Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chris Bohjalian's ten ways to avoid writer's block

I'm not having any issues with writer's block these days; I've got a head full of ideas, all waiting their turn to get written down. But, for the benifit of any writers who follow my blog and aren't so lucky, here's something I got in a Goodreads newsletter e-mail today: Chris Bohjalian's ten suggestions for avoiding writer's block.

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1) Don’t merely write what you know. Write what you don’t know. It might be more difficult at first, but – unless you’ve just scaled Mount Everest or found a cure for all cancers – it will also be more interesting.

2) Do some research. Read the letters John Winthrop wrote to his wife, or the letters a Civil War private sent home to his family from Antietam, or the stories the metalworkers told of their experiences on the girders high in the air when they were building the Empire State Building. Good fiction is rich with minutiae – what people wore, how they cooked, how they filled the mattresses on which they slept – and often the details you discover will help you dramatically with your narrative.

3) Interview someone who knows something about your topic. Fiction may be a solitary business when you’re actually writing, but prior to sitting down with your computer (or pencil or pen), it often demands getting out into the real world and learning how (for instance) an ob-gyn spends her day, or what a lawyer does when he isn’t in the courtroom, or exactly what it feels like to a farmer to milk a cow when he’s been doing it for 35 years. Ask questions. . .and listen.

4) Interview someone else. Anyone else. Ask questions that are absolutely none of your business about their childhood, their marriage, their sex life. They don’t have to be interesting (though it helps). They don’t even have to be honest.

5) Read some fiction you wouldn’t normally read: A translation of a Czech novel, a mystery, a book you heard someone in authority dismiss as “genre fiction.”

6) Write for a day without quote marks. It will encourage you to see the conversation differently, and help you to hear in your head more precisely what people are saying and thereby create dialogue that sounds more realistic. You may even decide you don’t need quote marks in the finished story.

7) Skim the thesaurus, flip through the dictionary. Find new words and words you use rarely – lurch, churn, disconsolate, effulgent, intimations, sepulchral, percolate, pallid, reproach – and use them in sentences.

8) Lie. Put down on paper the most interesting lies you can imagine. . .and then make them plausible.

9) Write one terrific sentence. Don’t worry about anything else – not where the story is going, not where it should end. Don’t pressure yourself to write 500 or 1,000 words this morning. Just write 10 or 15 ones that are very, very sound.

10) Pretend you’re a banker, but you write in the night to prove to some writing professor that she was wrong, wrong, wrong. Allow yourself a small dram of righteous anger.

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Originally posted at https://www.goodreads.com/questions/12236-what-s-your-advice-for-aspiring-writers?utm_source=MadMimi&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Author+Newsletter+-+January+2015&utm_campaign=20141217_m123631035_Author+Newsletter+-+January+2015&utm_term=writer_27s+block

4 comments:

Rita said...

Sounds like a lot of good ideas. You don't suffer from writer's block, though. :)

Victoria Zigler said...

Rita:
You're right... I don't as a rule. I do suffer from a lack of enough hours in the day/night to write everything down, but writer's block isn't usually an issue for me; I have a head full of ideas, some of which have made it to rough drafts already, so if I'm stuck on one book I just work on another for a bit.

Intense Guy said...

Sounds like some really good tips!

Issac Asimov used to have a desk with ten drawers, and he put one manuscript and notes for one book in each drawer - he ofter worked ten books at once. When he was set to further develop one book, he pulled it out of its drawer and went to work on it. Sounds like a great way to do things (before computers).

Victoria Zigler said...

Iggy:
Sounds sort of like my way of dealing with it, except I don't generally have as many as ten on the go - maybe as many as six, but usually less than that. Also, mine are files in folders on the computer rather than papers in drawers of a desk.