Saturday, May 11, 2013

How to Overcome The White Screen of Doom Without Being Inspired

So here you are face to face with someone who used to be your friend.  Your very best friend.  But now the situation has become dire and you have been forced into an impasse.  The situation needs to be resolved now before the both of you can think of any kind of forward progression.  It...has come to this.

Lack of inspiration is similar to writers block but only because time isn't on our side in that matter.  Writers Block is the inability to write due to the lack of drive and the lack of words whereas if a writer lacks inspiration he/she still has that drive to write but cannot because they're putting too much pressure on themselves.

You can sit for hours staring at that blank screen and I can guarantee that you will lose that contest if you don't take initiative.  The tick-tocking of the clock will resonate within your mind like a beating hammer against your head.  Anxiety will ensue.  You'll start sweating blood, burst a capillary or two, especially if you're on a deadline.  You're required to write, and write you must.  But how?  Wait until the mood strikes?  If you wait, the mood may never happen and you'll have lost precious time you could have spent creating your masterpiece.

Even students have trouble finding inspiration.  If there is a paper due, sometimes it's put off until the last minute.  Not necessarily as a result of procrastination, rather, the lack of the pitch or thesis.  Along comes Time who hangs out and taps the writer or student on the shoulder and points to his watch with a knowing smile.  Its running out.  The hourglass is near empty and you have only a few grains left before your assignment is marked late.  Such a struggle and this lack of inspiration can be so very damaging for both the student and the career writer.  How do you find that kick-off point to write without having to be inspired?  Do you try to get inspired by actively searching for a reason to be, or do you simply wait for it to sneak up from behind and tickle your sides?

Taking a more active approach to your writing will enable you to be more efficient in your writing.

  1. Writing Prompts 

    I have a number of books I picked up from Amazon that are chocked full of writing prompts.  Simple sentences or ideas to get the creative thoughts flowing from a slight trickle to a delicate river, into the stage where your fingers move faster than the rapids that carry you along within the idea.  Some would argue that taking someone else's ideas and running with them is not original enough.  Take into consideration, however, the overflow and influx of vampire and werewolf-based stories that have become popular since Anne Rice's 'Interview With a Vampire' and Stephanie Meyer's 'Twilight' series.  Both yarns, distinctively different and stand-alone are remarkable pieces of literature (though there are those who would argue to the contrary).  If you consider the concepts derived from the individual author, the similarities being 'a story about vampires' to the intricate details that vary regarding the history and lore of the vampire, you'll see that writing prompts encourage the writer to contrive their own details.

    Story Starters by Clifford Fryman is an amazing collection of prompts that will help you get the inspiration you need to get back into the swing of writing.
  2. Blogs and News Reports
    Not too long ago I read a news report about a little girl who was exhibiting the signs of having a potential eating disorder.  This little girl is around the same age as my daughter.  From this article alone, I was driven to write a poetical account of my own struggles with anorexia throughout my life. Many authors of true crime or those who write fictitious accounts pertaining to crime often come from what is found in news reports.  Legal thrillers such as The Innocent Man by John Grisham, uses research to tell the tale of a man charged and sentenced to death for a murder that he did not commit.

    Blogs, unlike the news, can be so varied in form and substance that much can be learned from them.  From education-based blogs where authors share the information they have gleaned from personal experience to more technical articles that reinforce the information using back links and references.  Blogs contain a wealth of information and perspective.  They can teach an author so much about the differences in opinion and point of view on countless topics.  This also assists in the reinforcement of critical and objective thinking.
  3. Journals, Personal Experience, Dreams, and Stream of Thought 

    When is the last time you have delved into your past and reflected upon it?  Are you a parent with a teenager and you can't quite wrap your mind around their behavior?  Have you experienced things that are unique and unforgettable?  Do you have addictions that you have overcome?  What is the most embarrassing moment you have ever had?  Delving headfirst into your past is a remarkable way to share a wealth of knowledge.  The most important thing a writer is told is to 'write what you know'.  Using journals as a tool, your personal experience as your guide, the remarkable world that your subconscious conjures, or simply writing down the thoughts in your head as they come to you, can turn into phenomenal prose.  There have been many stories that I have written based solely on daydreams that I have had, or bits and pieces of dreams that I remembered upon waking.  I have taken streams of thought and collected the words into a pile and tweaked it to where I created an amazing poem.  Use the tools that are available at your disposal, your knowledge and experience being one of the most important ones.
  4. Start a Discussion and Actively Listen

    Social media isn't simply a place to brag, network, or develop connections for professional gain.  They are sites where you can learn from others and get to know individuals on a deeper level and gain an understanding first hand about the different perspectives of individuals.  Interaction with other individuals is an asset to a writer, so ask questions.  Always ask questions.  We learned this in grade school, 'Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How'.  Although these questions are often geared to the story itself, ask a generalized question or perhaps a specific one and apply the five W's to the discussion.  Sometimes you'll find it hard to maintain a thread of your own and when that happens, peruse other threads or join groups and maintain a discussion there.  Knowledge is power, understanding is necessary, and questions are a necessary asset to attain both.

