Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pictures, Prompts and Poetry: What's your secret weapon?

By C.L. Phillips

"My name is Sara and I'm a writer. It's been 12 days since my last writer's block."

12 stepsAdmit it. You'd sneak into a twelve step program for writers if it banished writer's block. So what do you do when the muse goes on vacation? After you've cleaned your desk, polished the stove, eradicated every cobweb in your house? How do you bootstrap your creativity?

I've got a new book with a thousand pictures. I'm on page three. I open the book, and write a five hundred word flash fiction story using the picture as my writing prompt. If you twist my arm, I'll tell you what the pictures are about. Hint - I was inspired by a recent best seller.

A dear friend, Patricia Lee Lewis (, posts a writing prompt each week on her blog. Each prompt comes with a time limit. You pick up the pen and write like a demon, usually for twenty-five minutes. Something magical happens as my fingers sprint against the clock with each word, shoving my writer's block into the corner. I simply do not have time to mess with the resistance. Instead, I smash it on the head and press on.

Sometimes I use these prompted writings in my current project. More often, I find after the exercise that something clicked in my brain. My characters start chatting to one another, and I'm off to the races. Writer's Block vanquished.

And what do I do when pictures and prompts fail? Poetry. Yep, that's right. I *cough*gag*spew read poetry. Not that I would ever admit that to my friends. Scrubbing bubblesUsually Robert Frost. Something about good fences or the road less traveled. His poetry tumbles around in my brain like the scrubbing bubbles on a bathtub, taking the ring of self-doubt and confusion down the drain.

As with any secret weapon, there's one final instruction. Do it when you first arise in the morning. Before life invades. At least, that's what I've found. When I prime the creativity pump, first thing in the morning, it never runs dry. As with any personal advice, I'm sure your mileage will vary.

What's your secret weapon? What exactly do you do to keep your creativity pump spewing like an oil rig in the Gulf? Oops, maybe I could have picked a better analogy. Better yet, while you are laughing, hit that comment button and share a little of your own magic. Like all good 12 step meetings or Weight Watcher meetings, the best advice comes from those on the path.

Write on!
C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787


Mary said...

I take a shower, read newspapers and magazines or sit with a cup of coffee on my sun porch and let my mind drift.
I confess to checking on the prompting sites before beginning my writing time.

Marcia Talley said...

I clean closets, or [gack!] the basement. While engaging in writing-avoidance behavior it's important that the task needs doing, otherwise ... oh, the guilt, the guilt!

MaxWriter said...

I just start typing. Sometimes I type, "I don't know what to write today." Then, a thought might arise and I type, "Oh, I was going to write that scene about finding the phone on the ground." And then I'm off! If the thought doesn't rise up, I just keep typing until it does. The old butt-in-the-chair-fingers-on-the-keyboard really works for me.

Edith Maxwell

Dawn said...

I have two secret weapons. One is the TV. I turn on any channel and watch for less than a minute. Then I write a scene based either on what happened before what I saw, what is going to happen after or a different scene completely but using the same dialogue.

Music is my other weapon. I find a video on youtube or pull something from my music folder. Most decent songs tell a story. I take one or two lines out of the song and write a scene based on why the characters would feel that way.

Usually either of these get my mind moving enough to get back my current work in progress.

Joyce said...

If I get stuck, I usually clean. Or go shopping. (Hubby prefers it when I clean instead of melting the credit card.)

Usually a mindless task like scrubbing the toilet will solve whatever plot problem I had. A lot of things in our house are only half-clean, though, because I have to stop and get back to my computer!

Ramona said...

I re-read the last five pages I wrote. Inevitably, there's a line or paragraph I want to change or rewrite. Sometimes I have to delete it, quickly, before anyone else can read it.

That usually gets me going. Once I'm in the story, I'm in.

Sheila Connolly said...

Hmm, there seems to be a trend here. When I get stuck, or the words just aren't coming, I do something else--like cleaning or laundry.

But my rationalization is: my subconscious is working on it, and it (she?) will tell me when it's time to get back to writing.

C.L. said...

Whoa, I'm really inspired now! Nobody's mentioned tequila or washing the dog.

More, more, I'm filing these away for future use...


MaxWriter said...

Tequila? Now that's an idea for a Friday morning writing session! Wonder how long I'd last, though...

Linda Leszczuk said...

I walk. And I talk to myself, which earned me a lot of strange looks before everyone had a bluetooth device blugged in their ear.

It used to be a problem not losing whatever great insipational ideas I came up with before I got home but now I carry a digital recorder with a lapel mic. I get home, I start transcribing what I recorded and it all starts flowing from there.

If that fails, I try a hot shower - but it's much harder to record in there. Not to mention finding somewhere to clip the mic.

Lynn said...

cleaning hmmm ... I must say it would take a lot before I willingly went and cleaned ... depending on the hour I sit on my back deck and watch the hummingbird hunt for insects or listen the the hawk keen -- if that doesn't clear the cobwebs I don't know what will!

Sherry Lewis said...

For your everyday variety of writers' block, I've found that I need to keep away from anything that needs my attention -- like dishes or dirty floors or laundry or bills to pay. No matter how hard I work to ignore them, they're always there, so (shudder) maintaining a clean house is my best defense against writer's block. I know! It's completely twisted!!!

Peg Brantley said...

Like Sherry, my environment needs to be in a good place. Can't stand clutter or dirt or piles or things that need doin'.

Usually, my Hesitation Block comes when I'm not quite sure what the next scene needs to be, and where it needs to begin.

So, like Linda, I walk. Only, I treadmill where no one can see me talking to myself and I can cease and desist if I need to get to my computer fast.

And, I know this might seem totally weird and way too New Agey, but I invested in the Writer's Mind CD awhile ago. One of the best investments I've made. It's based on brainwave technology, and whether it's hogwash or not, it seems to work for me.

Susan said...

Having lived in New Orleans for 8 years, I dunno about the Gulf oil, but ...
My solution for writer's block is reading anything I can get my hands on, newspapers ... just read an article about pet hoarders and added a character who did this in my WIP ... and books, fiction and non. But my best solution is swimming laps in a pool 2-3 times a week. This gets me to a Zen-like place where creativity just grabs me by the ... big toe. :)