Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm just going to sit here until something interesting happens

There's a famous anecdote about the way the Rolling Stones moved from being a cover band to writing original songs. According to legend, their manager locked Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a room and told them they couldn't come out until they had written a song. They came up with "As Tears Go By."

And here's writer Nathan Bransford on his process: "If I hit a stumbling block I force myself to stare at a blank page until I figure out how to resolve it (or I don't figure it out, but the staring time is still useful). ... I don't really have time for writers block, and I really believe if you just stare at the screen long enough you'll figure it out."

I'm not necessarily advocating that we chain ourselves to our desks until we produce that novel we've been dreaming about. But there are times in almost every writer's life when we show up even though we'd rather not. We stay there more out of faith or habit or sheer determination than inspiration. We wait out the dry spell, or power through it.

Sometimes, writing is really uncomfortable. I don't mean physically--although it can be that, too. I mean that there are times when the brain seems filled with nothing but tumbleweeds, blowing through an arid land. There are times when the story looks hopeless. There are times when the characters are stuck, frozen, refusing to come to life.

Sometimes the solution is to leave the writing alone and go do something else for a while. But eventually, we have to sit and face the story. To let the brain quiet down or open up. Our path to the desk is not always full of prancing unicorns and glitter. The creative juices sometimes trickle, rather than flow. But that's just part of the deal. When the story comes out, we're there, ready.


  1. This is what I've been doing. It IS so hard, but the rewards do come. And I find that sitting & staring, as much as I try, needs a little other piece...for me. I need my fingers to be moving, so I end typing random thoughts & notes into a separate file. I think it has to do with staying at least a little focused on what's ON the screen, rather than getting distracted by all the stuff around me.