The hardest apart about being a writer is dealing with creative blocks and writing ruts. There will be weeks where I shall be glued to my laptop, writing word after word, page after page. Then one day my fingers will cease their movement. They linger over the keys as my mind becomes overcome with a scrambling of white noise and gibberish. Sweat will bead upon my brow. My skin will begin to feel extremely heated and my heartbeat races like it’s laced with cocaine. A terrible dread begins to embrace me, and this shadow of frustration takes root. This is usually where I sigh and then curse and then drop my face into my laptop with gross dejection. I absolutely loathe feeling this way, but unfortunately, it comes with the gig of being a writer, especially a fiction writer.
After spending the better part of year battling various sorts of creative obstacles, I finally found one method that helps me climb my way out of the pits of irritation that losing motivation and my writing jive can place me into. It’s not a perfect plan, but it is one that has worked every single day that I’ve tried it and for me that is utterly mind-blowing. Today, I wanted to briefly chat about this technique with the hopes of helping other writers who may find themselves dealing with horrid bouts of writing blocks and ruts that can spring up out of the bushes and slap you silly, and that method is: daily or weekly writing prompts.
I know, I know. Why would writing be the solution to writing ruts? Wouldn’t that just contribute to burning out or feeling even more annoyed when one’s brain keeps on being as blank as a fresh snowfall? How can we come up with prompts when we can’t even string together a simple four-word sentence? Trust me, I know how silly this suggestion sounds, but hear me out.
Usually when I can’t find a way to move forward with what I’m writing I like to learn why I’m stuck. Understanding the reason may not necessarily cure me of my rut, however, at the very least it helps me understand why my mind is telling me to take a breather. From many years of writing, I have discovered that writing blocks can be imperative for us to rejuvenate our inspiration. The tank may be empty and desperately needing a refill, which comes in the form of stepping back and recentring my mind on other stories. This is where the writing prompts come in!
At the beginning of the week, on Sunday to be precise, I sat down to write a few pages in my fantasy manuscript and all I did in the end was stare at the blank, black screen of my Word document for about an hour and a half. Since I wasn’t making any progress, I closed every open tab, browser, folder, and document that I had open. Then I shut-down my computer, got out my chair, and spent about ten minutes stretching out my back and my arms. Then I walked over to the white board in my office and wrote down the very first thing that popped into my mind. These are the three words I wrote down:
- Alone. Unknown. Sand.
I stared at these words for about ten to fifteen minutes, but I couldn’t think of anything else. I just kept imagining a non-gendered person standing alone in a strange place surrounded by sand. Afterwards, I made some milo and then headed off to bed (it was about six in the morning; I’m a nocturnal writer, so when the sun comes up, it’s time for me to take a nap). When I woke up in the morning (or my version of morning at approximately five PM), I had completely forgotten about the words chilling in my office. After washing my face and getting refreshed, I walked back out there, and I saw the white board and felt confused. Since I tend to use the board for taking story notes or leaving myself important messages, the fact that these random words were just hanging around threw me for a loop.
I cursed, went off to make coffee and pondered what the hell those words could mean. When I returned to my desk, and booted everything up, I was going to work on blog posts. However, when I opened up a fresh Word document, I ended up writing four to five pages about a young man who had a dream about waking up in a world where all he could see was sand in every single direction, as far as his bleeding (literally) eyes could witness.
When I reached a place that felt like a comfortable spot to take a break, I glanced at my clock and was stunned to see that an hour had passed by so easily. When I looked over my shoulder at those three words on the white board again, I smiled. It felt so incredible to write something. Even if this was far as the story goes and I never open up this document again, I was able to create something with words where before I couldn’t write a goddamn thing to save my own arse if I wanted.
Random writing prompts, either ones that are given daily or weekly (depending on your personal writing style, techniques, and habits) can be an excellent way to trigger some inspiration if you’ve been stuck in a bottle of blocks. The mere act of being able to physically write again will do wonders for your brain. Those endorphins will kick in and the negativity that has been contributing to whatever walls that have been erected, shall finally start to weaken and then they’ll eventually crumble away entirely.
Here are the five different writing prompts that I have used every single morning this past week to help in “training” my creative muscles. Maybe they can help you too or give you an idea of the different things that I’ve tried out.
- Monday: Alone. Unknown. Sand.
- Tuesday: A young boy awakes in a damp cell
- Wednesday: Telepathic Kheb. Coconut cake.
- Thursday: A record player plays Louis Armstrong as a nonbinary person lights a cigar. Then when she comes down the stairs, their entire world changes.
As you can see they are all thoroughly random and different from one another. Some mornings I had a sentence or two, while others all I could manage were a couple of words. All of the prompts were written the prior evening, right before I turned in for the “night.” I made sure that I was tired so that my brain would sputter the most nonsensical things (they tend to be fun for me in terms of creative foundation). One of the prompts from above actually turned into a fresh new manuscript for me. I’ve been expounding on it since I woke up that morning and I’m really excited to see how it shall unfold in the coming weeks or months.
Random daily or weekly prompt writing is a fantastic way to keep your brain engaged with the craft while also preventing a level of burnout because it requires you to think differently each time as you write. By focusing on an array of genres, prose styles, settings, characters, etc., it helps the creative aspects of one’s brain to work actively. That sense of engagement is different enough to prevent one from feeling stuck in a repetitive motion or the same stale atmosphere for extended periods of time. Whenever I get writing blocks nowadays, I’ve noticed that it is almost always due to my subconscious’ desire to change things up from a storytelling perspective. When one is working on a manuscript, that can be a challenge because drastic changes within the manuscript itself can be horrendously damaging. So, small exercises like this are a fabulous way of taking a break, trying something new, and still feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Now, I don’t believe this method will work each and every time that I’m dealing with a block, but thus far it has been quite beneficial. When I reach a point where it’s no longer doing the trick, then I’ll have to revaluate why I’m stuck again and work on trying out a new tactic. If you’re in a similar situation, I’d advise you to give this a shot for at least three days. If it’s not working for you at all, then a complete break from writing for about a week may be the best solution. Your brain may just need to focus on a different activity altogether in order to get revitalized and energised again. Being a writer, it can be quite easy to ignore our bodies for our crafts. But remember! Self-care for the body is self-care for the mind, which in turn is self-care for the craft.