Death in Nostalgia City

By Mark S. Bacon

Who invented “writer’s block” anyway?

Third of a three-part series

I just got a great idea. I’m writing the second installment of my Nostalgia City mystery series and in the middle of one chapter, my flow of words slowed to a trickle.  An idea occurred to me for an exciting, conflict-packed chapter later in the book, so I stopped what I was doing and wrote the chapter I’d just thought of.

This is good example of one way to avoid ever being at a loss for words: write what you’re most excited about first. That was one of the suggestions I covered last time in this three-part series on the make-believe scourge, writers block.

Here are my final three techniques to lubricate your creativity.

6. Write a tight, newspaper-style summary    

Trying too hard to be clever can make your writing job difficult. Figures of speech are nice, but if getting fancy slows you down too much, stick to the facts. Spelling out the facts in simple language is easier than trying to paraphrase Shakespeare or create a spoonerism for your special occasion.

Writing a concise summary as you will find in the beginning paragraph of a newspaper news story gives you a good starting point no matter what you have to say. It may be less striking than a dramatically phrased, metaphor-laced soliloquy, but it will take hours less time to write, too.Keyboard-magenta

 7. Review your purposes and goals

Why are you writing? If your purpose is not clear to you, writing will be more difficult. Sometimes you write only to inform. If that’s the case, stick to the facts and focus on writing a tight summary of what you have to say. In many cases, however, there’s a purpose beyond the informational aspect of your words.

Phil, a freelance writer, was having trouble with a series of articles he was writing for a corporate client. He didn’t have writer’s block, but he was constantly searching for the right words. It finally occurred to him he didn’t really know why he was writing the articles. They were features for a company publication, but he didn’t know the purpose of the stories beyond just informing. After he talked with the client and found out the articles would be used to promote the use of new services, he had his purpose. He knew why he was writing, so he didn’t falter.

If you are asked to write something, find out what the purpose or goal is. Writing for a specific purpose will give you the drive you need to finish without hesitation.

 Writers block doesn’t exist. Should doubt or a string of interruptions ever put you at a loss for words, keep writing. Don’t worry about finding precise words; it’s that worry that throws a wrench into your creativity. Keep writing. If necessary, forget proper English and just put down your thoughts as they occur to you, in whatever order. Once you relax and concentrate on communicating ideas, rather than on finding perfect phrases, the words will flow. The key is to relax and overcome your inhibitions about writing.

8. When and why to quit

 “I’m just not creative” is the reason some people give for their occasional uncertainty with words. It’s a handy excuse, but for the most part, it’s not true. There are many degrees and types of creativity. If you can put a subject, verb, and object together to form a sentence, then you’re creative. Anyone who has been in business for a few years has written a variety of memos, emails, letters, reports—and even texts–under various conditions, usually without benefit of an editor, proofreader or critic. If starting with a blank computer screen and writing something that makes sense isn’t creativity, what is?

Feeling uncreative or letting yourself be stumped by a missing word are not good reasons to stop writing. Eventually though, you must quit for the day and turn off the computer. Exactly how and when to stop writing can affect your flow of words, and there’s a difference of opinion among professionals as to which is the best method. If you’re writing a book, lengthy article or a detailed business report, you have two choices. You can keep writing while the words are flowing smoothly, stopping only because of exhaustion.

Alternatively, you could quit when you reach a high point, a time when your ideas seem endless. Many professionals recommend this alternative. “Never quit when you are in the middle of a dry spell, because the dilemma will still be waiting for you at your next session,” advises Robert H. Adleman, newspaper writer and author of several books including The Devil’s Brigade. “In fact, the best time to stop,” he says, “is when you are going great guns because that feeling carries over. You won’t spend so much time getting down to it next day.”

