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Musings by Susan Stephenson


Musings -- Editor -- Susan Stephenson
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Musings Column – June 2006



Every writer has times when motivation is missing and her deathless prose seems deadly dull. Let’s look at some methods used by successful writers to jolt their creativity and keep writing.

William Stafford said, “It's easy to write. You just shouldn't have standards that inhibit you from writing.” Chip Scanlan took Stafford’s words to heart, telling us, “I urge myself to write badly and once I do that my fingers begin to fly, and the inner critic is powerless.”( ) For many writers, just the physical act of setting fingers to the keyboard or flourishing quill to parchment, can undam their writing flow. Or, as E.L.Doctorow put it, “The writing generates the writing.”

Lea Schizas, editor, author and creator of the Museitup Club, credits multi-tasking for her ability to write through blocks. “I’m always working on several projects at a time. Once I get stuck on one, I move on to the next in the disc rotation method I use, allowing the 'stuck' one to simmer while my thoughts concentrate on a different plot and character."

( )


For Bob Rich, editor and writer, writer’s block can be a warning sign that all is not well with your story. Bob says it “can be your intuition telling you that you are trying to make the people in your story act out of character. Let them decide what they want to do.” ( )


Perhaps our subconscious mind can help us write past a problem?  Susanne Fogle, author and columnist for the Edwardsville Intelligencer says,” When I'm utterly and hopelessly stuck, after about an hour, I quit trying.  I file the document and try to stop thinking about it.  Then, when I go to bed, I think about whatever it is I'm trying to write as I'm drifting off to sleep.  Almost always, when I awake, I've got it.  I do my best writing early in the morning.” You can read more about Susanne here ( )


Roy A. Barnes is a freelancer who gives himself permission not to write. But his rule is: “If I am not writing, then I need to be researching markets, and if I am not researching markets, then I had better be writing.” Roy says that even reading markets is a potential for igniting our creativity. His article, Get a Grip on That Writer’s Block, is at


Sometimes you can cure the dreaded screen freeze by simply looking elsewhere. Instead of staring at a blank document, we can use the computer to galvanize brainwaves instead.


Let’s start with the inbox. Have you noticed the creativity employed by some spammers?  Names like Glyph G. Bucket and Umbrella Makepiece may not encourage me to read their emails with details of my miraculous lottery win, but they do make me ponder. How would it be to have a name like that? What were Mr and Mrs Makepiece thinking, giving their tiny daughter a name like “Umbrella”? What if she grows into a big head and a skinny body, how will that impact the way her school friends treat her? Does Glyph have ambitions to be President of a hardware company? Spam is certainly annoying, but as writers, let’s fight back by taking spammers’ ideas and turning them into a writing exercise!


The “what if” prompt is one I use frequently, so often, in fact, it’s become a mental habit. Try it for yourself. Let’s say you like to skim the news headlines at before you start work. Each time you read a headline, see if you can create a “what if” leading to a story or article.


Headline: “City Hall robbers crack open ATMs for Easter

What if: they’re desperate female robbers with PMS, looking for chocolate inside the ATMs and furious to discover only money?


Headline: “Maine Killings Raise Vigilantism Fears”

What if: your child is brutally murdered and you decide to exact retribution?


Headline:  “Prosecutors Grill Skilling in Enron Trial”

What if: The prosecutors are hypnotised into believing they’re chefs doing a TV show and Skilling is on the menu?


The internet can lure us into devious byways that are fascinating, but not always leading to productive writing. However, if you’re stuck for a story idea, the internet can be your best buddy. Google film titles or go to the Yahoo movie directory. Take a title and play with it. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” led me to “Crouching Title, Hidden Dogma” and a catchy title for an essay exploring bias in the media. “Stuck on You” suggested a story about two friends who accidentally super-glued themselves together and the ensuing problems. Try lists of song titles, poems, novels and let your inner child go wild!


There are also sites which have lists of prompts to spark an idea. Writer’s Digest has one such at

Susan Taylor Brown has frequent writing prompts in her blog at  If you’re a highly visual person, try Google Images. Type any word into the search box and see what appears. For a double whammy, I like to open the dictionary at any page, stab a word with my forefinger and googleimage that. So far, it hasn’t let me down. (Do you have any idea how many photographs there are related to a word like “sniggle”?)


Whichever method you use to unblock your creative flow, the important thing to remember is you’re not alone in the problem. Most writers will have times when they simply don’t know what to type next. Using methods employed by other writers to get their fingers and brains moving again is more than just a good idea. It reminds us we’re all part of a vast community and that help is only a mouse click away.





Have you been to these sites?


Agent Query was recognized by Writer's Digest Magazine as one of the Best Websites for Writers in May 2006. It has the largest, most current searchable database of literary agents. It’s free, too



Here you’ll find lots of articles and tips on writing, including links to market links.


A project of the Poynter Institute, News University offers many online courses for journalists, most of which are free after you register. I recommend “Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision” and “The Writer's Workbench: 50 Tools You Can Use”. Here’s a quote from the site:


“Get Me Rewrite" covers everything you need to improve your writing through the craft of revision. With the Poynter Institute's Chip Scanlan as your guide, you’ll explore:

  • Why journalists face an uphill battle making time to revise their work and how you can overcome the "first-draft culture"
  • Time-tested techniques to improve your writing
  • How to review your work with fresh eyes (and ears!) to better catch mistakes and fine-tune awkward passages
  • How to make a great piece even better by removing unnecessary words
  • Inspiration and tips from other writers “

Until next month, write on…


Susan  (

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