The Cure for Writer's Block

photo courtesy of Flickr: Click on the image to see the photographer's page.

photo courtesy of Flickr: Click on the image to see the photographer's page.

You are a writer, but do you sometimes find it hard to write?

One of my best friends is a chef. You wouldn’t believe how often he has a hard time deciding what’s for dinner.

This is normal. Whatever your occupation, you are subject to the same fatigue as anyone. Dentists get tired of looking at teeth, plumbers get tired of pipes and writers, well no matter how much you might love language, sometimes you’re probably going to get a bit tired of slinging words.

The amazing thing is, once you crash through that inertia, your brain will be there to delight and surprise you. There is nothing better for a writer trying to smash their writer’s block than to simply start writing. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever read was simply, Give yourself permission to write a first draft.

Your first draft can be terrible and it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s primary function is to get your fingers and brain working together.

Once you start writing, magic happens.

This is the idea behind the Creative Copy Challenge, our six-week-old site that has been doing gangbusters in the community aspect. We would love to bring some of that creative energy to the Inkwell.

We plan on publishing one prompt per week to get our writers writing as well as helping us to know our community a little better. We did this a couple of times last year with interesting results. We don’t intend for this to replace Creative Copy Challenge, but to rather work in a slightly different manner, exercising different creative muscles.

Prompts will be either visual or written. Both David and I will contribute our own entries in the comment section.

Here is the first prompt:

“She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and then slowly walked away.”

We look forward to reading what each of you come up with. Write a short paragraph or a full fledged short story, whatever you want.

22 responses to The Cure for Writer's Block

  1. Creative Copy Challenge #14

    […] last year. It’s similar to Creative Copy Challenge, but a bit different. We call it the The Cure for Writer’s Block and the idea is to use complete sentences and sometimes visual prompts to inspire a short paragraph […]

    • Sean

      That’s a big problem I have as well, Carla, though I’ve been doing things differently lately. I write a whole mess of sloppy copies all at once, while I’m in writing mode, then I return to them as an editor later.

      This helps in two ways. The freedom to actually write and the space from the work to make it better.

  2. Martin

    Hi, quite a new reader here, but hope to make use of your prompts!

    This is great advice. I’ve even done it myself over the past few months: just write something! Fix it later! But it’s always nice to hear someone else saying it, to know I’m not wasting my time.

    I suppose that’s why I read blogs!

    • Sean

      Sometimes all we need is to hear (or read) someone else say what we knew was right all along. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment Martin. Nice to meet you.

  3. Kool Aid

    Valentine’s Day. It’s the one day of the year specifically designed to celebrate love. “But be nice to me every day, not just on (insert holiday here),” was something her daddy used to tell her. She tried to remember that but it was more and more difficult these days.

    She picked up a book and placed it in the box. It was a favorite of his, something he had read to her over and over again as a child. The Giving Tree always made her happy in that sad sort of way and she loved listening to him read it, even when she was perfectly capable of reading it for herself.

    Then she placed a picture she had drawn in the box. She had no idea he had kept it all these years, but she had found it in his desk drawer. It was a typical child’s drawing of a girl and her daddy with oversized heads, stick hands and feet and lots of rainbows and flowers. The edges were frayed and yellowed but the crayon color was still bright.

    The last thing she placed in the box was the article she saved when the accident happened. She refused to call it murder because she just couldn’t believe someone could do that to one so gentle as her father. The detectives knew otherwise but they had given up trying to get information from her.

    She gently closed the box, picked it up and carried it out of the apartment and down to the sidewalk. She turned and walked to where the accident happened. She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and then slowly walked away.
    .-= Kool Aid´s last blog ..A crafty Valentine idea =-.

  4. David Wright

    She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and slowly walked away.

    It was a cardboard filing box, though there were no files inside. It was weathered and worn, its top slightly askew.

    She didn’t think anybody had seen her. The city street was too busy, crowded with people lost in the daily dramas of their own lives to have noticed the frail old woman in her tattered black coat. At least that’s what she told herself as she retreated to a safe distance away.

    She found a perfect spot across the street from where she could keep an eye on the box. It was a diner with several open booths with window seating. She went inside and waited to be seated.

    The hostess, a young woman with a superficial smile, glanced at the old woman, and quickly looked away, as most people did when they met her gaze.

