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

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.

Hey, 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:


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 Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. This has been an excerpt from his upcoming book, Ned’s Nickel’s Worth On Writing: Pearls of Writing Wisdom From 16 Years as a Shucking Columnist. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

43 thoughts on “Tips to jump-start your writing (Unless you’re in Arkansas)”

  1. Writig is difficult if you want good content. Especially if you are Norwegian and you will be writing in English 😉 Anyway, Great post!!!
    “It’s a long way, to Arkansas. It’s a long way, to go…..” ♪♫

    1. I agree! I tried writing my humor column in Norweigen once and everyone cried. Thanks for stopping in, and for getting that song stuck in my head! Cheers 😉

  2. k,,Neds, read ,, glance read, glance, open eyes wide …stare..what the?! dude with jumper cables? on his nipples?! what the… where am i? Ned’s blog?..check.. okay i need to READ read…cause THAt is leaving a few questions …wow. jumper nipple clamps..distraction! it note to temporarily cover it so my eyes can read….

      1. As a Canadian, we are multi-cultural, accepting and inclusive of all race, creeds, religious affiliations and cousin intermarriages. I simply was not familiar with the Geographic character differentiation which aligns itself with specific regions, which I can see now, with the clarity of mud. Or to simplify things for that segment of population who may be trying to discipher the content and meaning behind what I’ve said “Ohhhhhhhhh, Arkansas!”

        1. *snort*
          From what I understand, the state of Arkansas is considering a move to Canada. They are so used to the phrase “Ohhh, Arkansas” that singing “Oh Canada” isn’t much of a stretch.

                1. So…… No take-backsies, huh?
                  It’s just another example of why it’s important to have your young pop star spade or neutered.

  3. I saw him once! In a truck stop in Arkansas – as you said Ned. Bentonville can be a scary place – in more than one way.

    Thanks for the writing tips – excellent ideas (esp googling the images). I used to find that while I was driving the constantly changing landscape seemed to act in a similar way – triggering floods of memories, any one of which could be chased down and enjoyed or considered. Kind of like a continuous google.

  4. I’ve been to Arkansas a few times – maybe that’s my problem?

    All kidding aside, some seriously good ideas here and have used all of them at one point or another. I don’t typically struggle writer’s block- if anything, I have TOO many ideas crossing paths and don’t always have time in the day to get them down. Last week, I was so desperate to get something down on paper, I pretended to take notes during a sales meeting – I was actually writing poetry 😉
    You may not see a lot of writing over at my site for a while – or you may – I dunno! Feeling a little reclusive these days and spending my writing time in a personal space which probably isn’t all bad anyway 🙂

    1. We all need to take time for our families and ourselves. In most cases, they are the source of inspiration for writing and life. They should always come first. After spending the last several years in overdrive, I have made strides to slow life down a little — particularly on the writing front — so I can enjoy time with my wife and kids more. Our last three kiddos will all be in high school next year and it is going to go fast. I probably can’t keep up, so I’ll slow life down instead.

  5. good advice, especially the arkansas heads-up, but i tend to have all kinds of ideas running through my head. perhaps i’m in need of something to calm me down, a nice glass of red, dramamine, deep breaths. problem is, sometimes my best thoughts are when i’m in inopportune places to write them down and they are then spun back out into the universe, never seeing the light of day. perhaps i should travel with a personal secretary/manservant?

  6. Re: #3, I find that to be true to the extent that while I am jogging outside, listening to music, I think of no less than 20 things I need to jot down. By the time I get back to the car an hour later, I can only recall 5, and by the time I get home, they never seem as pressing or interesting as they were while I jogged. They were all the Great American novel, of course.

  7. Missouri is actually fairly close to Arkansas, so that sort of sucks for me. I haven’t had fuel to write anything funny in months, so your advice is actually quite welcome, my friend. Now I’m going to read from that book of yours because I um, like you!

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Don. That you don’t actually live IN Arkansas, I mean. That’s good news.

      And given some of the things that you’ve had to deal with as of late, it would be hard for me to find my funny, too. Things have been relatively quiet at the firehouse, and for that I’m glad. I hope the book can guve you a few laughs, my friend. If not, I really suck…

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