Tips to jump-start your writing (unless you’re in Arkansas)

They say change is good, especially if there’s a nickel involved. Why a nickel? Because that’s all you need each Friday for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! For newcomers, this is the day I share my collective wisdom from 15 years as a columnist and share it with you, at half the price of my hourly wage! Here are a just a couple of testimonials from regular readers of Ned’s NWOW…

I discovered this website totally by accident — I haven’t slept since
Thanks to what I’ve learned from Ned’s NWOW, I’m now pursuing a rewarding career cleaning hazard cones!

Enough accolades! Let’s get to it…

image There’s nothing quite like staring at a blank page, knowing that with a few strokes of the keyboard you will transform a landscape devoid of life into a living, breathing thing of your own creation. There’s also nothing quite like finishing that fourth cup of coffee only to find that same blank page staring back at you. Sure, you may have typed several sentences — or maybe even the same sentence several times — in hopes of gaining some kind of momentum to carry you over that first hump, but the cursor repeatedly stalls out in the same spot, leaving you with the same blank page after riding the “delete” button back to the beginning.

That’s why it’s called a “cursor.”

I’ll be honest. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion of writer’s “block,” which suggests some kind of blockage — such as a cheese wedge or too many butter biscuits — restricting movement through a hypothetical colon of creativity. Although there are some books in print that offer evidence to support at least part of the colon theory, I prefer to think of the writing process as cells in a battery; when they are fully charged, things start easily. But if the alternator belt slips too much or the terminals get corroded, you end up without enough juice to turn the engine. Because we are writers and not mechanics, and because that last sentence exhausted the full extent of my automotive knowledge, I will sum up my analogy with this: When your battery is low, you get a jump, right?

Writing is no different.

That being said, I have been asked by my lawyer to clarify that this does not mean anyone should actually hook jumper cables to their ear lobes or mamilla and ask a friend to crank the engine. For those of you living in Arkansas who have already done this for reasons of your own, you can back me up on this. The rest of you will just have to take my word for it.

Obviously, just as there are plenty of reasons to avoid lending your jumper cables to anyone from Arkansas, there are lots of reasons your creativity may need a jump start once in a while. Whether it be from a lack of sleep or a hangover, to distractions, worries or even injury — possibly involving jumper cables — here are a few ways to get your creative engine cranking. But before we get to that, there is one more automotive reference we need to address:

Fuel.

It doesn’t matter how many times you twist the ignition, the engine won’t start without fuel. The same thing goes for getting your brain to fire on all cylinders. That doesn’t mean you have to set up your laptop next to the carving station at the breakfast buffet. Although it did give me unfettered access to the ham. The problem was that I spent most of the time licking my fingers instead of typing with them. The point is, make sure you eat before you settle in to write. Should it be a balanced meal? Who cares! We’re grown-ups! We can eat a mixing bowl full of Fruity Pebbles between lunch and dinner if we want! Whatever you do, just don’t write on an empty stomach. Especially in the morning. Even if you just have a cup of coffee and three chocolate chip cookies. Which, by the way, is a purely random example, and has no correlation to what I ate before writing this. Particularly if my wife is reading.

So, let’s assume you are fueled up and you’ve settled in to write. And let’s further assume you have almost finished that first cup of coffee and the cursor is still blinking at you on a blank page. And let’s additionally assume the buffet has ended and you have been asked to leave because brunch is now over and it’s time to set up for happy hour. Then try one or more of these suggestions to get your creative engine cranking.

1) Read someone else’s work you admire or dislike. Whether it’s a blogger, columnist or novelist, reading the work of someone who inspires you can serve as a reminder of what good writing can do. And while it’s true that it can backfire by also reminding you of how much your writing stinks compared to theirs, or how being a humor columnist isn’t taken as seriously as a boring political analyst who never says anything remotely funny because he’s too busy cashing his enormous paycheck and talking with influential people… it’s still a really fun way to get those creative juices flowing! In the same way, reading someone whose work you dislike can spark your creativity by inspiring you to write even better and having it acknowledge by others. Even if “others” turns out to be stuffed animals from your children’s room that you have assembled at the kitchen table for that purpose.

