exhausted. Then it's hard to do much of anything, you know?

Loren Eaton said...


You're tying my mind in knots, madam!

Scattercat said...

I've found driving to be a marvelous way to think. I sometimes get five or six ideas for Mirrorshards on a twenty-minute commute. I also can get through problematic areas of a text by thinking while driving.

The problem is when my mind wanders too far from what I'm actually doing...

Physical activity is a bit harder for me; it takes so much of my concentration not to just fall over while exercising or something that I rarely think of anything useful. Driving, though; no balance issues, no pain or straining or asthma, a constant influx of images and snippets of words and phrases via billboard or radio. It's really useful.

Loren Eaton said...

Driving's great, isn't it? The simple, repetitive motions of driving a familiar route free my mind to wander, too. Also, shaving's good. Same principle, I think.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I get my best ideas while driving or doing repetitive things like the dishes. Weird. But now I know why!

I get "blocks" sometimes, but I try not to push against them. One thing that usually gets things flowing for me is doing research on something related to the book.

Loren Eaton said...

Research! I'd forgotten about that. Someone once said that you should always do your own research because it jump starts the creative process, and I completely agree.