There is a common misconception about writer’s block. When you sit down and stare at that mockingly blank screen, it isn’t the lack of ideas that stops the keys from click - clacking, its the exact opposite. For me, what keeps the screen blank is the overabundance of ideas.
If you’re like me, you have a constant flow of images, scenarios, and characters passing through your mind like the NASDAQ ticker. The challenge is to take the raw bits of data my brain is spitting out and turn them into cohesive, fully formed, emotionally satisfying ideas. Which, according to just about everyone I talk to about writing who doesn’t write on a regular basis, is a piece of cake. If only they were right. There have been more nights than I care to admit where I have shut down the computer in defeat, unable to get my ideas to behave and form a single file line. In case you were wondering, it’s not easy to get to sleep when your thoughts are behaving like a panicked crowd clogging an emergency exit to avoid a fire. It was one such fruitless writing attempt that caused me to get fed up and invent with the following technique to beat writer’s block and get those words flowing. And I owe it all to my first grade teacher, Mrs Miller.
It’s weird how some memories cement themselves into your mind. Within seconds of closing my eyes I can make out the small 30 seat classroom. The class mascot bunny rabbit sitting in it’s cage contemplating an escape attempt, the walls littered with multicolored construction paper, each sheet with a drawing and child's signature underneath, the chalk smeared blackboard, and Mrs Miller sitting at her desk in the back of the class. Her build was what one might call “sturdy”. Mrs Miller had what my Grandmother used to refer to as “child bearing hips”. She stood at 4’11’’ and was constantly moving her dirty blonde hair from her perpetually exhausted face. One day, the class had come back from recess and was particularly unruly. Even though recess had officially ended fifteen minutes earlier, everyone was still buzzing from being let loose on the playground. Everyone that is, except for me. In the household I grew up in, excessive noise and activity from a child in the presence of an adult was simply not an option. My parents made it very clear that if a child is not in any life threatening danger, there is no reason for said child to not sit still and be quiet. Apparently the entire class hadn’t learned that lesson, but I could tell from Mrs Miller’s mounting frustration after every one of her gentle “shh's” was met with more noise, that the lesson was about to be learned. I saw her slam her the notepad down that she was previously writing in and leap up out of her chair with surprising speed. The class was still so wild that her actions went unnoticed. Her substantial legs stomped down, sending the raised bungalow that we were having class in to shake slightly as she bounded to the front the of the class. When she got there, she stood for a moment to take in the chaos before her. She then filled her lungs, leaned backward, lurched forward, opened her mouth and let out the most primal, blood curdling scream I still to this day have ever heard.
The words “SHUT UP!!!” bellowed from her mouth, and the entire class snapped to attention. Afterwards, she calmly strolled back to her desk and returned to work as if nothing happened. The real challenge for me to suppress a giggle after seeing the confused, saucer eyed expression on each of my class member’s faces. If that tactic seems a bit excessive, keep in mind that I went to elementary school in the early eighties, which means that teachers had a little more leeway as to how children in their classes should be disciplined. Now, Mrs Miller’s class would be flooded with complaints. Then, her outburst had its intended effects. The class shut the hell up, and Mrs Miller suffered no career consequences for her actions.
What the hell does have to do with writing you ask? Well, think of your ideas as a classroom of uncooperative children. They are all excited about being heard. They all have something to say. However, all your ideas can’t speak at once or readers will begin to question your sanity. Instead, try to find your inner Mrs Miller. Actually visualize a classroom of wild children, then picture an old teacher, authority figure, or hey even yourself, walking to the front of the classroom of your mind, and telling those rambunctious ideas to SHUT UP. Have them take their seat and raise their hands one at a time. As each idea lifts it’s hand, that’s the one to work on. Work it till the end of your allotted writing time of the day, and continue the process until the present assignment is done. Sure this process may seem silly or juvenile, and you may question whether or not it even works. Well you’re right in the fact that it is a silly exercise, but as to whether or not it works, you're reading this post aren’t you?