Like the rest of the world, I spent the last few months with limited contact with my community. My kids are attending school online, I am working remotely, and our summer travels are limited to trips to the grocery store and bike rides at the park.
During this time, I have not written much. In fact, I found it challenging just to read, and usually I read twice a day, but not for the first two months of my isolation. Reading came back to me in slow steps, but eventually, the newspaper and I got reacquainted and books and I found each other again.
After my anxiety about the new routine passed, the writing started to return. It didn’t arrive as an explosion of creativity, though that would have been wonderful had it gone that way. It came back in trickles. The return of writing reminded me to take it easy when reengaging, and I had to take the advice I had given dozens of writing students in the past: start small to start writing.
Reengaging with writing after time away from the page can bring the dreaded writer’s block: the feeling of not knowing where to start. Every writer has experienced writer’s block at some point, and it’s no fun. But there are simple steps writers can take to overcome writer’s block and start writing again.
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How Can a Writer Start Writing Again?
Six Word Memoir
If you have never heard of the six word memoir, it is just what it sounds like. This is a personal story told with just six words. As the urban legend goes, a journalist challenged Hemingway to tell a poignant story with just six words, and in typical Hemingway style, he accepted and wrote:
Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.
For those six words, you get the sense of the personal story. You get a sense of tone, character, and situation, all of which help to drive the story forward. A whole story can be told with just six words, and many have been; in fact there are now collections of six word memoirs.
If you are ready to start writing, try to six word memoir as a starting place. You can think of the overarching theme of your life and write a six word memoir about that or you can focus on a smaller story and capture a single event in one line.
Here are a few examples:
Things didn’t turn out as expected.
Single girl, ginger cat, vintage guitar.
She said yes then ran away.
I should have taken a left.
When you start writing again, you don’t have to tackle a novel. Starting out small tends to work best to get back into a creative routine. Take time to collect snapshots rather than whole stories. If you can compose a small scene, a conversation or a description of a setting, that can go a long way in reigniting your creative energy. Here are a couple of activities you can use to collect snapshots.
Go to a local park or place where people are outdoors (you may even just sit on your front porch if people walk by your house). Pick one person you see and write five to eight sentences of what may have brought this person out today, what this person might be thinking about, and what this person is planning to do next.
Look for a couple or group of people. They should be far enough away that you cannot hear them but close enough that you can see them. Write up a dialogue of what they might be talking about. Are they talking about the weather? An upcoming event? An alien invasion?
Go out for a walk. Many of the great writers recommend walking to clear your head and brainstorm story ideas, Stephen King and Ray Bradbury included. As you are walking, take a mental picture of three different settings. Perhaps the front of a house is bright and cheery but the side is shadowed and dark where the trash cans have been knocked over. Find a couple of settings that you can write about, and create a description of these places.
50 Word Stories
Limiting the amount of space that a story takes up can be helpful in getting a story down on paper, whereas an open-ended story can sometimes take ages to write. A 50-word story is one that must be exactly 50 words (not 49, not 51) and can be useful in helping writers focus on the value of each word. Being restricted to just 50 words may sound limiting, but it can help a writer get started and allow for a short creative burst, which can help to establish a writing routine.
Here are a couple of prompts to use when writing a 50-word story:
Many great novels, stories, and films began with a writer asking a what-if question. I recently read a vampire trilogy. This writer said that she wondered what types of jobs vampires would need to have considering their long lives (as it turns out vampires become research scientists and medical doctors).
Create a list of five what-if questions that pose questions of interest to you.
Here are some what-if questions to get you started:
You can see how asking a what-if question can spark some interesting ideas. This kind of thinking can open up new avenues for your stories, poetry, or essays. This can give a writer practice by encouraging risk-taking and allow for engaging the creative mind in a different way.
Every writer spends time away from the page. People get sick, work takes too much time, and other priorities creep in and take precedence over our schedules. And writing falls to the wayside. During that downtime, it can feel like a challenge to get back into the swing of things, and many writers will experience writer’s block when they return to the page. Using simple techniques, writers can re-establish their writing practices and get back to writing.
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