What to Write When You’re Not Writing
by Gargi Mehra
Writing when you’re in full flow is like living a dream. Who doesn’t love that feeling when the words spill out faster than you can type them? If you’re old school, the scratch of the pen as it flies over the pages struggles to keep pace with your thoughts.
The reverse scenario keeps writers awake at night. Often, we’re stuck for topics on which we want to write. Even if we do write a page or two, once we read it through, we feel that every word is junk, and destined straight for the recycle bin. The words that leave our brains and imprint themselves on the screen appear stale.
But we’re writers, so we can’t really stop writing, or stop think about writing, or even stop reading about writing. There’s one thing we know for sure – that magic of full flow always returns, sooner or later.
So the question arises – how to make it sooner rather than later? How do we achieve that feeling of full flow once again?
Here’s what I usually do when I don’t feel like writing something new, but my fingers are itching to put something down on paper nevertheless.
Compile lists of memories
You must have unique experiences in life. Capture them in a single sentence in a separate document, for e.g. the time I tried parasailing and twisted my ankle such that my foot resembled a misshapen twig. Your memories and experiences can form the basis for your fiction. Alternatively, if there’s a significant lesson contained therein, it can shape a piece of creative nonfiction.
Pick one of these memories and write
When I start writing every morning, it requires humongous effort to overcome the inertia and jump into my fiction. Creating characters and spinning increasingly worsening situations for them poses an insurmountable obstacle. To overcome this ‘block,’ write out one of the memories you have listed. Embellish it with full detail, as you might exaggerate a story to friends over coffee. For best results, create a document called ‘Writing Practice’ or ‘Book of Memories’ and write your piece in it. Keep adding memories in there. I find I am far more comfortable without the weight of a title and a blank document. When the draft is satisfactory or if I’ve thought of a great title, I copy-paste that portion into its own separate document.
Assemble a file full of prompts
This could mean prompts you find online or prompts you develop on your own. For example you come up with a “what if” scenario but can’t see the details yet. File the prompts away for later use. My ideas file has about thirty prompts that I came up with, out of which I’ve used around ten for each short story that I’ve written every month.
In one of my word documents, I write out titles as they occur to me. Next time I finish writing an article or post I scan through my lists of titles to find anything I can reuse or modify to fit my piece.
The title could be anything that doesn’t work for you right now but you can design a piece around it later.
One of the titles in my list is: Phlegmatic Retributions of Yore
Yes, it doesn’t make sense at all, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use it as the title of my next post about punishments for tweens in the 1920s!
From the prompts or even independently, sketch out notes that you can use to write the entire post later on. Note that these outlines must preferably be a few sentences or maybe a page of notes at the most. I find that if I write too much about a topic before writing the piece itself, the joy of discovery is lost. This point is applicable for short pieces of work, though, not for book-length works because those definitely need expansive outlines.
You devour movies, read books and binge-watch television programs, don’t you? Write a few reviews about the last book you read or the last soap you enjoyed. Pretend you’re talking to a friend who’s never heard of the title. Better yet, if you’re really happy with your review you can post it on Amazon or GoodReads.
All the above is meant for writing practice only, to flex your fingers. Pianists call them the five-finger exercises. If you land up with a post worthy of publication, then that’s an added bonus! But primarily, this writing is meant for you and you alone, to help you overcome your fears and grow your confidence in your capabilities.
Gargi Mehra is a software professional by day, a writer by night and a mother at all times. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines online and in print. She blogs at http://gargimehra.wordpress.com/ and tweets as @gargimehraa