Early in my career, I spent a lot of time wistfully dreaming of selling short fiction and seeing it published. But I couldn’t think of anything to write. I had writer’s block, and a pretty bad case of it too.
Then came two realizations:
- We were broke at Christmas, with two young kids who had certain . . . expectations . . . for the holidays.
- And the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine, Tropic, had started publishing short fiction.
I sat down and pumped out a Christmas-themed short story – George Bailey decides it’s a much more wonderful life in the red-light version of Bedford Falls – and sent it to the magazine. The next thing I knew, I had a check for $300. And we had ourselves a decent little Christmas. (It was the 1990s and $300 went a lot farther.) Not great, but decent. I sold two more short stories to Tropic until the Herald dropped the magazine.
Necessity is the mother of many things, including cures for writer’s block. When you gotta make rent or buy your kids some cheap little gift that will make them happy for a little while, it’s suddenly not so hard to come up with ideas.
There are many ways to blast through writer’s block, many of which involve just sitting down and writing something. Anything.
Here are my top 10 tricks for blasting writer’s block:
- Ignore your fears. Not good enough? Bad ideas? The worst story on paper is Pulitzer material compared to the unwritten piece.
- Trick yourself. Type up notes, make an outline or just write gibberish. Get your body moving through the motions of writing and soon you’ll be writing for real.
- Keep a story journal. Ideas will come to you when you least expect them. Have pen and paper ready to jot them down. Better yet, use your cellphone’s voice recorder.
- Turn off your brain. Do something physical, like finally cleaning the bathroom or emptying the dishwasher. No cleaning closets or the garage, however – you want a brief distraction, not a way to skip writing for the whole day.
- Think of a memorable character from your life and write about them.
- Give yourself some writing prompts. “If I won a million bucks in the lottery, I’d . . .” “If I could go back and tell my boss what I REALLY think . . .”
- Develop a writing habit. Make an appointment with yourself to sit down for 30 minutes to an hour each day. And don’t ghost yourself, ever!
- Read good books and trashy novels. Watch classic movies for technique and schlocky romance TV to see what sells. Read crime reports in the newspaper.
- Get out of the house. Watch and listen to real people in stores and other places, to tune in to how people speak to each other and what they talk about.
- Celebrate! Whenever you accomplish one of these exercises, reward. Go see a movie, hang out at the beach, go shopping. You’ll probably pick up even more ideas.
Language Tip of the Week: Order of Adjectives
Have you ever read a sentence with several modifiers that just didn’t sound right? But you couldn’t quite say why it was off?
Now you can, because of a rule called the Order of Adjectives. Yup, that’s a thing in grammar.
Take this sentence I came across recently: “Guest-favorite il Verdi, an Italian restaurant serving house-made pasta and other delicacies, will receive a new beautiful beachfront location and design transformation.”
“New beautiful beachfront location” sounds off, doesn’t it?
How about “beautiful new beachfront location” – better?
It is better because of the Order of Adjectives.
The rule says that adjectives must fall in the following order: Opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose.
“Beautiful” is an opinion and must therefore come before “new,” which is age.
I wish I could give you a mnemonic to make this easy to remember, but all I can offer is the rather clunky O-S-A-Sh-C-O-M-P.
- Purpose or qualifier
Try it yourself with a few variations of adjective order, and watch how it makes sense.