Writing Methods: Writer’s Block Combat

Handpainted Cabinet cards (1870s-1920s) by Alex Gross.

It takes sheer effort to create thoughts and ideas.  In fact, the attempt to be creative and original can be exhausting and result in things like “writer’s block”, frustration and “hitting a wall”.

Some would say that many of us work too hard to be creative, and we need to stop thinking so much, and let what is already in our minds flow out in our writing, words, creativity and actions.

The practice of simply observing and reporting what is already in the mind is not new (but sometimes forgotten).  In fact, many great artists have developed their art in exactly this way.

For example, the Expressive Theory of Art simply means communicating the current inner emotional, psychological, or intellectual state of being.  The artist is not trying to “think of” new ideas, he is simply expressing the ideas that are already there.  Consider Tolstoy’s view:

Young Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s definition of art was very much out of the Expressive mould.

Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one person consciously, by certain external signs, conveys to others feelings he’s experienced, and other people are affected by these feelings and live them over in themselves. (Leo Tolstoy)

If we quit trying (expending effort) to develop the words, concepts, and ideas in our minds, and instead observe and relay what is already in our minds, what happens?

Since effort to create takes enormous energy, using this energy to release what is in our minds instead of trying to create what is not in our minds could be a transformational experience.

In the field of psychology, introspection is the method of observing and reporting the workings of the mind.  Iconic figures like Plato and Paramahansa Yogananda were proponents of the practice of introspection:

Plato (427-347 BC), Ancient Greek philosopher. Plato’s spirit of rational inquiry led to today’s scientific method. His writings shaped and continue to have a profound influence on Western thought. He was a pupil of Socrates, founded the Academy in Athens, and taught Aristotle. Credit: SHEILA TERRY/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Plato may have referenced introspection when he asked, “…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are.

Paramahansa Yogananda

“Introspection is a mirror in which to see recesses of your mind that otherwise would remain hidden from you. –Paramahansa Yogananda

In regard to the art of writing, a key method that produces writing without forced thought is referred to as “stream of consciousness” writing.  Basically, the idea is to write whatever pops into your head, without altering these thoughts in any way with conscious thinking.  It is an amazing exercise to try to write a story by observing the story that is already playing in your head, without even trying to create new material.  As I practice stream of consciousness writing, I find it beautifully but at the same time frightfully rewarding.

By Zapper3095, Deviant Art

 If you try to write a story by just observing what is in your mind and putting your thoughts to paper, then you will most likely know the exact feeling that I am trying to describe when experiencing stream of consciousness writing.

I remember listening once to a screenwriter accepting an academy award.  I recall the screenwriter once saying that he didn’t really try to come up with concepts and stories , but simply noticed what was in his head and spilled out the information on paper, worked with staff, and helped transpose his thoughts onto film.  Remembering his acceptance speech prompted me to start studying this method (it’s strange how an abstract experience like this can stay with you).

And then it hit me. Maybe this is a method that many successful people use to accomplish a great deal of success in their lives. And perhaps trying too hard is at times a fault.  Maybe “try, try again” is not perfect advice; and, instead a better mantra is to stop your effort, take notice of what’s in your head and then act on what’s already there (just waiting to be noticed).

“It’s a funny state,” writes Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler, You’re dreamstorming, inviting the images of moment-to-moment experience through your unconscious. It’s very much like an intensive daydream, but a daydream that you are and are not controlling.”

It’s not that hard to grasp this concept, right?  Just look at what’s right there in your head, express it and do it.  It’s so simple–but sometimes there is conflict within a person against this way of being, because there is the belief that an idea has to be conjured up or created out of thin air.

Here are some examples that are possibly familiar to you, where the author used stream of consciousness writing to complete some of the greatest literary works of all time (source:  Stream of Consciousness, Narrative Mode, Wikipedia):

T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was done in Stream of Consciousness (SOC) Style of Writing. Prufrock sheds light on his self -doubting thoughts in lines (37-48) of the poem…
And indeed there will be time            To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”] Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

IF by Rudyard Kipling (SOC Style of Writing)

Photo of Virginia Woolf, Stream of Consciousness is a literary technique which was pioneered by Dorthy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. Stream of consciousness is characterized by a flow of thoughts and images, which may not always appear to have a coherent structure or cohesion.

