What should you do when your writing is frozen like a big block of ice? You don’t know how to proceed. You turn on the computer and stare at the blank screen. You switch to your favorite IBM selectric, but that doesn’t help. You switch to paper and your favorite pen. Still nothing.
Writing teacher and journalist Donald Murray says maybe that’s OK. Maybe your unconscious is still working things out. Maybe it’s OK to wait.
But, Mr. Murray, I have a deadline.
OK, then, he would answer, lower your standards.
Yes, go ahead and write what you can write today. You can fix it later.
Or freewrite. Set a timer; write nonstop for 10 or 15 minutes, ignoring spelling and grammar. Don’t stop no matter what. If you run out of things to say, write “I’m stuck” over and over until you think of something else to write. Or write about how much you hate freewriting.
Another exercise that helps me unfreeze is from Susan Griffin. Do you have a ruthless critic, that little voice that tells you how bad your writing is, that it’s all been said before, that it’s all clichés, that people will laugh, etc., etc? Virginia Woolf just up and killed her critic, but Susan Griffin suggests a dialogue. First, identify the part of you who is your creative self. Describe her or him. How does she dress? What does he do on Saturday night? What does she like? Does he have superpowers? Write this in first person. “Hi, I’m Theresa’s creative self and . . .”
Now describe your critic. Use a similar format. Different questions may pop up. One time I did this my critic could walk through a library, simply touch a book, and know everything that was in it. I was in graduate school at the time. She also wore three-piece suits and lived in NYC. Intimidating little bit . . . ah hem.
Next? Let them talk to each other. Let me rephrase that. Make them talk to each other. Make them work out a deal. Your critic will turn out to be remarkably pliable.
“Don’t worry. I won’t send this out until you’ve looked at it.”
“Why don’t you go have some ice cream while I write? I’ll call you when it’s your turn.”
I spend six whole months not allowing myself to cross anything out. That was in the pen and paper days. It was remarkably good for my writing.
What if your writing doesn’t thaw out?
Go see Frozen. Buy Frozen paraphernalia. Celebrate the state of being frozen. It will get irritated and change.
Remember Shelley, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”