Tag Archives: writing advice

How to break through writer’s block

Thanks to former student Sam Moore’s request for advice, I too have something to post this evening: 

Two pieces of advice:

1. Sometimes it helps to stop working now and try later if you’re really not feeling it. But if the deadline is soon,

2. Just do a freewrite where you throw down onto the page or screen any and all words that come to mind, the closer to the assigned topic the better. Afterwards, go back and delete as much of the crap as possible, and turn the assignment in and hope to do better next time.

Thoreau had some advice I like in the “Conclusion” to Walden:

Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life.

Or, in other words: If the quality of the work is the priority, then take all the time you need to make the work great. But if getting done on time is the priority, then do it without worrying so much about quality — it’s not the priority.

 

Notes from last Friday

My mind lets go at sleep time. One’s ugly opinions vanish. We’re sweet as just bodies sleeping.

Me-deprived. What I give the world is just ideas. These are not a big deal. And many different people can provide physical services. Make ideas–let the computer make the copies (via the blog serving multiple readers). My writings [can be widely shared, can be experienced after I’m gone], but not my presence.

My intensity [as a writer, as a person]–I’m not easy-going. You may not want me around all the time. Even my wife says I’m too intense for her at times. Like Lewis Black–I like his comedy but wouldn’t want to be around it all the time. We don’t even want to be around ourselves all the time?

I don’t even want to read all my own thoughts–I’d rather think new ones. And maybe sharing my work isn’t just that big a deal. You like it or don’t, you maybe like it now and not later. It just doesn’t have to be that complex a decision–a relief!

Don’t get distracted by my own beliefs/stereotypes/theories.

Go deeper into your work, not wider to think other jobs have meaning.

The beauty of a world where nothing transcends, where nothing lasts. Just throw work out there, move on.

I could publish my emails, my journals, but nah–no need to. Keep writing anew!

There’s no need for nostalgia or myths when we keep moving forward.

Many ideas in recent days have felt like they had the power of revelation.

Instead of being given a topic to analyze, finding “topics” is my point, as if the seeking were way more important than any finding. The seeking is the openness.

These thoughts come through-out the day over recent days, like mini-bursts of revelation. I note them, want to save them and get them out of my brain, but once the ideas are written down, I don’t feel like elaborating. I don’t really feel like writing this now. Partly I think these are some neat ideas, ideas that feel important, feel like a valid part of what I am learning, yet I don’t know how to write these for others to read. Then I think that I don’t need to. Then I also think that maybe I’m getting a bit obsessive/pushy about the whole thing–ha! But then, eh. It probably doesn’t need to be written down. As I said today, the writings may not matter. The world may be beautifully non-transcendent, beautifully impermanent. Maybe it doesn’t need to be commented on as if it were special.

And I really seem to love the idea [ha–I forgot! I was just gonna repeat an idea from earlier and then I got distracted by TV!] oh, yes–the idea that I need to follow the new ideas, the openness, not get distracted by analyzing stories, etc. etc. Don’t blog about pop culture and philosophy, etc. — like my close reading of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”–don’t bother. Focus on own ideas, own openness.

I’m making a new form. I mean, of course I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t have to follow other forms. I’m cut loose from those.

Links: 6 April 2013: Miracles, eggheads, and so much more

1. This post points out some goofy thinking about meaning of miracles and science.

2. The cultural status of the intellectual elite, the “egghead.”

3. Some of Roger Ebert’s advice on writing. Also, this article contains some more of Ebert’s thinking about writing and writing careers, such as:

He emphasized that such ephemera like “career” and “success” were mostly beside the point. “Just write, get better, keep writing, keep getting better. It’s the only thing you can control.”

4. An older piece attempting to explain why Nietzsche gets celebrated by those who misunderstand him.

5. I’m cautious by anyone who makes assertions about reality, but I’m usually pretty open to those who find fault in others’ reality-assertions. Here is a take-down of people who would misunderstand and/or distort vaccines and climate-science.

6. A justifiably angry piece about the difficulties of seeking a tenure-track job in literature (though this probably applies to many parts of academia now):

During graduate school, you will be broken down and reconfigured in the image of the academy. By the time you finish—if you even do—your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why.

The bold-emphasis above is mine. The more I learn to trust my own instincts in my creative writing (and it took a while to overcome my training in the standards of journalism — in learning to do what others thought was valuable — and to learn to trust my own standards), the more I question the value of what exactly it is that education does. We teachers, after all, mostly can only teach students to become more like a model student, and we mostly don’t know what that is, but it often resembles what the teacher him-/herself is capable of, as R. Hugo wrote:

You’ll never be a poet until you realize that everything I say today and this quarter is wrong. It may be right for me, but it is wrong for you. Every moment, I am, without wanting or trying to, telling you to write like me. But I hope you learn to write like you. In a sense, I hope I don’t teach you how to write but how to teach yourself how to write.

Of course, much of what we teachers do is widely valuable, but I suspect that this gets less better the higher one gets into academia. And when I occasionally consider getting a creative writing MFA, I remind myself that the writing I do and want to do and need to do doesn’t really have much to do with the writing that I would be being trained to do in an MFA program. I’m not saying these aren’t ever useful, but I suspect such programs can’t help people develop as writers unless one wants to write texts that are very much like the texts produced by writing faculty members who need to write things that tenure committees will agree have general value.

Let’s bluntly overstate my point: I’m asserting here that grad schools are not receptive to the new and unusual ideas that I most love reading in others’ texts and I most love having as I write texts.

(P.S. A small quibble with the Slate article: If there was a “boom of the late 1990s” with hiring associate professors, that was not the message of Bérubé and Cary Nelson in their book The Employment of English, which advised  in 1997 (if I remember correctly) English lit grad students seek employment in high schools rather than in colleges.

Links: 34 January 2013

1. A real-life Brautigan library for books that were never published. Could be a resting place for my single-copy books, but I don’t want to pay $25 per.

2. Will Wilkinson, via The Dish:

“A serious person should try to write posthumously” is much in the same vein as “Live every day like it’s your last.” It’s a nice idea until you think about it. After you kill a man just to see what it feels like, then what? Who wants to spend every day on the phone with the same twelve people repeating “I just want you to know that I love you very much”? Nobody does. And shall one indeed endeavor to fashion one’s prose in a manner wholly disregarding prevailing conventions of diction? Preposterous!