Sunday, March 12, 2006

Finding Creative Ways to Clear Writer’s Block—Part 2

Last time I talked about free writing and associated methods to break writer’s block. This time I’ll tell you how to use writing prompts to spark your creativity.

One of the tools I love to use is the starter sentence. The Writers’ Journal is a great resource for starter sentences. In their contest section, they have a contest called “Write to Win.” One of the requirements is that you use one of their starter sentences, such as “The lemonade was…” or “It was a small box, but…” These sentences, or sentence beginnings, don’t give you a topic, but forcing yourself to write around them can give you the push you need to get out of your writing quagmire. The exercise of completing each sentence starter in several ways will force your brain to start coming up with new ways of looking at a scene. For instance, let’s take the lemonade sentence:

  • The lemonade was acrid, and bitter to the taste.
  • The lemonade was cool and refreshing on the lazy Georgia afternoon.
  • The lemonade was an acidic reminder of his lost childhood.

Even if you don’t enter the contest, this exercise can be invaluable for putting a fire under your writing. Once you see the possibilities for many plots from one sentence, your brain will be cooking up those plots in no time. If you don’t enter the contest, you don’t need to keep that starter sentence when you’re done—it may no longer fit your story. Still, you owe it a debt for the part it played in getting the process started.

By the way, I’m using a fiction example here, but there’s no reason you can’t use it for nonfiction. An even tougher challenge is to take the same starter sentence and use it to begin both a fiction and nonfiction piece. Try it with the lemonade sentence, and you’ll see what I mean.

One other way to use a starter sentence is to have a friend or loved one come up with the sentence for you. The rest of the process is the same.

In another post, I’ll show you a little of what I did with the lemonade sentence. If you like, post your first paragraph and let us all see how you used the idea. I’d love to read the various, creative plots you come up with!

To read more detailed articles, visit my website at

Finding Creative Ways to Clear Writer’s Block—Part 1

I think I can say that every writer at some time experiences writer’s block. It’s that time when our writers’ brains seem to shut down and refuse to work. You may experience it frequently, or almost never. Still, it’s a problem every writer faces at some point. Because it causes so many problems so often, it takes some creativity to conquer it…or at least work around it.

One of the most difficult steps to take during writer’s block is also the best—sit down and write.

To get through writer’s block, some authors advocate free writing. Free writing is the process of putting pen (or pencil) to paper and writing anything that comes into your head. The idea is that, after some time, what you write will begin to turn into something useful. I can’t vouch for this method because I’ve never used it myself. However, it works for many writers, and it may work for you.

A related method used to clear writer’s block is to take whatever project you’re working on and start writing, writer’s block or not. After a few pages, the process should begin to flow. Your writer’s block will be broken. Of course, you’ll probably end up trashing those first few pages, but at least you’re back to writing.

We’ll talk about more methods to break writer’s block in a future post.

To read more detailed articles on creativity in writing, visit my website at

Friday, March 10, 2006

Quotes Can Give a Creative Twist to Your Writing

As any good journalist will tell you, it's best to let your sources tell the story. That's true of fiction or news writing, and it's done with quotes.

For one thing, the use of quotes varies the voice of the story. What do I mean by voice? Every writer has a voice, a certain tone to his writing. That's a good thing. Every writer's voice is different, so it gives variety to the world of literature. At the same time, big chunks of narrative in the writer's voice can bog down your writing. Almost all writers (including me) are in love with our own voice, but it can get very boring for the reader. That's why it's a good idea to break it up by letting someone else do the talking.

It's easiest to add quotes to news writing. You've interviewed a variety of sources (I hope, otherwise you need a different article), so now all you have to do is pick the quotes that best tell your story. As you get more experienced with news writing, you'll learn to weave them into the story or, even better, structure your story around them. If you're not at that point yet, a good rule of thumb is to place a quote every few paragraphs.

It's a little more difficult to add quotes to fiction, not because it's hard to make up things for your characters to say, but because it's a challenge to make sure those quotes aren't also in your own voice. If every character sounds the same, it makes your situation worse, not better. On the other hand, if your characters are too overdone, the dialogue become laughable-so you can see how tricky quotes in fiction can be. Still, if you achieve the right balance, it takes you work to the next level, making it worth every bit of the work you put into it.

Two more notes on quotes: When writing nonfiction, quotes give an extra note of authority to your writing, especially when the source is credible. Also, no matter what genre, quotes generally add white space to the page. I'll tell you a secret…readers love white space. It makes them think they have less work to do to get through a page, so they're more likely to keep reading-and that's good for you!