    “Hi, can I help you?” the girl said, a slight waver in her voice.

    “I’d like a booth by the window,” the old woman said, her voice almost as weak as her body.

    “Certainly,” the girl said, looking up and meeting the old woman’s eyes for just a moment, before looking back down. She led the woman to a booth along the diner’s expansive east-facing wall.

    The old woman kept her eyes on the window, at the box, about 20 yards away, still unnoticed on the street. While the box had not attracted any attention, she had. She could feel the uncomfortable glares of the diner’s patrons as she walked by. Each of them silently hoping she wouldn’t be seated near them. They were spared. She was seated as far back from anyone as possible.

    “Here you go,” the hostess said, with her fake smile, still not looking at the old woman. “Someone will be right with you to take your order.”

    The woman plopped her large purse, a patchwork of ugliness from several generations ago, down on the table with a thud as she slowly leaned down and slid into the booth. Her joints creaked and her back threatened to betray her, but once she was seated, she felt fine. Well, as fine as she could feel, anyway, given the circumstances.

    She watched the world pass by. Such a busy city, teeming with millions of people, hundreds on this street alone, walking back and forth, barely acknowledging one another’s existence. It was as if they were all cogs in a machine, unaware of the other cogs—at least not those whose parts they were not dependant on—and more sadly, unaware of the machine itself. They felt autonomous, but she knew better.

    She’d been around too long. She’d seen the machinations at work. Seen the system as it was created. She felt a profound sadness for them all. It wasn’t the sadness they felt when they looked at her, which more often than not, was a mixture of pity and contempt. No, hers was a deeper sadness, which had taken root deep in her marrow long ago.

    However, it would soon be over.

    “Hi, … ma’am,” a young man with thick black glasses said to her, “can I start you off with some coffee?”

    “No, thanks,” she said, waving a hand at him, but keeping her eyes on the window.

    “Okay, do you need a few minutes to look over the menu?”

    She chuckled at that. A few minutes. She didn’t think she would be there that long. Certainly, an unattended box in this city could not go unopened for much longer.

    “Um, yes,” she said, simply to get him to leave her to her window watching, which he did.

    And just then, a tall young man in jeans, a blue sports jersey, and a backwards cap passed the box and did a double take. He looked around, almost guiltily, to see if anyone was watching him. He stopped for a moment, pretending to tie his shoes as he surveyed the crowd. He looked at the diner, looked directly at the old woman’s direction, though she was pretty sure he hadn’t noticed her among the many other patrons lining the window.

    The woman’s heart began to beat faster in her chest. This was it. The moment she both feared and awaited. Soon, the world would be awakened.

    The man started to make his way towards the box and then stopped cold. Something had spooked him. As if he’d sensed the box’s contents or something, and he turned away, quickly putting as much distance between himself and the box as possible.

    The old woman was confused for a moment until she saw another player in the drama step onto the stage. A police officer, a young man in a crisp uniform, had also noticed the box. Had probability scared off the other young man. The officer approached the box, in the wary way that most lawmen approached the unknown, with a mixture of curiosity and dread.

    The woman began to twist her hands together anxiously as the cop’s curiosity vanquished caution.

    He bent down and lifted the lid.

  5. Sean

    She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and then slowly walked away.

    Samantha’s heart thudded in her chest, a hollow beat of echoing woe.

    Fear, anger and loss did the box step with relief, hope and freedom. Leaving it all behind was the the only way to move forward.

    Sad really, that 17 years of marriage could be reduced to a box no bigger than a basket full of dirty laundry. Though she supposed if she’d filled the box with Jarod’s dirty laundry she might have needed a freight container.

    She hated to admit it, because it truly was a vicious little demon of a thought, but there was a part of her that wished she’d never discovered a thing. Was ignorance bliss? Would she be happier right now if she were in the kitchen, tearing arugula and simmering sauce for another candlelit dinner, still in awe that marital bliss could be so good after nearly 20 years?

    She wasn’t sure how much of the last three months she would’ve changed given the chance to go back, shake the Etch-a-Sketch and do the whole thing over, but it was no mystery when it all started. Many things in life unravel without a clue leading back to the original fraying thread. But with this particular emotional holocaust, Samantha knew the exact moment it started and thought of it often.

