Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

A Dark and Stormy Night

By Kim L. Cole

©2003, Kim L. Cole 

ouíve done everything right.  Youíve cleaned up a corner of your office just for writing, with plenty of space for your creative endeavors.  You have an ergonomic keyboard to save your wrists, and a great selection of music to stimulate your brain.  Youíve blocked off time for writing, which is not to be interrupted upon pain of death.  You are totally ready to write.

So why arenít there any words on the page?

Sometimes the mechanics around writing are a lot easier than the writing itself.  Just because you know you have something interesting to say doesnít mean the words will come quickly or easily.  Sometimes the blank screen (or page) can kill any ideas that might have been running around in your brain.  Itís not surprising for really good ideas to develop agoraphobia and refuse to ever venture forth.

Conquering the Page

The key to conquering the blank page is, of course, to put something on it.  It doesnít have to be intellectual, or funny, or even make all that much sense.  The important thing isnít the quality of the words you put down.  Itís the fact that youíre putting them down at all.  Once you get your brain limbered up and used to throwing out words upon that no-longer-blank page, you can move into the idea you really wanted to write about.

This isnít new advice.  Experts have often said "Write anything,no matter how good or bad."  The writerís response is sometimes somewhat predictable, but also very understandable.  "I still donít know what to write!"

There are several good tricks that Iíve used to get myself writing.  Some of them are my ideas; others are well-known pieces of advice.  When you find yourself stuck, try one of them.  If that doesnít work, try another.  The same trick wonít work for everyone, so the best thing to do is try a little bit of everything.  Eventually youíll find the way to make your mind sparkle on the page.

The First Line

The first line is often the hardest, but it can also be used to free yourself from the problem with blank pages.  Keep a notebook within easy reach all the time.  Whenever you hear someone say something that strikes you, or you think of an interesting line, write it down.  These can be interesting things, funny things, clichťs, or just bizarre strings of words.

When you find yourself staring at the vast fields of white on your computer screen, pull out your notebook.  Pick a line (any line, don't think too much about it) and type it in.  Look at it for a moment, but don't treat it like a story.  Don't try to plan characters or plotlines.  Just look at the sentence and see what it makes you think of.

All you need is one more sentence.  Type that in.  Then type in another.  Keep it up until you both love what you wrote and want to turn it into a story, or you laugh at what you've done and giggle at the strange turns your mind can take.  Enjoy this exercise, as it is supposed to be fun.  Sometimes the more incoherent the results are, the more fun it can be.  With any luck this will free you to work on something you really have wanted to do.

The Way It Should Have Been

This one can be a lot of fun.  Think back over your life and remember all the times you wished that you were one of your characters.  Or the times that you needed a rewind button, or just some time to stop and revise your responses.  I'm sure we've all had occasions when the perfect quip rose to our lips just a few minutes late (or hours, or days).

Bring one of those scenes to mind, and write it down.  Describe yourself and your thoughts, and describe the other person.  After you've got the basic set up written, depart from reality.  Write the scene the way you wish it had happened, with all the stinging barbs and witty repartee that's so hard to achieve in real life.  Or, if you prefer, change a bitter fight to a sweet reunion, with all the apologies you know you should have uttered.

This serves two purposes.  One is that it allows you to get a painful or annoying scene out of your head.  The second is that it just might provide you with a powerful scene that could someday grow into a beautiful story, or maybe even fit into a work in progress.  And of course, it puts words down on the page.

Worth a Thousand Words

We've all heard the saying, so I won't belabor the point.  If you're having trouble with the tricks above, which all rely on the imagination flowing, this might be the one that works for you.  Look at an image.  It doesn't really matter if it's your favorite painting, your favorite family photo, or the semi-comprehensible drawing your child brought home from school.

Look at the picture and really study all the details.  Write down a description of it.  Not just a list of facts, but real description as if it were a setting in a novel.  Get down at least two or three paragraphs.  When you've finished describing the image, describe things like the people in it.  What are they thinking?  Even better, what might they be thinking if their world were a little different from our own?  Get into at least one head and follow it along.  You may find yourself beyond the picture itself.

This is easier to start than the other two because you are beginning with concrete details.  Once you slip into the scene you're describing you may find that you don't want to leave.  Stories can be built from paintings (my personal favorite is Van Gogh's Starry Night) or from pictures of your grandparents when they were young.  No matter the subject of the picture, you could easily grow its world into something strange and new.

Get It?  Got It?  Good!

So there we are.  Three long-term use-them-anywhere tips and tricks for getting the words to flow.  Use one of them, use them all, or alternate between them.  Find whatever works for you.  Each writer is different and we all need different ways to get past that fear of the blank page.

The important thing to remember is that the page stops being blank the minute you hit your first key.  Also remember that, should you really be unhappy with what you produce, delete is a very useful function.  However, try not to be too judgmental about what you produce during these practice sessions.  They are only exercises, after all.  While they may lead to something great, they may not.  They don't have to.  Their only purpose is to get your fingers moving and your mind ticking along.

Free yourself to say whatever strikes you at the time.  Allow the words to come.  You can fight with them until they are perfect, if that works for you, or throw them down any which way.  Keep trying, and keep working, and keep learning.  I hope that these ideas will help to spark even bigger and better ideas in your writing.

Kim L. Cole lives in Oklahoma, writing fantasy, horror, personal essays, poetry, and is now venturing into mainstream thrillers.  You can read samples of her nonfiction writing at either of her websites, Kimmy's Atheist Site (http://www.positiveatheist.com/) or Walking the Night (http://www.walkingthenight.com/).