Avoiding the Block

Writer’s Block, a phrase that no matter what genre you specialize in brings about fear.  As a professional or beginning writer at many points you will become a victim of it.  The publishing industry knows this and has made a small fortune off “self help” that promises a cure, a way to work through it.  Many of these books reiterate the same mantras: keep writing, keep reading, keep watching and observing the world, and don’t let doubt settle in.  Good sound advice, and now you don’t have to go buy these books.

For this post though I wanted to focus on one particular aspect of writer’s block: an absence of ideas and/or the inability to begin a new poem/piece of fiction.  Every individual in the MFA program at Rutgers Newark is able to create compelling creative pieces –if this wasn’t the case you wouldn’t be here.  However, there are times in your life that you might feel blocked up, distracted, so emotionally or physically overwhelmed that the process of creating becomes an impossible and frustrating endeavor.  The questions begin to rise: have I lost it, what am I going to do, etc.?

I wanted to talk about this topic since I find myself neck deep in it right now.  The rigors of preparing for my first semester as a graduate student as well as life events –moving, my stepsons diagnosis and worsening epilepsy, job hunting, and living with my 22 year old brother who tries daily to remake Animal House — has not helped the creative process. I also hope that other first year grads that might be thinking or experiencing similar struggles might find some solutions.

I believe the best cure for writer’s block besides writing through it, is to be able to step outside of your mind for inspiration or an idea to trigger a longer piece.  I have compiled a list below that offer a variety of prompts and suggestions that I have found helpful to break myself out of a block.

Language is a Virus

This site is really your one stop destination for virtually anything dealing with poetry and fiction.  There are writing prompts, a writer’s block widget, as well as a host of articles ranging on every topic from various movements to character creation tools.  As the title suggests this site is geared towards the more experimental side of writing.

Poetic Asides

As Language is a Virus was to the experimental, Poetic Asides is a blog that focuses more on a contemporary/classical approach to poetry.  Wednesday and Thursday are the days you want to check this site out.   The latter provides writing prompt to help surge some creative output.  Though intended for poets, these prompts can easily be translated into shorter fiction prompts.  Thursday brings a workshop which the blog’s author randomly picks submitted poem, posts it and critiques it. He then presents suggestions on how to revise the poem.  I’ve found it is a fun exercise to take those suggestions and re-write the poem being discussed.

A Book of Surrealist Games

The title says it all.  This handy pocket sized book is filled with activities to help the writer think outside of their safety zone.  The prompts are often bizarre and seem trivial, but were designed to get the writer to break free from conventions.  As it relates to this post, it is a great way to circumvent the block by trying something completely different and bizarre.  Another wonderful thing about this book is it presents prompts for groups of writers as well as individual projects which allow writing to be a social activity instead of a solitary one.

The Practice of Poetry

This book was intended to give creative writing teachers examples of assignments for their students.  I have found it to be a valuable tool along with the Surrealist Games as a way to try new forms and approaches to creating poetry.  It has the most notable contemporary poets today sharing the writing assignments they use in class.  I’ve found it helpful using these organized assignments to take away the pressure of thinking of a way to begin a poem.  I am then freed up to write instead of thinking what I should write about or how it should be written.

Splicing Lines Technique

This final block breaking tool comes courtesy of my former professor Elizabeth Robinson.  The process is quite simple.  Pick a poem you have never read, preferably by an author you are not familiar with. You read one line of their text, and then write a line of your own text playing off their line.  You continue this until you have written a line for every line of their work including the title.  This is easily adaptable to fiction as well.  Pick a piece of flash fiction or a micro story and write your own line for each line on the page.  Writing off each line instead of sentences produces unique breaks and enjambment in your text. It also prevents you from trying to structure and think about what you are writing.   The results from both can be mixed.  At times I will have gems that with a little revision are publishable and other times you get garbage.  Like the other tools I’ve presented, this technique helps to cut out the problem of having to think up a beginning for your work.  These experiments free you up to just write and not worry about where to get an idea from or when to end it, etc.

If you are interested in more websites and books that I use to battle the block feel free to email me at chris.inkspot@gmail.com.

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