Monday, July 9, 2012

The Terror of the Blank Screen

All right, it's 100 degrees for the like 100th day (okay, it just feels that way) here in Virginia. So, my brain cells are a bit fried. One hundred degree heat with a "feels like" temp of over 120 means it's even too hot to go to the pool for long. Ugh.

There are times when nothing is more intimidating than staring at the computer screen and knowing I have to get words onto it. It's not truly writer's block since I often know what I have to say, it's often more of an issue of finding the desire to start. Or, as in today's case, an issue of limiting the thoughts running through my head to form a coherent statement.

This weekend's writing to-do list included:

(1) Preparing applications for my new firm to be hired by the debtor in three bankruptcies;
(2) Preparing about 20 new client agreements with the new firm;
(3) Finishing a friend's novel and sending him back comments;
(4) Reading about 60 stories in my slush pile;
(5) Writing 5 essays for a grant applications;
(6) Preparing the regular blog post for this blog and three posts for other sites for Jack Gorman Got Cut By a Girl; and
(7) Write at least 1000 words on my WIP.

It being 100 degrees out meant I could delete my "outside chore" list without any guilt. But the above list was still pretty formidable. About half-way through the list and I hit the "wall." The computer became my enemy. I wanted to go out, but it was too hot. I prowled the living room. Poked into the kitchen looking for something, but not knowing what. Time to try something else.

So, in trying to break through and focus so I could hunker down and finish another section of my list, I turned to James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers, as always Bell's little book didn't let me down - Entry 13 - A writer must always be prepared to break through the "wall."

Bell advises against "scotching" it. He uses "scotch" to mean either (1) give it up, or (2) drink it to oblivion. Instead here are some methods (some his and some mine) for getting past the "wall" or the terror of the blank screen:

(1) Write anything
Sometimes the idea of writing X (whether its an appellate brief or a short story) is more than I can bear. Fine. Give heed to that emotion. I hit a point where I'd rather rot than write another word on a particular project. This is not a productive state of mind. Instead of trying to power through and write another essay earlier, I put it aside and drafted another representation letter, a mostly rote process. Having taken a break from the "bad" writing, I was able to clear my head and get back to it.

(2) Write a rant.
A week or so ago I had to write an opposition to another party's request for payment. For reasons I can't go into here, the mere concept that this person had the nerve to ask for money enraged me. Because I had too much emotion tied up in what I needed to write, I couldn't write it. Finally, I gave into the emotion. I spent an hour writing what I thought about the request without censoring. The one page rebuttal violated every rule of civility the courts and legal community impose. But, damn it felt good. Having cleared the emotion out, I could then write what I needed to for my client.

(3) Exercise.
When the weather allows, taking a walk through the woods behind my house is a great way to clear my head. My phone has Dragon Dictation on it so if brilliance strikes, I can still capture it. But getting out of the chair and moving my body does seem to help me hurdle the wall when I resume the seat.

(4) Randomize.
This is a James Scott Bell suggestion that I've yet to try, but am intrigued by. Bell suggests taking a book at random, opening to a random page, and typing the first complete sentence on the left side of that novel into your story. The "borrowed" sentence starts your next scene. Once you finish the scene go back, delete the "borrowed" sentence and substitute your own.

(5) "Behold, _________" it.
This one just makes me laugh. Bell notes that when Ray Bradbury was stuck and facing a deadline for the screenplay version of Moby Dick, Bradbury woke up one morning, looked at himself in the mirror and said, "Behold, Herman Melville!" He then finished the script.
Bell suggests taking an author in the genre you are writing, look in the mirror and then say, "Behold. __________!" Then sit down and write.

So, I'm off to write more for my WIP, The Nocebo Effect.

"Behold, J.D. Robb!"

I feel better already.

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