Writer’s Block? Make a List.

That blank white screen with that small, demeaning black cursor can be intimidating. That consistent flashing just ticking off every second you fail to type another word. Its asking, begging you to produce that perfect opening line or the next unexpected plot twist.

Its moments like that when I turn to my writer’s notebook. My notebook is a casual, safe space where I know nothing is permanent and that impermanence pushes away the pressure to write something perfect.Image

Every writer needs a writer’s notebook, a physical stack of papers bound together where ideas can be seeded. One of the most fascinating things I realized in my creative writing classes at Hamline was how many different ideas can be sprouted from the same seed. One of my teacher’s assigned what I thought were the most specific, structured writing prompts I’d ever seen but when volunteers read aloud what they came up with, I was astounded by how much every single story varied. If I hadn’t known, I never would have been able to tell those stories came from the same (what I thought had been specific) prompt.

This post, the first of many, is to provide you with a seed. Sometimes specific like those of my professor’s and sometimes purposely vague. I’ll start with my simple favorite, a list.

Make a List!

Think of anything you are struggling with in your current writing and write down as many possible solutions as you can. Or create a topic of something that has been on your mind, or you noticed in a book you read. Do not sensor yourself. Write everything that comes to mind down, even if you know you won’t use it, it might trigger something you do.

I’ll make a list of things you could possible make a list of.

  • personality types
  • things that crossed your mind today
  • possible character “ticks” (small actions they do unconsciously)
  • ways to represent anger
  • things that are red
  • things I’ve learned working at _____
  • reasons a ghost would haunt someone (this is the one I’m doing today!)
  • symbols that could represent *insert emotion*
  • things that calm you down
  • items you could buy at a garage sale

My list could go on and on but I’d rather you create your own. Have fun!


About Sarah JS

Aspiring writer, lover of words, book nerd, working editor, and permanent student of the world

Posted on January 31, 2014, in Writing Prompts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great post! Here’s some additional thoughts:

    Writer’s Notebooks –

    The other nice thing about a writer’s notebook is that you can take it with you. Unlike a computer, it doesn’t need to be turned on or powered up. The only thing it requires is a writing tool of some sort. This makes it great (as you say) for jotting ideas down, but it also opens up your opportunities to write. You can write while waiting for the bus, while waiting for an appointment, while taking a work break or just about any time you get a moment.

    You touch on how a writer’s notebook also isn’t permanent, and there’s not a commitment to keep things how they are. Another thing I’ve found to be useful is that if you initially write something, when you later go to type it up, it’s forcing you to review it. You’ll see the things that you missed initially when writing and you can tweak and fix them easily—or, if it’s bigger, at least you’re more aware of what you need to work on.

    Many writers use different kinds of notebooks, but I’ve found what works best for me is the cheap spiral ones that most of us used in high school. I don’t feel the same pressure and hesitance to write in them that I would in a fancier notebook. They also have the added bonus that if you later want to collect things into one spot, they are already punched to be put into a binder.

    If you’re worried about pages ripping out from a binder, another trick you can do is buy sleeve covers for them, so the pages don’t rip out. That means whenever you finish a notebook, you can either keep it as-is, or transport the pages into one volume (or do both, if you chose to make use of a photocopier).

    Prompts –

    I don’t think the helpfulness of groups can be overstated when it comes to prompts. It’s great to make up a few of your own, have everyone else make up a few, and then mix them up and pass them around. You can get everything from the very silly to the insightful and serious. Handling this in a group also means that as soon as you get your prompt, you can start writing—forcing you into getting past the writing block. Since it’s immediate and on the spot, you don’t need to feel pressured to make it amazing, but you may find that you’ve stumbled onto something good that you can use later.

    Another trick, which actually came from a studio arts course I took in college, is to make a list of 100 questions—they can be anything from world questions, to “what ifs”, to personal questions about your future. It doesn’t matter, but you DO need 100 of them. This opens your creativity and gets you thinking. If you want, you can write something based on one of the questions you asked. Or maybe, it will inspire you to research an answer. Where the exercise takes you is anyone’s guess.

    • Thanks for the comment! You made some great points. I’m glad you pointed out the fact that copying from the page to the computer forces you to edit. That’s been a great practice for me.

      Please continue to check in with my blog as I will e posting more writer’s notebook tips and prompts!

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