How many steps do you think there are between getting a great idea and writing?
It’s more than you think. Go ahead and list the steps for yourself. Then come back and we’ll compare notes.
Does your list include all of these?
- Ask open-ended questions: what if, how about, what else, who knows, who cares, why not, how could it be different, and so on
- List the questions without worrying about the answers yet, your goal is to get as many questions as you can
- Keep adding to the list of questions
- Consider other possible interpretations and perspectives
- Explore whether the idea is part of a bigger picture
- Look at your idea’s genealogy, that is, ask yourself what other ideas it’s related to
- Brainstorm the idea alone
- Brainstorm with others
- Freewrite about the idea
- Cluster about the idea (yes, freewriting and clustering are different ways to brainstorm; you get different insights and perspectives from different methods)
- Let the idea “rest” and schedule the day and time you’ll return to it
- Define your audience, then define another audience and another (who else cares?)
- Sleep on it
- Take walks with the idea in the back of your mind
- Write the idea in the middle of a blank page and just doodle around it
- Immerse yourself in water (hot bath, swimming pool, lake)
- Collage the idea
- Stare out the window and tell yourself “I’m not thinking about the idea” (there’s nothing like trying to not think about something to get you thinking about it)
- Explain the idea to someone else
Some writers love the pre-research stage, some writers can’t wait to get to the research. Both types can get stuck if they try to write before they’re ready.
- Intentionally start your search for answers to the questions you listed
- Unconsciously research the idea, aka run into random bits of information (we used to have more opportunities for this random research, now we need to actively seek the random)
- Read what others have written about the topic
- Interview experts
- Talk with non-experts
- Create and use questionnaires and surveys
- Ask follow-up, open-ended questions
- Freewrite about how the idea could intersect with one of the random bits of information that has floated into your awareness
If your list includes other steps, please share those in a comment.
Getting Ready is Not Writer’s Block
No, you don’t have to take ALL these steps. But you do need some variations of these steps to get through the early stages of the creative process. (Stages of the creative process are described in Chapter 4 of AWB.)
Some writing projects require more development time than others. Email, for example, is typically stream-of-consciousness typing with no more than a few minutes of forethought and even less time for reviewing and revising before sending.
This is why there are so many badly written, confusing, irritating and irrelevant emails.
If you want to write something more relevant, persuasive and beautiful than bad email, you have miles of ground to cover between being inspired and starting a draft.
You’re not supposed to be inspired with a great idea one moment and start writing it the next. The time between the inspiration and the draft is NOT writer’s block.
Ignoring or discounting the actions you need to take to get ready to write will not only make you feel blocked and therefore miserable, it will keep you from getting ready.
Give your ideas the respect and development time they deserve. Give yourself permission to not write immediately, not in a procrastinating, I’m-going-to-ignore-this-until-an-hour-before-the-deadline kind of way, but in an expansive, exploratory kind of way.
Next post: What else is mistaken for writer’s block? Feel free to make guesses and suggestions in a comment.