Ice: A Block

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.

Say what?

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?”

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Author: Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver.

9 thoughts on “Ice: A Block”

  1. Frozen troubles? I recommend the following: chip into cubes, add vodka and tonic and a twist of lime. Amazing how the words flow afterwards . . . LOL. Thanks for the good advice!

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  2. Good post, Theresa. I love the technique of not allowing yourself to cross anything out – or I guess use the delete/backspace key in the modern times. But Carmen’s suggestion is good too!

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  3. Fantastic, Theresa! Loved Don Murray–such an insightful guy. I struggle with not correcting as I go, but it slows me down. The inner critic? A life coach once suggested modeling the critic in clay, and then squishing him/her when s/he got too mouthy. Love the idea of a dialogue! (Carmen’s plan as back-up works, too!).

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  4. These are great tips! I’m frozen on the last part of the last chapter on a book. If I can’t plow through the difficulty today, I’ll be trying this.

    And I’m intimidated by your critic, too, Theresa!

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  5. Oh, I love this. All of these suggestions are wonderful, and I adore the nods to Woolf and Shelley, especially. Am a little scared of your grad school critic and am VERY glad she was not on my comprehensive exam committee. 😉

    I first read Donald Murray and Peter Elbow and William Stafford in one amazing class, and it was pretty life-changing in the writerly sense. Here’s my favorite quote from Stafford: “Sometimes I feel a writer should be like this–that you need your bad poems. You shouldn’t inhibit yourself. You need to have your dreams; you need to have your poems. If you begin to keep from dreaming or from trying to write your poems, you could be in trouble. You have to learn to say ‘Welcome . . . welcome.’ Welcome dreams. Welcome, poems. And then if somebody says ‘I don’t like that dream,’ you can say, ‘Well, it’s my life. I had to dream it.’ And if somebody else says, ‘I don’t like that poem’ you can say, ‘Well, it’s my life. That poem was in the way, so I wrote it.'”

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  6. Oh yeah! I have a fierce inner critic. Some months ago I was writing a short story that my Critical Voice was all over. I told CV: “Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but this doesn’t count. It’s just an exercise, and it has to be done, so shut up.” As it turns out, an editor bought the story! So, I definitely think we have to find strategies to turn off the inner critic. Love your 6-month ban!

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  7. IBM Selectric. Oh, what a wonderful machine. Love the suggestions, I think I’m going to have creative talk to critic real soon. What if I hate critic? Creative is yelling she won’t do it. Dang – talk. It’s about talking. Oh Boy! Great tip Theresa – I can see how this will work, thank you!

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