Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fighting Writer's Block

I've been feeling blocked lately, both as a blogger and a fiction writer. There are some days where I feel like I have nothing interesting left to say.

Those also happen to be the same days that I find out that someone who is younger, thinner, more attractive, and less neurotic than me just signed a two book deal with a major publishing house; that same person is now going to be earning so much money not just from the book deal but also because of the fact that she just became engaged to some rich person. Now she never has to work a day job again EVER while I have to keep struggling to pay my bills with part-time jobs that make my hair fall out because of stress (this has actually been happening lately) so that I worry about having to buy a wig and having it accidentally fly off my head on a particularly windy day in Chicago and then the wig will fly right into someone's face and then it really will be the worst day EVER.

I once took a fiction writing class where the teacher advised us to carry a notebook with us at all times; he said that we should jot down interesting things that we observed or thought about in our daily routine. That way, we could go through our notes later and see if any of our observations could be used in a story.

So I've been jotting down certain things in my journal that I've been thinking about and observing. Here are a few examples:

1. Quoting from Dr. Seuss does not make you attractive to members of the opposite sex, at least not once you reach adulthood. Neither does plagiarism. I wrote a post recently about the weird things that people write in their online dating profiles. I actually created a document on my computer where I've been cutting and pasting copies of some of the weirdest or most disturbing profiles that I've seen; this file is now several pages long.

One of the matches that chemistry.com sent me did not include any information in the section of the profile where he was supposed to describe himself, except for a brief excerpt from Green Eggs and Ham, and I quote: "I do not like green eggs and ham I do not like them Sam I am." This guy then went on to quote a few other lines from the book. I shouldn't say "quote", because he didn't actually cite the book. Plagiarism is one of my pet peeves (not just when people plagiarize my own writing (and that has happened before, but that's another story) but also when I see evidence of how other people have stolen writing from other people's work. Maybe it's because I'm a writing teacher. Or maybe it just bothers me that a guy like that one can't come up with anything original to say about himself, except maybe that he doesn't like green eggs and ham. Or maybe that the last book he read was by Dr. Seuss.

2. Just because you're drunk at 2 A.M., doesn't mean I have to know about it. I live on a street where my neighbors come home drunk on a regular basis. How do I know that they're drunk? Because I wake up in the middle of the night to hear them yelling stuff like, "Gosh, it's so DARK out! Can you believe it gets THIS DARK at night?" and "I am SO calling in sick tomorrow! YEAH!" and "HOW could you flirt with that girl right in front of me? I would've thrown my beer at you if I wasn't already drinking it, jerkface!"

3. Maybe I should leave it to the experts, or at least read the instructions first. I wrote this down after I unsuccessfully tried to mend one of my shirts that had holes in it. (I'm pretty broke right now so I can't afford to buy new clothes that often.) I don't know how to sew, so I thought I'd look up the directions on how to mend clothes online. I ended up with bloody fingers because I kept jabbing my hands with the needle and then the blood kept getting onto my shirt. Maybe I should have read through all the instructions, rather than follow them as I read them. Now I have a shirt with holes AND spots of blood on it. I guess when I can't wear certain clothes in public, it really is time to buy new ones.

When I reread all the things that I'd written down in my journal, one thing that kept coming up again and again was online dating. Even if I don't succeed in finding Mr. Right, maybe I can succeed in writing about my search for true love. Every time I come home from a less-than-great date or I read yet another profile that makes me want to hurl my computer out the window, I write down more stuff about what I feel and what I've experienced so far. Even though the whole dating process hasn't been making me very happy lately, the thought that I could use my experiences and my observations as material for a good story (or possibly more than one) definitely makes me happy. And then I start writing again.

What kinds of things do you do when you're looking for inspiration?


  1. Yes you should keep writing in that moleskin journal! I had been feeling this way about blogging lately, so I joined the A to Z Challenge. Nothing like pressure to take the edge off! But when May comes I bet I am worse than ever with the lack of inspiration and enthusiasm for the blog. Still, it's like anything I guess, where one has the ups and downs.

  2. The journal's a good idea, and I completely understand your frustration. We all want to write for a living, only a very very few get to do it. Good luck! Hang in there!

  3. I have a notebook full of the most random thoughts and story ideas, haha. Some of them, one day, will be useful, and I have no doubt your dating stories can be useful too! As for inspiration, well to be honest, I read JD Salinger. He's like... my go-to impetus to write guy. Especially if I read something like Seymour: An Introduction, which is more or less entirely about writing and being an author.