    She stepped into the street and thought of it again.

    She’d been browsing late at night when she happened upon Jarod’s Facebook profile. Though she thought Facebook was rather silly, and had yet to start her own account, seeing the icon on a random page about dog food – she had no idea why a dog food company needed to be on Facebook – had made her click over to find her husband’s page.

    She had been reading his updates for a few minutes before she realized that something was bothering her. It was another two minutes before she realized precisely what it was.

    There were no pictures on his profile. Well, that wasn’t true. There were plenty of pictures, just none her, or Maggie or Michael, or anything whatsoever that would evidence their seventeen years together. There was maybe a hundred pictures, but not one that showed him sharing.

    Jarod in his nicest suit, charcoal with a crimson tie she’d bought just because, then gifted it to him around her neck while wearing nothing else below; Jarod with his brilliant smile, teeth looking extra white against the gleaming green of the sprawling golf course; and the one that hit her like a cold slap – Jarod holding a bottle of champagne. The picture was one of her favorites, the two of them on their anniversary two years earlier. They both looked so wonderfully happy.

    The version on Facebook didn’t show her at all.

    Samantha passed the tall eucalyptus trees that marked the entrance to the park, then sat on the first bench she saw. She pulled a still wrapped box of cigarettes from her purse and lit the first smoke she’d had in over a decade. She inhaled and held the smoke, trying not to cry, then blew it forward, watching it sail through the air in a straight stream before it fell into a spiral and dissipated into nothing.

    She could’ve left it at that. Jarod wasn’t the cheating kind, or at least she had thought at the time, and probably just needed a space to be him without the baggage that came with a family. Maybe he figured it was good for business, and maybe he was right.

    Still, it hurt to be baggage.

    Three days had passed before Samantha decided to make the fake account. She’d resisted Facebook for years, but that was before she had a reason. She named her doppleganger Jasmine, and used a picture of a pert blond with perky nipples as her profile. “Hi Jarod,” she friended, “not sure if you remember me, but we met at the Ocean Trails Golf Course a couple years back. Just wanted say! BTW, you’re looking fantastic!!!”

    An hour later and ping, “Of course I remember you, Jasmine! Glad we connected.”

    For three months the emails passed back and forth, through the Internet and throughout her thoughts, both sleeping and awake. Every day the pixels in the picture of her husbands character grew clearer. Samantha didn’t want to trap him, exactly, so she let him initiate everything. It didn’t take long. By the end of the first week he was asking “Jasmine” what she was wearing.

    Samantha kneaded her temples, still trying not to cry while remembering the following two months , stepping away from the computer for a week at a time, terrified to finish what she started. Until yesterday when she realized she could no longer tuck the inevitable away.

    “Meet me tonight for drinks?” she’d asked.

    “Can’t wait,” Jarod had replied.

    After filling the toilet bowl with nervous vomit, then scrubbing her mouth of the taste, she called Jarod at work. “How about a date night?” she said. “Michael and Maggie would probably love the house to themselves for a change. And I’d love it if we could go out to Marcelo’s, or maybe Nina’s.”

    Without skipping a beat, “Can’t. I’ve got a meeting with the entire creative department. No way I can miss it.”

    “Okay,” she’d agreed, maybe sadder than she’d ever been in her life.

    Six hours later she was throwing up for the fourth time, this time in a bowl she wouldn’t have to clean. She left the bathroom to see Jarod sitting on the barstool, her crimson tie around his neck.

    She marched right up to him and looked him in the eyes. Her mouth couldn’t make any words, but the etching of her face said plenty.

    “We’re just friends having drinks,” “I wasn’t going to do anything!” “You know I would never cheat on you” and ”This isn’t fair“ all fell from his mouth, though not necessarily in that order. That part Samantha couldn’t quite remember.

    It was amazing that 17 years could be shattered so quickly, but there was nothing to work out. Trust had been torn, not in one defining moment, but slow and steady, every day, the rip getting longer and wider until it was impossible to mend.

    He had nothing she wanted. For now she needed to get away. He was a great father, considering, and the children would be fine for the few weeks she needed to clear her head. She’d gathered the few things she wanted, gently placed them in a box, then left the house, driving until she decided to stop a few blocks from her favorite park.

