One thing that I've done that has helped my writing immensely is to take risks. I think being uncomfortable is an important facet to being a good writer (hey man, I'm kind of uncomfortable right now writing this blog!). Risk taking of course sometimes takes the form of an action, like jumping out of an airplane which I'm never doing because i want to live, but it's a good example. I do remember though traveling to Europe by myself when I was 20 or 21. I didn't want anyone to know but I was terrified.
Terrified is good.
Writing about something you're scared to write about or that isn't a guaranteed hit, is the ultimate goal. Revealing a hidden or anonymous truth about yourself or relationship to the world is brave, real, and authentic.
Because if you've read this blog at all, I'm all about you and I as writers getting to the truth. The truth of our voice comes through and always wins out over trying to impress or fit in with what we think would sell. And often, it's the risk of being honest that makes something more attractive to the world - in terms of buying it.
I was reminded of this reading an article in the LA Times by a former client. www.latimes.com/style/laaffairs/la-hm-la-affairs-rebecca-cullen-20180224-story.html. As I told Rebecca, I can't imagine writing about my sexcapades. Very bold and my hat is off to her.
Different things I've done to sort of encourage my own truth-telling and risk-taking include creating a podcast, doing I think like 3 blogs before this one, and shooting an online commercial. All of these things were risky. The podcast was because I had no idea what I was doing and felt nervous every time. It was my voice and our literal voice does not lie. I was shaky-mcshakerson at times, trust me. But I learned to use that nervous energy to hopefully sound enthusiastic. In fact, I learned a lot doing that podcast. The blogs? I love writing so that might not seem like a big deal but I wasn't writing about writing I was writing about LA and hidden treasures I loved. I didn't really know what I was doing. Who cared what I thought? But I did it anyway. What the hell, right? http://opinela.blogspot.com.
And the commercial, which I created, co-produced and directed - I mean that was A BLAST! But again, I was scared. I wanted to do a good job. The buck stopped at me. And it was for a sex product. I mean talk about embarrassing convos with my elders and some of the more conservative Hollywood peeps I know. In addition, this was only the second time I would be directing something. Could I do it? That certainly was something I wondered. Something I prayed for. I really wanted it to be fantastic for everyone - the client, my talent, crew, and me - so you know, no pressure. Despite my fears, I think we did pretty well and it did open some doors for me, doors I didn't even know were there:
So it doesn't have to be every day but I implore you to stretch. Look outside of your comfort zone creatively. And not quietly. It builds a far bigger wrinkle in your brain to just, as they say, put it all out there. Imperfection gives us the strength to, when say we're doing our chosen art (the screenplay, the TV spec, the novel) operate that muscle of courage we need to write more truthfully and to represent our finished pieces more effectively. We're able to go where we haven't gone before. You know, we grow a pair.
Because otherwise, you're small, you're writing and creating for an audience of one, and if that's what you want to do, fabulous! But if you're reading this blog, I don't think that's the case.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot
Any writer will tell you the secret to writing is writing. Any other writer will say the secret to writing is rewriting. And another writer might talk to you about discipline. I don't know. There are no magic bullets. But the reason people give these suggestions or at least one reason is often writers complain about writer's block. If they're totally honest, they can find the time to write, they can carve out at least an hour of their day if not more to really give it a shot, but if they have nothing to say, they have nothing to say. It's boring. It's lonely. And said writer can't help but feel like a fraud.
Currently I'm having a bit of a dearth. I don't have an excuse. I have that daily precious time to do my work and for me, it is work. It not only brings me joy, it can and has generated income. So... do I hate joy and income? Am I out of ideas? Am I a real writer? If I was wouldn't I be writing and prolific and blowing myself and others away with my bright, unusual and pithy ideas?
Well, here's the good news, I'm too old to totally give a shit. Like on many levels I don't even ask myself those questions any longer. I no longer traipse down the rabbit hole towards Existentialism Plaza. I've been writing long enough to know there are downs, dearths, and some real choice moments when nothing is emerging. But do not misunderstand. Not giving a shit doesn't then become not doing anything. Nope. There is a solution.
DOCTOR'S ORDERS FOR WRITER'S BLOCK
1) Show up for it. Even if all you do is write in your diary, show up for your writing. Daily. At least an hour.
2) Keep your notebook by your side. Write down your random thoughts. All day. All night. Have your notebook at arm's reach.
3) READ. Any novelist knows to read and to read a lot. Novelist, TV writer, playwright - no matter, you are a writer and writers read. Reading outside the genre you write is the way I usually go. And I try to mix it up: non-fiction, articles, short stories, scripts -- all to get stimulated. I LOVE good writing. I'm inspired by it. I emulate it. Currently I'm reading Edna O'Brien and I couldn't be happier. I have a bunch of books on the docket and I even listen to good writing. On a recent drive my husband played me a beautiful rendition of a Sylvia Townsend Warner story on the New Yorker podcast. Heaven.
4) Watch TV and film -- shows and movies you wouldn't gravitate towards are ideal. I currently watched "Beguiled." Had little to no interest in it and knew close to nothing about it. Those for me are the best because then when they're good you're rather blindsided by genius. "Beguiled" was like watching moving paintings over and over. And under the beauty was some serious plot shit I never would have thought of. That was a nice kick for my brain.