2) Google a random image and write dialogue for it. Sometimes the best way to focus in on your writing is to look away for a short period. Think of this exercise as looking through the lens of a camera and purposely blurring the image so you can compare for better focus. One way to do this with your writing is to pick a topic — romance, humor, drama, action — and Google images for it, i.e., “romantic images” or “action images.” Once they come up, give yourself a limit — say three pages of images — to look through and pick one image. Then give yourself 15 minutes to create either dialogue or a brief storyline to go with it. Not only will this get your mind working but, occasionally, can spark an entirely new story idea. Especially if you find an unflattering image of yourself on the Internet you didn’t know existed, such as wearing nothing but a pot holder over your privates while passed out in the pool on an inflatable whale. Once again, this is just a completely random example with no connection to me personally.

3) Pick a song that inspires you and sing it at the top of your lungs. Most of us have a musical device of some kind with our favorite tunes on it. Pick a song that always makes you feel good, go somewhere you can sing freely — such as the bedroom, a hiking trail, Starbucks — and put in your earbuds… Then sing LOUDLY! Music inspires our creativity in a way nothing else does. Feel the music and, if necessary, sing it loudly more than once! Or even while running from the police! I actually listen to AC/DC whenever I write. My habit of singing “T.N.T.” loudly before I write has not only helped spark my creativity, it has also sparked discussion in the newsroom about giving me my own office. Possibly across the street.

These are just a few of the tools you can use to jump-start your creative engine when the battery is running low.

As long as you’re nowhere near Arkansas.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation. You can write ti him at nedhickson@icloud.com, or Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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19 thoughts on “Tips to jump-start your writing (unless you’re in Arkansas)

  1. A great post that I am totally going to steal for my own blog site.

    In other news, I frequently get inspiration from Google Images, but it can have it’s surprising moments:
    1) While searching for a riff on an advertising campaign that involved an 8-year-old girl holding up 4 fingers (it made sense with the product), I typed “four fingers” into Google Images and found several hours of amusement but nothing I could use for a campaign for a kids’ vaccine…honest, boss, it’s research!!!
    2) While working on a health article about alopecia (progressive hair loss), my Art Director typed “alopecia” into Google Images and we were promptly presented with images that suggested the hair loss is not exclusive to the cranium…again, several hours of amusement but nothing commercially useful.

    Hmmm…I wonder what happens if I type in “unless you’re in Arkansas”?

    Randy

    • Yep, the Internet is a wonderful and scary thing, full of insight and hairless images. Unless you’re in Arkansas, where you don’t need the Internet for that…

  2. This is all well and good for those who have trouble getting going on that blank page. What about those of us who can’t STOP going? What if we sit down and piles and heaps and mountains of words spew forth for hours on end? Rank verbiage sliding off the monitor, pooling under the desk, or running in rivulets down the hall? What do writers do in that case? Is there some sort of compulsive writer’s Kaopectate out there? Or is this really not a problem at all, but a good thing in disguise, providing us with 55-gallon drums full of words to pick and choose from?

    I’m serious, here. Mostly. I tend to write 6,000 word chapters that then have to be cut down to 3,000 or so. Isn’t there some sort of self-editing portion of the brain that can restrict the flow of words in the first place? Once I sit down and start to type, I have a hard time stopping. Is this common with a first book? Do you become more selective with experience, and stop slinging everything up against the wall to see what will stick through the editing process?

    • Marcia, this affliction is the the polar opposite of a blockage of the creative colon, which is this case would be creative diarrhea. I don’t see it as a bad thing, as long as you’re willing to wipe out those words that cling on but serve no purpose in propelling the story. When it comes to word diarrhea, I firmly believe it’s still better to have too much to work with than too little, and often you will discover story arcs or character insight you might otherwise overlook. I think it’s natural to overwrite your first book a bit, due to the excitement and all the ideas you have brewing. Eventually, experience will help you self-edit more efficiently as you go. For now, as long as you’re enjoying the process, that’s all that matters. Just stay away from laxatives 😉

    • They do make a cream, but its for internal use. It’s called Creme de Cacao. It scares away hill billies because they can’t spell it, and breaks through writer’s block. At least I think it does. After a bottle, you don’t really care anymore.

  3. Music is a must! I never write without it or else I have a habit of wandering off and not paying attention to what I’m doing. The next thing I know it’s 4 days later and I haven’t done a single thing. Something I’ve noticed though is that my music pairing has to be right. I can’t be angry listening to Vivaldi, nor can I write a reflective post while listening to Weird Al. It just can’t happen.

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