This article series is excerpted from Write Like The Pros: Using the techniques of ad writers and journalists in business. Published by John Wiley & Sons, it’s copyrighted by Mark S. Bacon


Curing writer’s block forever


There is no such thing as writer’s block. If you believe that, as I do, you’ll never be at a loss for words. A positive mental attitude can do more for your writing than half a lifetime of writing seminars and classes.  If you think that writing a particular story, chapter, email or report will be a laborious, mentally draining task, then it will be. If the idea of a block never occurs to you, however, or if you know you can communicate in writing, chances are you will keep on writing and writing and writing.

Temporary hesitation, rather than long-term paralysis, is the more common complaint. Every once in a while you may feel you’re searching in vain for just the right words. A positive attitude will help.

–Second in a three-part series–

If you need more, here is the second set of ideas to help you keep writing. Last time I covered: 1. using mock email to loosen up, 2.explaining “the whole idea” and 3. writing the easiest part first.

4. Expand your outline

This suggestion obviously assumes you’re working from an outline. Although some novelists say they create 500-page books, one page at a time without extensive planning, for many of us, an outline is helpful—for several reasons. Here’s one of them.

If you’re hesitating about getting started, go back to your outline. Expand or explain any points which are unclear or unsatisfying. Keep expanding and adding details to your outline until you’re confident enough of your information and organization. This procedure will work to dislodge a minor mental roadblock, or it can be applied in extended doses for severe writing phobia. Anyone struck with the latter malady can keep expanding his or her notes until the notes themselves form a first draft. Here’s how it’s done:

After you’ve written your main topics (for fiction, substitute scene for topic), write down anyTyperwriter keys  wc sepia E tiny 2349 sub-topics that come to mind. Next, write a sentence or two about each topic and subtopic. Since what you say about each topic (scene) does not have to be grammatically linked to the other ideas, you should be less inhibited about constructing complete thoughts, complete sentences. Keep expanding on each section of your outline until it’s paragraph length. Connect each of these paragraphs together and you have a first draft. The effectiveness of this method is based on the idea that by expanding an outline, you’re not really writing, you’re just jotting down detailed notes.

5. Say it

This is perhaps the most fool-proof and effective technique for capturing those words which you know are in your brain somewhere. It will work equally well on any length work. It could be effective on a one-sentence letter.

When you reach for that elusive phrase and come up empty-handed, stop writing. Get away from the computer or put your pencil down. Find someone and tell him or her what you’re trying to say. Say out loud what you’re trying to say on paper and, presto, the words you’re looking for will come right out of your mouth.

This is relaxed communications at work. When you talk, you’re not conscious of forming complete sentences. Often you don’t. In casual conversation you focus on your subject, not your syntax. When you’re looking for your lost phrases, speak to someone and restate your ideas until you elicit an understanding nod or grunt. When that happens, you’ve communicated. The only thing left to do is write down what you said. You have to pay attention to your words, but don’t pay so much attention that it inhibits your talking.

This article is abridged from my book on writing published by John Wiley & Sons.

This article is abridged from my book on writing published by John Wiley & Sons.

This technique also will work if you talk aloud to yourself. It’s more effective with someone listening, however, and that person may be able to help you remember and record the missing words you utter. You can’t talk silently to yourself. The reason you use the vocal method is that the silent one isn’t working.

The digital recorder on your cell phone or a tape recorder can replace a person to talk to. That way you’ll automatically capture the sought-after phrases. If you record/dictate frequently, however, using a recorder may not be the best way to relax your syntax. Try turning off the machine and continuing to talk. When you’ve heard something you like, turn the machine back on and repeat it.   A recorder can only help to the extent you can still talk informally while it’s running.

The final step in this method is to edit what you’ve said. Your spoken words will give you the meaning, now make it grammatical.

Next time: The series concludes with ideas for focusing on goals, summarizing and why and when to stop for the day.

Book award for Death in Nostalgia City


Death in Nostalgia City” just received an honorable mention award from the San Francisco Book Festival. The awards banquet will be May 23 at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.

SF-Book-Fest.-Web-optiDeath in Nostalgia City 3-D Web-ready B&W


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