Writing Practice

Write several lists according to the prompts below. Use the lists to generate ideas when you're feeling stuck.

1. Fifteen reasons to feel angry

2. The full names of 20 kids 1 remember from elementary school

3. Twenty reasons to live to old age

4. Twenty reasons to die young

5. Fifteen lines that begin I love...

6. Ten late-night reruns I have watched more than once

B. Multitask.

Keep several writing projects going at once. If you are working on a novel, don't abandon your short story collection. If you're writing a series of essays, work on them simultaneously. If you get stuck on one project, you can shift gears and work on another project without losing momentum.

C. Spend Time with Children.

Listen to kids. They have a lot of surprising things to say. Play with your kids or your cousins or volunteer in a classroom. Spending time with kids can help reacquaint you with your own sense of wonder. Of course, if children make you anxious, spending time with them will help you appreciate your solitary writing chair.

D. Join a Writers' Group (or Form Your Own).

Writing is solitary work and sometimes that solitude can make you feel a little batty. It helps to check in with other writers from time to time. For several years after graduate school, I belonged to a wonderful writing group. The writers in that group helped me write through my own bad habits. They assigned deadlines, checked goals, and often just let me show up to talk about writing, whether or not I actually had written.

Writing classes are good places to meet folks for writing groups, as well as for enriching your understanding of your craft. When you're blocked, it helps to shift perspectives. Take a class from a writer you haven't studied with before. Open yourself to try new directions with your writing.

Staring at a blank screen for hours is not necessarily productive. Get up, get out of the house, and move your body. Give yourself an hour. Take a hike up a canyon. Fresh air and activity for your heart helps your brain. I often discover sentences or scenes as I'm walking. Jot down ideas that occur to you when you get back to your journal or carry a mini-recorder as you walk.

If you can, take your journal and hit the road. You don't have to go far. If the weather's nice, camp. If you don't like camping, take yourself to a spot with a hot tub. You can take day trips, too. Discover places in your city or town or in the landscape nearby. Change your scenery and write where you are.

H. Visit a Writer's Colony or Attend a Writer's Conference.

A writer's colony is a great way to take a trip with your writing. Some colonies award residencies including food and lodging. Others provide lodging only. Check the Resources list for Internet links to residencies and conferences.

I. Give Yourself Permission to Write Garbage.

Writer's block can be a form of perfectionism. You may be so consumed with writing that beautiful sentence that you cannot get to the period. Forget beauty, then. Write garbage. Go on—write the worst sentence you can. Write garbage every day for 20 minutes.

J. Trust the Process.

As I mentioned, there may be something for you to learn from writer's block. Don't be overcritical of yourself or your process. You can waste a lot of time chastising yourself for not writing or trying to figure out what keeps you from writing. In the end, you just have to turn on the computer or pick up a pen.

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