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Beating The Blank Page

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Prompts and exercises to beat writer's block.

Writer’s bock is a sneaky beast. Sometimes it hits in the middle of the project, when your plot and your characters are headed someplace, but you just can’t seem to get everyone where they need to be. Other times, that hopeless sense of nothingness occurs when you’re first starting out, when there’s nothing on the page and we must rely only on our imaginations to start generating content.

Today, ten tips to get some words on the blank page. Hopefully, these will get you sitting at the desk and stringing some sentences together. What you do with those sentences, where they lead, is entirely up to you.

1. Many of us have stories we haven’t told, usually about things we are ashamed of. Perhaps a lie, and infidelity, something of which we are ashamed. We tend to avoid writing these stories because they are difficult to tell, but they often make great stories. Give them a fictional character, or make them purely confessional. Don’t consider the audience, you are the only person who ever needs to read it. But, just this once, write the words that have always been too difficult to write.

2. Decide ahead of time how long you are going to write. Hold yourself to your time commitment. Even if all you do is stare at the blank page and dream about a career in accounting. So much of writing is accountability that sometimes you just have to convince yourself that you’re serious, that you will spend your writing time at the desk, without distraction.

3. Pick an object. Anything will do. Perhaps a knick-knack in your writing space, or something you have seen recently and decided not to purchase. Maybe it’s not a real object at all, but something you imagine. Write everything you can about the object. Next, write a story about the two people who desperately want the object.

4. Using primarily dialogue, write a telephone conversation in which one person reveals something and another person makes the decision to give something up. When the conversation is over, see if you can roll it into a story.

5. Do a google image search on an artist you are only vaguely familiar with. Study the images, looking for a character or setting for a new scene. Let yourself be inspired by unlikely things, and make yourself write for at least ten minutes on a chosen image before deciding whether or not to continue.

6. Think of two short stories you enjoy. Combine one element from each, and see what happens. Maybe the blind man from Raymond Carver’s Cathedral hops in the car with Flannery O’Connor’s road tripping family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” What might he and the grandmother discuss?

7. Visit onewr, where each day a word is provided at random and users have sixty seconds to freely write. If the start is good, take your work offline and flesh the piece out more.

8. Some writing prompts are old saws because they stimulate strong, descriptive prose so reliably. Don’t discount the value of a solid prompt. Write about your mother’s hands, a smell from your childhood, a change in a place that is important to you, a difficult decision, a definitive moment, a special toy, a lesson learned from a pet. Try writing on these topics from the perspective of a character you’re just beginning to create.

9. Pick up the book closest to you in your writing space. Open it to any page, and identify the first full sentence you see. Write this sentence on your otherwise blank page. It looks better with a few words on it, doesn’t it? Write your own version of what comes next. Be looking for the seed of something original as you go.

10. Later, when your writing time has passed and the exercises above have left you frustrated or hopeful, it’s time to read. Read something outside your comfort zone; science fiction if you’re a realist writer, something published in the last year if you’re a junkie for Victorian novelists. Reading is research into your writing, the more you let yourself discover, the greater the pay-off.

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