  4. I take some time off and chill. Relax. Listen to the world around me. Then when the time is ready, I find myself naturally gagging to get going again.

    Sometimes you just need to take that step back and regain your strength. As for Mr Right; he'll come along when you are least expecting it.

    Good to make your acquaintance. Look forward to following your posts

    warm wishes

  5. Hi Karen,
    The A to Z challenge sounds interesting; I think it's cool that so many people are doing it because it motivates people to write. Maybe I'll try it next time.

    Hi Libby,
    I'd love to be able to write for a living, but I'd still be willing to work a day job if it meant that I still had enough time to write. I think the problem with the day job (or in my case, day jobs) is that it often takes up too much time and then when I sit down to write I'm often too tired or just drained.

    Hi mmarinaa,
    Reading authors like JD Salinger can definitely be inspirational. I like reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, because I like his descriptions of being a struggling writer in his twenties. I've never read Seymour, though; that sounds interesting. I'll have to check that out.

    Hi Bluestocking Mum,
    Welcome to my blog! Taking time off is a good idea. It's hard for me to do that sometimes though; the thing about being a workaholic is that I feel fidgety if I'm not getting work done, even though I know I need to relax.

  6. Ugh, I have been there with the shirts. I am tired of all my t-shirts having holes at the bottom. For some reason my shirts rub against the button on my jeans and voila, another hole. I tried to find a shirt for an interview the other day and all of them had disgusting Houston pit stains. Yuck. I have soaked them in vinegar, baking soda, Shout, doesn't matter. When a shirt is going on 5 years old, it's time to call it a day.

    And remember-it will be your turn soon. And then you can put in a good word for me with your editor :)

  7. Hi Anna,
    I have several shirts that are several years old, but I find myself reluctant to buy new ones when I could use the money to buy coffee and chocolate instead. :) (Just kidding. Sort of.)
    If and when I do get published, I'll totally put in a good word for you. Right now, I'm focusing on writing regularly; I think it's often harder to get back to writing if I stop writing for a long time.

  8. Oh my God, I SO hear you on the drunken thing. We live close to a popular pub and another nightclub, and here people love to SING when they're drunk. I can't count the number of times I have been awakened to the tune (and I use that word very loosely) of people singing!

  9. Ugh, writer's block is the damndest thing. Sometimes it helps me to listen to podcasts (I like The Moth and The Nerdist because both feature creative people, which I find inspiring). What also helps me? Reminding myself that blogging is writing. Jotting down ideas and observations is writing. And sometimes a writer needs a little break (even though I totally agree with you that it's hard to get back into it if you've been away too long!).

    Why NOT write about your search for love? Rock recently told me that he suggested starting our blog because he knew I'd start dating again if I could write about it. Sneaky bastard. But it worked!

  10. Hi Talli,
    I've heard some bad singing on my block too; I wish that alcohol made people quieter rather than louder, because then the people like me who are trying to sleep could actually sleep through the night.

    Hi No Way Cupid,
    I've been blogging about my online dating experiences, but I've also been collecting ideas for short stories and possibly a novel. I figure I might as well make the most of it, even if I don't end up meeting the right guy through online dating.

  11. I think every writer finds their own muse, mojo, magic tickle that will jump start their writing soul, for me it's music. When I have nothing,I write a lyric down and don't stop until I find my center. But my favorite jump start is writing letters - to people dead or alive, poets, singers, x-lovers.. It's always a winner for me.
    (found you on blogher, hoping to connect with other writers following their dream, too.


  12. Hi Brenda,
    Welcome to my blog! I just joined Blogher; I think it looks like a really cool community of writers. I like your idea of writing letters to other people, especially because there's a lot that I could say and have always wanted to say to certain people. I'll have to try that sometime!

  13. Read the instructions first! Wow, that hits home hard!

    Sometimes writer's block is just a brief vacation & if you go out on another "fun" date w/ a Dr Seuss fan you should be OK!

  14. Hi notesfromnair,
    I decided not to go out with the Dr. Seuss fan just because what he wrote in his profile turned me off, but at least it gave me something to write about. :)
    And the guys I have gone out with have also given me something to write about, though I'll have to disguise them in my fiction so they won't recognize themselves. It's tempting not to, though.