    You'll also be surprised by how the infamous, nameless 'trolls' can be inspiring as well.  Depending upon the subject, you can write of your experience with the inexperienced and hard-headed.  Take every difficulty as an opportunity to enrich the lives of those around you.  And if you come across an individual who outright refuses to listen or show decency and respect, understand that there are a swarm of others who will.
  5. Read, Read, Read
    Reading is one of the most basic forms of learning that we have.  Aside from direct communication, hands-on learning, and personal experience, reading is one of the fundamentals of our base of knowledge.  Without reading, our comprehension and understanding can be limited and stunted.  Reading delves into the mind of an author and forces us to walk in the shoes of another individual.  Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, there is a wealth of knowledge just beyond the edge of our own imagination.

    We are often thrust into mainstream literature but so much can be learned from lesser-known independent authors.  Read the reviews of new authors for their wealth of knowledge and experience can elicit hidden inspiration within yourself.  Multicultural literature is another important genre to read for it allows deeper understanding of cultures, traditions, histories, and particular traits that would otherwise baffle those who are unfamiliar.  Broadening your reading horizons opens up doors of new opportunities to learn and grow far beyond yourself.
  6. Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

    Remember the Venn Diagrams we learned in school?  These tools can assist an individual to think logically.  When is the last time you wrote an outline to a story or paper?  I remember in high school the concept of writing an outline for a paper was essential and mandatory.  As an adult, however, writing an outline went out the window as time constraints squeezed every minute out of me to where I run through the paper in a logical sequence without an outline.  Are outlines still important?  Of course!  Especially if you are having difficulty putting down the logical sequence of events within a story or a paper.  Outlines force you to think objectively.  Sometimes taking a step back reverting to rudimentary basics will help ease the strain that anxiety creates which inevitably prohibits clear thought and progression.

    There are a lot of mind-mapping tools that will also assist in the organization of thoughts and ideas.  There is also software and applications you can use to organize your thoughts and ideas.   mindmeister is one of many programs that make brainstorming easy.
  7. Quotes, Poetry, Art, Music

    Creatives in general feed off of each other and it is in my humble opinion that if we were stuck with only music, only visual art, or only the written word, our imaginations would be limited.  Inspirational quotes, particular poems, art in its various forms, and music can incite thought and reflection.  Incorporating various mediums into your writing can embellish the work and reinforce the emotional qualities within your writing.  I personally have countless playlists and particular songs that I listen to depending upon which book I'm currently working on.  I imagine it as a soundtrack to my dreams that carries with it the mood that spills onto the pages like a sudden downpour of rain.  Images can also elicit emotion in conjunction with writing for it enables the reader to explore a different gateway into the author's mind.

    Try reading a poem.  My personal favorite is 'The Brook' by Alfred Tennyson.  After reading that particular poem do a google search and find an image that best suits the poem.  Did you see any others that caught your interest but do not pertain to that particular poem?  Take that image, and write your own poem.

    While you're at it, write a response to the poem.  Sir Walter Raleigh wrote ''The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd'' in response to Marlowe's 'The Passionate Shepherd to His Love'  Try taking a classic poem and writing a response to it.  One poem that I remember reading was Francis Duggan's 'One Hundred Years From Now'.  Forest Witcraft wrote a poem years prior entitled 'Within My Power' In 1999, I wrote a poem similar to these two.  '2099' was then revised in 2006.  The original unedited version of this poem was put in a time capsule at L'Anse High School.  So, in a hundred years, 2099 as a matter of fact, someone will be reading that poem and I can't help but wonder what their opinion of it will be.
  8. Eavesdropping and Being Nosey

    Often we are told that eavesdropping and being nosey are rude invasive qualities and should be avoided at all costs.  The privacy and 'Mind your own business' mentality is a social faux pas that everyone ignores anyway.  More often times than not I see posts on Facebook with comments by individuals who want to put their two cents in adding the phrase, "Just sayin'...".  This should be elaborated upon.  There is a thin line between invasion of privacy and eavesdropping (I do not condone trolling or stalking by any means).

