You Can’t Wait for Inspiration. You Have to Go After It with a Club.*

May 7, 2010

It’s odd how large a part food plays in memories of childhood. There are grown men and women who still shudder at the sight of spinach or turn away with loathing from stewed prunes and tapioca.
• Caroline Lejeune

It’s past mid-term time here and end-of-term papers will soon be due. If you’re close to graduation, you may be writing cover letters and responding to employment questions. The hardest part of just about any writing task is getting started, so I’m offering some strategies to help dislodge ideas from the crevices of your mind. I’ve larded the post with some of my favorite food quotations because it amuses me to do so. Each of them also offers the possibility of response. Any kind of writing can jumpstart the muse.

If I were a meal, I’d be. . . . .
If I were a meal, I’d be lobster. Nobody eats lobster when they’re sad. Nobody eats it just because there’s nothing else around. They have to be excited for lobster.
• Tea Leoni

Start writing. Dump everything you do and don’t know about your topic onto paper or computer screen. Don’t stop writing. Put bullets or blank spaces where you’re uncertain what word or phrase you’re looking for. Don’t stop. Seriously. Try to keep going for a half hour, but even ten minutes may give you a good start.

My favorite sandwich is. . . . .
My favorite sandwich is peanut butter, baloney, cheddar cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise on toasted bread with catsup on the side.
• Hubert Humphrey

Talk with other people about your topic. It can be helpful to hear yourself in the process. Make some notes if the conversation is in person or on the phone. Texting or email or whatever social medium you prefer is a great way to reach out for a group brainstorm. I’ve often been surprised by suggestions from people whom I didn’t imagine knew much about my topic.

You have to eat _________ or. . . . .
You have to eat oatmeal or you’ll dry up. Anybody knows that.
• Kay Thompson

You already know I’m not an outliner, but I am a lister. Once I’ve begun writing, I like to go through what I’ve dumped and look for things I know and things I still need to know and separate them. If you’ve done your dumping on the computer, this is fairly easy, but I have been known to cut and paste literally with handwritten dumps. (Oh, please, I know that dump has multiple meanings, but unless you are a middle schooler, you’re not allowed to point this out.)

I will not eat. . . . .
I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead—not sick, not wounded—dead.
• Woody Allen

I am admittedly quotation obsessed, but if you have a topic that lends itself in some fashion to the use of quotations, see if you can find a quotation that captures the essence of what you want to say. Coming up with a good title can help too since it forces you to pinpoint what you want to discuss.

I used to eat. . . . .
I used to eat my eyebrows. Until I was eleven or twelve, I sucked my thumb and pulled at my eyebrows with my fingers. Sometimes I would put honey or something sweet on them, then pluck them and play with them in my mouth.
• Nastassia Kinski**

You’re not going to want to hear this, but just about any kind of writing requires some reading. They’re symbiotic activities. You have to have something to say before you try to say something, and reading can feed your mind. When you’re in school, you’ll have to eat more than just junk food. I like the pop culture stuff, but serious papers require serious nourishment and healthy ingredients. Don’t make me carry this analogy any further. You know what I mean.

Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of. . . . .
Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese—toasted, mostly.
• Robert Louis Stevenson

Now it’s your turn.

What’s your advice for chipping away at a writer’s block?

If you are ever at a loss to support a flagging conversation, introduce the subject of eating.
• Leigh Hunt

* Thanks to Jack London for the title quotation.

** Eeuuww!!



  1. Hi! =D

    I found your site through tag surfer. I really needed tips to combat writers block. I used to write when I was younger but then I stopped when I entered college. It was a bad idea. I have blocked out my creative outlet and in the process stopped living. Anyway, thank you for the tips. I think I’ll be checking out your blog in a regular basis. Your a very good writer. =D

    • I so understand writer’s block. I think that school sometimes contributes to it since writing is often presented as a very organized process. As someone who writes regularly, I find it to be a very messy business. I’ve written lots about writing and inspiration in my blog, not all of it tagged since I sometimes forget! I journal regularly and that helps–it’s like practicing a musical instrument–you need to do it regularly to improve. I hope you’ll keep writing, especially since it sounds like you enjoyed it. Don’t let school at any level suck the joy out of it for you! W-OZ

  2. It helps me to just write and purposefully ignore any temptation to edit or really even think much. After writing strings of thought I then review and look for themes that may appear. This helps me relax and tap into my creativity which I believe is the first level of thinking.

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