Nostalgia City Mysteries

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.

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