Of course, I don’t know all of the answers in regard to how to free the mind, but it makes me stop in my tracks when I consider how I may improve my methods of thought.  And I’d like to try embracing the Expressive Theory of Art, the practice of Introspection, and Stream of Consciousness methods in pursuit of living an unbridled life full of truth and authenticity.

19 thoughts on “Writing Methods: Writer’s Block Combat

    1. You’re brilliant…yes! It has been said that Kaufman’s neurotic stream of consciousness is so roiled with anxiety he can make Woody Allen and Al Brooks seem like veritable bodhisattvas. Case in point, if you view his academy award acceptance speech, you will see an exact example of Charlie’s mind once again, engaged purely in the SOC method of thinking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2Nav-ct3W8 . .

      1. Ha now that you mention it I can definitely see the Woody Allen and Al Brooks comparisons. I hadn’t thought of that before. I love Charlie, thanks for the link 🙂

  1. I’m usually a victim of thinking too much that I end up not being able to write what I had intended at all. 🙂 It’s good to know that I can do something about it and that I’m not alone. Really relevant write-up you got here!

  2. Very interesting post. I have always been writing according to ” what popped in my head”. I thought I was writing free verse. Now i’ve got a fancier word for it. =D

  3. Such a great post!
    I start all of my flash fictions with stream of consciousness. It works for me. I have to think about the twist at the end. I love the beginning. I just write the first thing that comes to mind!
    The book I am writing started like that. One sentence that has grown…

  4. Your posts are amazing and inspiring. I’m not familiar with “styles of writing”, so If what you mean by “stream of consciousness” writing is the ability to sit down and write whatever comes out without thinking about it then I have done some of that. I actually developed character profiles for a novel I’m working on. At other times, I find myself working on something I’ve done research on and when I begin to write it goes in a completely different direction than I intended. It is quite amazing when we can just let go and see what comes up and out. The only difference I noted as the process is described in your post is, that for me, when the words just flow I don’t sense they are the result of my having “observed what’s in my mind” but that the words have been released through me from some other place. This may seem strange to some, but that is what I intuit from the experience. 🙂

  5. Great post! I spent a lot of time studying (and I suppose practising) stream-of-consciousness writing at uni. It was great, and although I don’t do it too often it is a good way to get the mind flowing again. 🙂

  6. We waste the most important time with things we try, instead doing what is really in our heart. Even our brain is insufficient without a soul. The ideas are just things that has to be done.But the idea combined with the emotion is the thing that haunts us for eternal. That should always be remembered.
    I like the way of your writing.

  7. Wonderful thoughts. Thanks! This is like Julia Cameron’s use of Morning Pages. I like to start my day with this type of “brain dump,” and then follow the threads wherever they lead. You’re absolutely right — it seems sometimes it’s easier to “try” too hard, particularly when the writing path becomes slightly illuminated and a desire to control the process comes in. So illusive!

  8. I absolutely loved this post and thank you for visiting my blog by the way. I’m glad we’ve “met”. I actually experience creative overload most of the time…not writer’s block. My mind is almost flooded with ideas and I’m really having trouble getting them down, exploring them and actually finishing them before the next idea comes along. I have been writing for years and am also into photography but this year, after sitting in on my daughter’s violin lesson, have taken up the violin. I am quite into brain plasticity and wondered what impact learning the violin would have on other aspects of my life. What else would change or develop? I have been practicing for around half an hour a day and in six months have progressed from dreadful screeches to playing Edelweiss still with screeches and playing two strings at the same time but sometimes it is actually pretty good. I fluked a few paintings lately and have been immersing myself in paint.
    You hear about athletes doing cross-training but what about creatives? If we explore writing, music, art in this hands on way, where will it take us? Are we really for the journey?
    I should also add that I have been on 50 mg of prednisone for a medical condition during this process and my dosage is now cutting back so I’ll be interested to see what impact that will have on things. I have been operating on turbo lately and as hard as it is to keep up with myself, I am hoping that this creative surge doesn’t end here.

  9. I really like what you’ve written about stream of consciousness writing – for a long time I’ve called this wild writing and used to give out assignments to classes I taught where the only rule was write for 5 minutes without stopping – no internal editor, no going back and rewriting, no evaluating – just write. I think this kind of writing is like priming a pump to get us going. You really have an interesting blog – the photos and the quotes – really thought provoking – thanks.

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