tips for writing when stuck in a rut, whether it be an essay, the next great american novel, a poem, a letter, an email, or any form of words assembled together, really:
- read your favorite authors and writers. circle your favorite sentences, phrases, words. write them down in your journal, copy entire passages by hand and feel someone else’s words rush through you like blood.
- discard your bumfuck of a first draft and rewrite the goddamn thing. clean slate, no strings attached. kill your darlings, if you have nothing else to do.
- walk outside and write outside. take a notebook and pen / pencil, and scribble away at every single thing that is happening: the sounds (or absence of sound), the sights, the smells, the sensations, even the tight grip of your fingers against the writing implement, the skin against plastic, the palm against paper.
- sit on the grass, if you’re not allergic.
- write about the small things, like the bugs and the breeze, or write about the grand things, like the sky and the sun.
- listen to music. turn on the radio and listen to whatever fizzles into focus.
- listen to your favorite album(s) of the year.
- watch a movie. note the way the characters talk: is it formal? casual? is there a distinct accent, slang, derivative form of speech? old-timey? do people skip around their words? do they say what they mean to say? do they talk with their mouths or their bodies? too much or too little?
- find a poem. there are mountains and cascades of them everywhere. find one single line that you would keep close to your heart.
- read some of your old essays and writing projects. remember that you wrote these and struggled to write them, too.
- find a photograph, portrait, or painting that you love, and write about everything that isn’t depicted.
- make lists. grocery lists, book lists, travel lists. lists of essay topics and key words. write a list of the things you’re too afraid to experience in life but are curious about nonetheless. (great entry points into character writing).
- write a list of the things that make you angry.
- afterwards, pair that with a list of the things that make you happy.
- look for patterns in the everyday. timestamp cards. traffic data. police reports. advertisement mail. sailing terminology. cooking recipes. old proverbs recited by old people. then look for the breaking of those patterns.
(these are, of course, merely notes to myself, disguised as offbeat writing advice. i can’t attest to how these tips might help anyone else, but they’ve all worked for me at some point, desperate or otherwise).