    Samantha had been walking for a block before she turned back around and headed for the car. She opened the trunk, retrieved the box, then set it on the sidewalk, giving one final farewell glance over her shoulder.

    Thinking of the box sitting abandoned on the sidewalk filled with the Hallmarks of a life she’d thought well lived split a seam inside Samantha. A fountain of shuddering tears started to flow.

  6. Martin

    The things had been packed neatly in a sturdy cardboard box. These things had decorated her desk for the best part of a decade, and she could trace the path of her time at the company through the photos, paperweights, clips and other bits and pieces.

    She carried the box down the front stairs of the office block to the street. She had walked slowly, head bowed. None of her colleagues took a second glance at her, for they knew of nothing out of the ordinary.

    She reached the bottom of the steps, and turned north. She could catch a cab, or head to a bar, but she just wanted to walk. The box was heavy and weighed on her. The last few days played themselves in short extracts back through her mind. At every step she could have said something different. Could have backed down. Could have exposed him. But she didn’t back down, and then it was too late.

    The box contained the physical remains of her work: reports, doodles, memos. Photographs. Clippings. News items that had raised her suspicions. She had had the moral high ground at first, but had gone in too deep. Then she had needed to make a decision: in, or out. Both head and heart told her ‘out’, but if she chose that path, that was it. She couldn’t go public, not now. That was suicide.

    So this box which once contained the most dangerous collection of documents to that man, now it contained just as much to implicate her, and the price on that was too high.

    She glanced to left and right. Had any one of these pedestrians even a hint as to what she was carrying, they would have torn the box from her hands. It was worth a literal fortune to the papers, to whoever leaked the details, but she had decided to destroy it. To end that previous life, and start afresh. Lord knows she couldn’t last long in her current professional after this.

    But as she trudged along, it dawned on her. She had two choices. She could run away to a new town, a new job. Always be looking behind herself, waiting for the knife. And the knife would come, in one form or another. Or she could step calmly to one side, find a good vantage point, and watch it all unravel for him. Let fate deal what it would. To both of them.

    She stopped. In this of all towns, an abandoned package would soon attract attention. Someone would find it, open it. And then he would pay. For the first time in days, her thoughts filled her with an energy, a purpose. She might have to go down with him, but suddenly it was worth the risk.

    For a moment she was alone, and the street was quiet. No one would see her. She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and then slowly walked away.

  7. The Jottings of Greaney

    […] which attempts to inspire and encourage. This week they have a writing prompt in their post “A Cure for Writer’s Block”, which is just a short sentence to send you on your merry way with keyboard or pen. I’m […]

  8. Content Marketing Diary | Ghostwriter Dad

    […] the comment sections of both Collective Inkwell and Creative Copy Challenge. At the Inkwell we ran “The Cure For Writer’s Block,” where we tried to fuel some of the same creative spirit we’ve been seeing at the Triple […]

  9. Karetha

    She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and then slowly walked away. The box held her last few possessions–all the things in the world that she could lay claim to. She left it all behind and walked away.

    She thought back to the day when the idea first occurred. It happened on the afternoon of her diagnosis. She walked out of the doctor’s office after he told her of the tumors that were spreading from her right breast to her liver, lungs, and intestines. The doctor told her that her time left on the earth could be as short as one month or as long as three months. She felt shocked, knowing life was irreversibly changed.

    She walked out of the doctor’s office, noticing the warm sunshine and hearing the birds sing. Her surroundings seemed extraordinarily beautiful, and she wondered why she had never noticed them before. Somehow her new knowledge gave a new appreciation of all the small details that were usually overlooked.

    She sat down on a bench near the doctor’s office building and took a deep breath. “Now what? I have no one to share the news with. I’m childless, I have no siblings, and my parents have been dead for years. What do I do now?” She felt slight relief at the knowledge there was no one to be devastated at her news. Simultaneously she felt sad, because she had no one to share her burden.

    “Well, what shall I do with my belongings? I have no one to pass them on to after my death. I could donate them to charity, I suppose. Unfortunately I don’t think any charities are really doing good work. Every charity I’ve been acquainted with has been full of greed and corruption. I don’t want them to benefit after I die.”

    She sat in the sun and considered her options. Suddenly her face brightened, “I know! I’ll become a ‘secret Santa!’ I’ll divvy up my possesssions into small batches, and look around the city for people who could use them. I’ll leave each batch secretly where the right person will find it.”