    Ever stand on the outskirts of an online debate with a bag of virtual popcorn and a lawn chair?  Ever sit in a crowded room and pick up bits and pieces of conversation?  Ever notice particular phrases, intonations, accents, voices, and other particular qualities of an individual?  How about appearance?  Have you ever really looked at the older folks sitting on the park bench just inside Wal-Mart and wonder what their story was as they quietly wait and watch the people around them?  Have you ever just sat down on that bench and watched people?  Have you ever wondered about the truth behind the gossip you hear?  Writing about your observations, from the tiniest sound to the most elaborate of visuals may spark that inspiration to move forward into deeper prose.
  9. Write About The Things You Hate

    As much as I love flowery prose as the next person, writing about what we are passionate about is what evokes emotion within the readers.  I often see many inspirational quotes and poems that have the driving force of a herd of elephants stampeding with upbeat and optimistic viewpoints.  But life itself is not always butterflies and rainbows.  Life is difficult. In fact, life sucks at times.  We have our dark points where we are cast in nothing but shadows of depression, anxiety, bitterness, hatred, envy, greed, and sloth.  Seven deadly sins go far beyond just a movie starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.  We all have darkness and pent up rage.  Disgust at particular topics that we despise so much that we become blinded by those hurtful negative emotions.  Write about what pisses you off, the people that do (without naming names), the injustice within this world and all the vile, decrepit  dark, Gothic  and morbid aspects that go along with it.  You'll be very surprised by how many people can relate to those dark thoughts.
  10. Gaming

    I am a geek.  There, I admitted it.  I have spent hours playing Dungeons and Dragons in my past, playing Final Fantasy X and XIII with such vigor and passion that the soundtrack to the video game makes me swoon.  Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requium was one of my favorite Gamecube games along with Tales of Symphonia.  Although I am not as much of a geek as I would like to be, considering that good ol' Time  is currently hovering over my shoulder as I write this, I have been amazed by the story lines within video games in current years.  They have become a sort of interactive movie and I often wonder, what if someone were to write a spin-off on one of these video game tales?  Fan fiction for geekery?  Or perhaps exercising the imagination by finding a group of gamers and throwing down a one-shot game of D&D.  Don't understand the concept or have never played?  Try it and I guarantee you'll become addicted to the creative pathways that are cleared away.  Play with a group of individuals who take RPG's (Role Playing Games) and create a living mastery of myth and legend that unfolds as the hours go on.  Played a game in the past and adored the story line?  Write about it.

    Don't forget to read the story of Eric and the Gazebo!
  11. Write What You Don't Know

    Any excuse is a good excuse to learn.  Have you been intrigued by a topic but haven't had the chance to look it up?  Sometimes research assists in gaining the inspiration required to write.  As stated before, 'write what you know' but it doesn't go farther than that, so often times writers stick with what they know without crossing those boundaries, simply sticking with the same ol' same ol'.  After a while, your base of knowledge becomes too comfortable and you find yourself being redundant within your writing.  Learning is a fundamental asset.  Often times, we come out of a new and unfamiliar project with more zest and appeal than if we remained where we were.  Our writing becomes stagnant.

    Sometimes, we don't have time to fully research a topic and instead take a concept and run with it.  Fictionalize and embellish the unknown to create something new.  Don't know a lot about military?  Create your own within your own world.  Don't understand politics?  Create a president or political platform that you do understand.  Does an event in history boggle your mind?  Write an alternate history.  Keep the five W's in mind and venture off into your own expertise.  Your creativity.
  12. Write Reviews

    "This book was excellent" is barely a valid description and a cop-out opinion.  It not only cheats the author, but it also cheats the potential readers of the book who require more than just a simple phrase to determine whether a book is good or not.  What is it about the book or particular piece of literature that you enjoyed?  What did you hate about it?  Why?  Elaborate analysis of a book or article enables a writer to think objectively and realize hidden philosophies, concepts, and reflection.  It also assists other writers and authors in the improvement of their own writing.  Peer review is a valuable asset.  

As Time sits idly watching as I conclude this piece, I am left with yet another piece of advice to give.  Use your time wisely, for our time is always limited and not exactly on our side.  In order to get what you want, you must go out and get it for nothing in this life falls into your lap without putting forth the effort.  In the end, you will be well equipped to overcome any obstacle that should come your way so long as you keep the faith and maintain your course.  Sometimes even developing a writing routine will assist you in maintaining that constant stream of inspiration.  

J.V. Stanley is the CEO and Founder at Writerz Block, an online editing and tutoring business. She is also the Development and Marketing Director at Miracle E-zine. She has had over 20 articles published, and 40 poems published in various mediums. She has recently published her first book of poetry "Fire and Water" available on Amazon.  

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