Friday, April 22, 2011

What Writer's Block?: Inspiration from Kimberly Willis Holt

I know, we're not supposed to have writer's block. You're just supposed to put your butt in the chair and do it, but sometimes you can sit there all day long and stare at a blank computer screen. If you've been writing for any amount of time, there have probably been times when you just aren't feeling it.

A couple months ago at the Austin SCBWI conference I attended Kimberly Willis Holt's small group session, "Back to the Porch: Breaking Writer's Block and Returning to the Creative Life." How could Kimberly Willis Holt speak about writer's block? It seems like she always has some amazing new book coming out. But she herself lost the will to write for five months.

So it happens to the best. Here are a few tips from Kimberly about moving past the blocks and start writing again:

  • Set a timer for a certain amount of time you will sit down and write
  • Write out the problem: draw a diagram showing what would happen if you removed a scene, for example, or changed your character's age. These might not be scenes you'll use, but it'll get you back into the story. 
  • Write about anything. It can help to set the story aside you've been working on and write about something different for a little while to get into the writing habit again.
  • Webbing: draw a story map or a web about the chapter or scene you're having trouble with. This is a tip from Writing on Both Sides of the Brain that I wrote about here when I was taking forever to finish one chapter.
  • Start small. Write a list of words you like, or write some ideas on an index card. During the session we each took an index card and wrote about a place that was important to us. Then for a few minutes we brainstormed a list of words, feelings, and details that reminded us of that place. The memories you write about could work their way into a story or lead to new ideas. Kimberly pointed out, "A lot of stories are connected to the words on that card."
The turning point for Kimberly Willis Holt was when she read an interview her daughter did with a musician. Seeing the passion he had for his work inspired her to go out to her front porch where she first started writing, with a pen and paper. 

She added that sometimes you'll discover that the story you're working isn't yours to write and you'll have to let it go. Other stories are yours, and they won't get written if you don't write them yourself. But you have to write to find out.

Some other books recommended during the session were Writing Down to the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

I know that for me, setting the computer aside and freewriting with a pen and paper help me come up with new ideas or figure out a scene when I feel stuck. Other people can't think that way, and have to be in front of the computer screen.

Let us know what's worked for you--how do you get past the blocky times?