    She spent the next three months sorting her belongings, putting them into groups, then each group into a box that she could carry. She sold her larger items, such as furniture and appliances, then used the money to buy small supplies like canned food and toiletries. She was happier than she ever had been before. Each time she secretly gave someone one of her gifts, her heart felt lighter and she felt even happier.

    Today marked the last gift she possessed. She wondered what would happen after she gave this last gift. She felt her time was near, and she was not afraid.

  10. Brett Henley

    She placed the box on the sidewalk, looked over her shoulder, and then slowly walked away, retreating to a small folding table adorned with sunflowers.

    Reaching into a canvas bag at her feet, she removed a hand-painted sign on the table’s front edge.

    “Fresh Squeezed,” it read, a title carefully written in bold lettering and trailed closely by an alphabetical list of each ingredient and the careful instructions that followed. Two stirs counterclockwise was clearly marked with an asterisk that evolved into a brief history of a particularly careful wrist flick and its contribution to the legitimacy of the label “fresh.”

    The typography of the sign was nearly flawless, each letter a strangely seductive presentation that jump kicked the flow of blood to the extremities and eventually merged into in an assured and homely sensation.

    The first visitor, an older gentleman out for his routine walk, approached the table with a gentle smile, the nylon in his track suit sounding short wind bursts from between his thighs. She giggled, the sound from his pants reminding her of a time when the wind spoke for the gods and carried their words to all men, a sound full of life and never short in grandeur.

    But those were histories for another time … now almost all forgotten.

    The experience of reading the sign was only half as euphoric as her speech. She had a voice … a voice that could uproot empires and chase the very same gods from their mountain tops.

    When she spoke, they listened.

    Cheeks slightly flush, she launched into an engaging discussion on the merits of each ingredient and the steps required to create unity between substance, space and time. A perfect cup of juice, after all, was equal parts passion, compassion and a touch of hope that recirculated with every flick of her delicate hand and turn of the wooden spoon.

    But with each passing visit, her smile titled slightly south, lips twitching to fight off the urge to go full frown. Each passing visit ended the same way: Questions about the mysterious box.

    Curiousity was devilishly persistent in each conversation, and despite the immaculate presentation and quality of her fresh-squeezed juice, the lonely box was almost impossible to ignore. By all intents and purposes, it was a rather simple box coated in construction paper with hand drawn symbols and lettering too small to determine their meaning.

    But they would ask, and ask again, almost beg and plead toward the end of the exchange, for a quick look at what was inside, or perhaps just an explanation of its contents so they could satiate their curiosity.

    The more she refused the more they asked. They forgot about the juice and its careful process, its beautiful creator and her addictive charm and admirable dedication. They abandoned the cup, equally abandoning the passion, compassion and hope that gave each piece of fruit picked for slaughter a reason for sacrifice.

    And so came the last visitor, his business suit tidy and tucked in all the right places and not a wrinkle in sight, his pupils like dagger points on the box. He was all business wrapped in more business, an obvious disdain for wasting time painted across his face like Vegas neon.

    A perfunctory hello was chopped at the knees before it could fully form and leave his tongue.

    “You may choose: The box or the juice, but only one,” she said with demonstrated impatience.

    “But you must know that I am not responsible for what you find in that box should you choose that route,” she continued.

    Our business man merely nodded, as if any choice was as routine as brushing his teeth, regardless of whether he might be using a toothbrush or sand paper. No hesitation, no regrets.

    He walked swiftly and bent low over the box, ready to pounce on the lid and the contents beneath. Just as his fingertips brushed the left edge, he stopped and turned his head toward the kindly juice maven, her opaque skin drained of almost all the color from before and the frown fully engaged from cheek bone to cheek bone.

    “Who are you,” he asked. His sudden curiosity was disengaging and oddly misguided compared to the visitors that came before, as if introductions were suddenly a necessary step for someone who seemed entirely uninterested in steps altogether. But the question was already out of the bag, as they say.

    She sighed deeply, turning her head toward the west and the setting sun.

    “My name is Pandora.”
    .-= Brett Henley´s last blog ..bretthenley: Not feeling this Monday at all … need a refuel. =-.

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