5) Live outside your box. Go to a museum, take a night and do something you wouldn't typically do, take an exercise class that you're afraid of, snorkel - anything that you haven't done before. On New Year's Day we signed up for a Sun Salutation class at our yoga studio. 54 Sun Salutes. I'm really out of shape. But it's bound to get something going. Or I might just throw up. The point is...
It's about stimulation. It's about shaking it up. You are a full person with a million idea germs but some times those germs get stuck between routine and expectation. They're stuck inside your vessels and your capillaries, between your frontal lobe and your waistband. They're just plain stuck. And if you keep doing more of the same, there your idea germs will stay stuck, bored out of their freakin minds. And if you do nothing to save them, then they'll eventually wither away. But if you live a little, they start to move, collide, and finally emerge. They get unstuck, you get unblocked and boom, your germs mate with each other and ideas are born. And then you can't help but write it down. You go from stuck to fingers dancing on the page. You're back, baby!
And what a great way to start off the new year! You know what I mean? With a brand new idea. That's a nice way to say fuck you to an existential crisis, isn't it now?
That's all I got.
Happy New Year!!!
All I'm saying is when you have a good idea WRITE IT DOWN! I can't tell you how many times throughout the day my husband will go, "Go write that down right now. That's a good idea." And I do so. But you know, he's not always around.
ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING WITH YOU SO YOU CAN WRITE DOWN YOUR IDEAS! You can use Notes in your phone but I find that to be a little eh-eh. I don't remember what's in my phone. I don’t even think to look there. It's not tangible and my phone is not dedicated to my writing pursuits.
Personally I find going to Staples or Office Depot to be the CVS For Writers. The way I love candy and medicine in the aisles of chain drugstores, I love the paper, notebooks and pens in big box office supply stores. They have all the tools I need to keep track of my divine inspiration PINGS - brilliant thoughts about whatever I'm currently writing or hits about a new book, play, children's story, screenplay, etc., etc.
To that end, when I do my writing session, I have my document open dedicated to the facet of my project I'm currently working on as well as my diary. In my diary, I write down all my incredibly important feelings about the world and my anxieties and sometimes I throw in an impromptu gratitude list, but I also at times have an idea. I believe ideas are precious. So I always type IDEA and then write that idea down just like that, in upper case. That way I can do Control Find, type in IDEA and locate my brilliance in between my mixed up feelings about Whole Foods and why I’m not able to go to yoga again.
That simple tool makes it easy for me to shine; to never be grasping and feel like I have writer's block. Same with having a small notebook I bought at the candy store for writers. My small notebook follows me everywhere – it’s in my bag, on the passenger seat of my car, it sits on my bedside table so when I’m falling asleep and think of something just before I go to unconsciousness, I can turn on the light (sorry, husband) and jot it down. That one little trick simply gives me another opportunity to find what I need to shine when I’m afraid I don’t have any good ideas.
The point of all of this is a) writer's write and b) you do have good ideas but one bad idea is believing you'll remember them all.
More about b...
You're not a superhuman weirdo with ironclad memory as your superpower. Or if you are, tell me more about it. Seems like a great IDEA. (hacky hardy har har follows here).
Okay, writer people. I hope this helps.
It's not easy to do a lot of things but writing is its own brand of hard. It's not difficult to do it in terms of the logistics. In fact, the world has conspired against you to make it easier and easier to do your work. But there's always, it seems, something better to do than write.
My excuse roster is usually pretty simple: I have to clean all the dishes, pay all the bills, do a meal plan for the week, go to the market, cry in the car for a second, put the groceries away, clean the counter, check FB, Instagram, Email, Texts and my newsfeed (every ten minutes) and then I'll be ready. But by then the babysitter is going home and I'm exhausted and my husband just found out there's a Great British Baking Show season we missed.
Yeah, everything you could be doing instead of writing will be there when you get back from your daily writing appointment. But so what do I mean by that?
Create a schedule. You can do it daily or weekly. But you put that appointment on the calendar and then you'll know exactly when you're going to show up for your writing, where you're going to be doing your writing, and how long you plan to write for.
So just like a business date with another person, you're making a business date to write. You know, Monday night at 8:30pm, you are writing for one hour. And how do you know that? Sunday night at 9:30pm you decided and entered that info into your phone. That's how. Bonus points for people who do weekly schedules and stand by them.
Then set up your phone to beep or gong or whatever it does to give you a one hour warning and a ten minute warning before your session begins. That's a warning for the world regarding when you're going to unleash that creative voice that is dying to get out and kick the universe's ass with your originality and productivity. That's a warning to you you have ten more minutes and then YOU MUST PUT DOWN THAT SPONGE AND WORK ON YOUR SCREENPLAY!
Yep. You're going to be show up FOR YOURSELF HELLO! And do your writing. And that writing is not just a gift to you, it's a gift to the world. So for heaven's sake, get with the calendar and let's get this mofo done.
Just make it a simple practice. After two weeks, a habit will be formed and voila, I believe you'll be on your way to finishing your award winning whatever.
Now that I've written all that, I have to do it myself. Ciao for now!
Writer, Writing Coach, Writer Supporter.