Putting Pen to Page

19 September 2019 on Blog, Storystorm   Tags: , , , , , ,

Sometimes, the most difficult part of writing is simply getting yourself to write. It’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed by “real life,” to tell yourself that you’ll start working on the next chapter tomorrow, or to fall victim to a nasty bout of writer’s block. In an effort to learn how other writers break out of their writing ruts and put pen to paper, we asked some of our readers and editors about their writing rituals.

Wesley Hood, Managing Editor: As a writer, it’s taken me years to figure out what my routines are and when and how I write best. Having the flexibility to write at all hours of the day and night are wonderful, but once you find the time that works best for you, you need to stick with it. I find that sticking with a set time of day – for me the late evening to night – allow me to actually sit down and write. Having that set time and ritual allows for me to remove all the other stressors of the day and focus solely on writing. When I get writers block however, I find the only thing that helps is fresh air. Go for a walk, sit on the porch, doing anything outside even if only for a moment or two gives me mental clarity and I’d whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who gets stuck. 

Bethany Clarke, Nonfiction Reader: The only way for me to write anything good is for there to be a hard deadline and a death threat at the end of it. I work best under pressure. Give me an hour to write something, or even a half hour, and I'll give you something far better than if I have a week, or even worse, a month. So I self-impose a lot of deadlines and word counts on myself to light a fire under my own ass.

Abigael Sleeper, Nonfiction Editor: If I’m trying too hard to remember details or feelings from a particular time in my life, I end up getting frustrated and stuck. Often, to avoid thinking too much, I’ll try to jog my memory through my senses. If I’m writing about my grandmother, I might make a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese. If I’m trying to remember my freshman year of high school, I’ll listen to some trashy pop-punk. Trying to recreate a time or place in a sensory way helps me get into the right headspace and brings back memories in a way that feels more organic. 

Courtney Spaulding-Mayer, Nonfiction Reader: Advice to my future self when stuck: Don't go on Facebook! It numbs the senses. Better one million times to stare out the window and catch those bits of dew on those leaves in the morning sun. Better to ponder that one red blink of that one piece of dew caught in the sun's prism. Or, if you really can muster the discipline, leave your chair, hat on unwashed hair, dirty shorts and shoes, and just go out into the day. Walk the gravel road one or two or three times until you feel some of the ache in your limbs fall away and your own body starts to emerge again. After a while, the thoughts become less, especially when there's sun, and you'll start noticing again -- especially the blackberries on the edge of the road. An abundance of fruit no one has seen yet. Collect until your hands are full, and perhaps you'll feel ready that blank screen and the worlds behind it.

Lily Greenberg, Editor in Chief: In Alice Notley's poem "Individual Time," she has this great line that says, "It takes courage to get to the ancient altar/ of the moment where I create individual time." I find that this is pretty true overall for my writing process--most of the effort just goes toward carving out a block of time to write in the first place! And then, once I commit to sitting in front of my notebook (no screens!) for however long I have, I will surely generate something. I give myself lots of space to freewrite, and if I get stuck, I'll turn to other people's writing and start an imitation, often extracting a line and working from there. Coffee helps. Walking helps. And lots of nonsense--like making up acronyms or phonic translations--anything to wake up the brain juice!

Maggie Wallace, Nonfiction Reader: As I’ve discovered after years of epiphanies caught in traffic or on mountainsides, ideas are not always considerate with their timing and they usually appear in the wild, not in the 8 X 8 closet I call my office (or in the other places I find myself looking for work: the laundry room, the kitchen, the basement workbench).  When I’m ‘stuck’, it indicates to me a lack of movement, a lack of interacting with the world around me. Good writing, for me, doesn’t come out of a vacuum or a stress-driven week behind the screen. I have to get up, leave my desk, and take the first step outside. I go for a trail run, hike something small and steep, climb at the gym down the street, or ride my bike to somewhere I’ve never been before. The key is to just move, if not on the page then off it, to be an active participant in life rather than sitting passive while the hours wash over me. I move until my body and brain meet in a warm cohesion and the blinking cursor feels far away, and then I usually feel the words come – in the middle of the woods, on the side of the road, far from a computer – and know it’s time to go home.

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