Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freewriting exercises to kill writer's block

Writer's block is the scourge of writing success.  Some professionals recommend "freewriting" when this happens--just start writing random stuff until an idea pops out.

Occasionally when I find myself blocked, I play a game with my kids.  I ask for a word or phrase, and then I have two minutes to crank out as much stuff as possible from that word or phrase. Here are some of my more noble efforts--not Newbery award winners by any means, but there's potential!

Word cue: The chimps danced 
The chimps danced along the tops of the trees.  All the bananas in the world could not have made them any happier than at this moment.  Oogoo had won the challenge, and Geenah would no longer be their leader.  Now everyone would have a chance at the juiciest termites, not just the elders.

Geenah slumped on the forest floor.  How could he have lost?  And what was this rock, paper, scissors thing, anyway?

Word cue: The trumpet section fell over (this is from my youngest son, who is a band geek like me)
The trumpet section fell over during the halftime show.  At least they had fallen over backwards instead of face-first, which would have smashed their horns and driven their mouthpieces through their teeth and into their brains.  

The audience applauded, believing this was scripted, because they did it with such precision.  But no sound came from their instruments as they lay on the grass, with spit leaking onto their faces from the upturned trumpets.

Next, a hole opened in the middle of the field beneath the tuba players, and quickly closed up, leaving only the fiberglass bells of their instruments in a neat row across the fifty-yard line, resembling the ventilation tubes you might see on old navy ships.

Now the crowd began to worry.  What if only the clarinets are left?

Word cue: amok
Amok, amok, amok, amokamokamokamokamok.
Playing Godzilla was a lot more fun than he’d ever dreamed.  The people who ran screaming to avoid the crushing feet of the giant hamster likely disagreed with him.  But what did they expect?  Dr. Noongalee’s Instant Growth formula didn’t say anything on the label about also growing brains and a sense of responsibility.  Little did Mr. Fuzzball suspect, however, just how difficult the next few days would be.  In fact, he would probably live to regret making a snack out of the poor doctor.

This is a great game to get the creative gears turning--remember, there's a time limit--two minutes--and once you've typed it, move on to the next one.  The two-minute limit gives you no time to be judgmental about your work--not to mention it helps you learn to type fast!  Later you can go over them and see if you have any great story ideas in there. 

It works for me, to one degree or another--doesn't always help with the story I'm currently working on, but gives me fodder for future stories and helps me learn to be creative on demand.   I keep all of these nuggets on file, no matter how stupid they may be.   I think the giant hamster story has some potential, and I've since sketched a few chapters from this intro.  

So, my fellow writers--what do YOU do when you're blocked? I'd love to hear your ideas!


  1. I'm from the 'butt-in-chair' school. Not all writing days are created equal. The Muse may be busy helping someone else. My butt's my own.

  2. I know that many writers have success with these sorts of games. I agree with Mirka. When it's time to write, I sit and write. On an actual thing I'm supposed to be writing. If I can't get started, I write in slow motion! No kidding, letter by letter. It really works. After a few sentences, I can usually break free of the problem.

  3. Anne and Mirka,
    I enjoy hearing how other people deal with it. I usually swing between "butt-in-chair" and "going nowhere." It's on those "going nowhere" days that I find this exercise most useful--it lifts my spirit, reminds me that I AM a creative person, and if nothing else, my kids enjoy the game! It's a great way to relieve the stress, especially if I've spent most of the day slogging through a research-heavy non-fiction write-for-hire gig that leaves me wondering why I wanted to become a writer in the first place.

  4. This sounds crazy (shoot, when have I ever typed anything that didn't sound crazy?), but I don't get classical writer's block. Every day, when I start writing, I go back a few pages and immerse myself in the voice and story and then it just flows from there. Usually, because while I'm washing dishes, driving, or folding laundry, I'm playing out future scenes in my head like a movie so when it's BIC time, I'm raring to go. Not to say that some days the flow isn't skimpier than others, but there is always a flow of some sort.

    I do write my blog to get my creative juices flowing. Another thing I do sometimes is pick a random picture out of a magazine and write a couple of paragraphs based on that. One of the best short stories I've ever written was based on a writing exercise with a magazine photo. And my daughter bought me a game called The Storymatic that uses cards to give you the basis for a story and you go from there. That's a lot of fun and quick inspiration.

    I like your idea, though. I might try it with my daughters. It could be a fun family activity. I especially like your giant hamster idea. :)