A Little Jolt


by J.D. Rhoades

Like Pari, I don't believe in writer's block, at least in the sense most people think of it. I've never sat down at the computer and been unable to write ANYTHING. 

I have, however, had long spells where everything I wrote was so god-awful to my eyes that it physically hurt to look at or even think about. I've had days and sometimes weeks where I was convinced that that was it, I was done, the well's gone dry, been nice to know you all, I'm going to just drop out of sight and turn into another one of those "hey whatever happened to…." stories. And that, I am ashamed to say, has occasionally kept me away from writing. And judging by Louise's most excellent post yesterday, I'm not alone. 

But over the years, I've stumbled across  a few tricks that help me get past that feeling a little quicker. I've learned some ways to give myself a little jolt to get the motor running again. A couple of them may seem a mite strange, but they've worked for me, and they might do the same for you. Because here at Murderati, we're all about the sharing. 

1. Get away from the computer to write. I've mentioned here before that I had started writing my current WIP in longhand, in my trusty Moleskine notebook. This had the effect of knocking me out of the habit of going back and rewriting a sentence or paragraph, then  rewriting and rewriting again, to the point where I never moved forward at all. In longhand, as the poet wrote, "the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on." I considered writing the whole thing in longhand, which seems to work well for Our Tess, but after a while, I drifted back to the keyboard. But I did so with a better outlook on the words, and I'm flying now. Oh, I'll undoubtedly end up revising a lot more than I've been used to, but that's the nature of the beast. 

2. Change the way your computer is set up. This was the one that really surprised me. I'd been having some issues with my laptop getting really hot, which started causing slowdowns and errors later in the day. Plus, I was worried about damaging my precious tool (I mean the computer, of course). I started pricing laptop stands and coolers, until I stumbled across a site via Lifehacker that showed various homemade laptop stands that people made from stuff around the house. Now, two of my favorite words are "cheap" and "free", so I started experimenting, first with an old giant three ring binder that I drilled  holes in for ventilation. My second attempt involved a piece of old wire closet shelving and an empty Pringle's can to raise it up to the right height. It all looks pretty cheesy, I have to say, but here's the thing: the change in the angle of the keyboard and screen made me look at the words differently. The screen's now up in front of my eyes, so I don't have to look down, and my hands and wrists are at a different, more comfortable angle  when I type.  It was like getting a new computer. And because it seems new, the physical act of typing seems a lot less onerous. A little thing, but suddenly I was writing a couple thousand words at a clip before I even thought to check how many I'd done. 

JT also mentioned changing the font for purposes of proofreading the other day. Next time I start to get stuck, I think I'll try that and see if it gives me that little jolt. 

Oh, and on the subject of laptop stands, check this out.

3. Take a shower. I've often joked that if they made a laptop you could use in the shower, I'd never get out. I'd probably have to buy a hot water heater the size of a Zeppelin, but it'd be worth it.  Because for some reason, hot water seems to jump-start my brain, whatever time of day. I've resolved story issues, created new characters, and recognized plot holes that needed to be plugged, all to the sound of running water. 

4. Read something that doesn't have anything to do with mystery or writing. I have a list of sites on my Google homepage under the category of "Geek Stuff" that I go to for a little diversion from my normal thought tracks. They include the above-mentioned Lifehacker, Cocktail Party Physics, Geekologie, BoingBoing, and one of my faves, a site about art and architecture called BLDGBLOG. Be careful, though; it's easy to let the search for that little jolt turn into a wasted afternoon idly surfing. Maybe set a timer for a half-hour after which you get back to your work in progress. 

How about the rest of you? What little tricks to you have to give yourself a little jolt? 

(And Happy April Fool's Day, everybody!) 

14 thoughts on “A Little Jolt

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    Nice ideas, all. I, too, get away from my computer screen and write in longhand. Showers are another one that works, but it’s car journeys that do it best for me. If I’m stuck, a ride out in the car, preferably with the CD player on, does it every time.

    Another one, I have to say, is cheesy movies. An action no-brainer is best – think ‘Under Siege’ or ‘True Lies’

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey, no fair, this was MY Saturday post!!

    I guess we’re all having one of those weeks.

    When I really can’t stand the thought of turning on the computer – I don’t. I go somewhere else and sit with a pad and pen and scribble scenes. It gives me permission not to be perfect – I’m just idly taking notes, after all. I get some great stuff out of those pad-and-pen days.

    I also go work on the porch on a nice day,

    I always write really well on planes and in airports, too.

    And oh yeah – on REALLY unbearable days I just write in bed.

  3. Jake Nantz

    Dusty,The shower works for me too. Actually, it pretty much does it for me with most things…it’s like my coffee, since I can’t stand coffee. Saturday rolls around and I wake up late, if I don’t take a shower, I won’t get shit done all day. If I do, it’s like tricking myself into thinking it’s a school day, and I can get work done around the house or (ugh) grading, or something other than practicing my recumbent positioning.

  4. Joyce Tremel

    If I get stuck, I take my laptop to another room. I did most of my writing over the winter on the couch in the family room. I moved to the sunroom last week, and suddenly I was able to fix the chapter I’d been having trouble with for weeks.

  5. R.J. Mangahas

    I’m with you on the Moleskine notebooks, Dusty. I think I’ve spent a small fortune on them, but it was money well worth it. I’ve always said that I love the flow of the pen (and the ideas). Since I write a lot of shorts, I always tend to do my first draft inlong hand.

    And sometimes, just a change of scenery can help.

  6. Dana King

    Showers and walks work well for me. The one catch with the walk is I must begin by consciously thinking of something other than the writing problem. The writing problem will worm its way into my head soon enough.

    I do plotting and organize scenes in longhand when I’m stuck. It might be in the form of a list, it might be a thought diagram, or it might be actual sentences and dialog to be used. If I do tat, I usually find myself drifting back to the keyboard before too long.

  7. Louise Ure

    I am surprised by how many of us find our creativity in the shower, but it’s the same for me.

    And I used to get both solutions and ideas if I took a pen and paper up on the roofdeck for a half hour. Maybe I’ll try that again today.

    Thanks again, everybody, for such caring and thoughtful ideas and comments on yesterday’s blog post.

  8. toni mcgee causey

    Hot shower or, preferably, a long soak in the jaccuzi tub. Photography works for me, since it makes me frame a scene to tell a very short story. But my most reliable is scribbling in a cheap five subject notebook– I think of it as something I don’t have to keep, so I end up feeling freer to brainstorm.

  9. J.D. Rhoades

    Toni, I like the idea of the chap notebook for ideas. Sometimes with the Moleskine’s history, there may be a temptation to be all serious and stuff.

    In trial today, so it’ll be a while before I can check back. Keep the ideas coming!

  10. pari

    Walks, showers, working out at the gym . . .

    I’m going to try some of the suggestions from the commenters today for the new book.

    One wonderful jolt for me is to go to light/fun websites — or spy/security equipment websites.

    My favorite for just plain fun is http://www.mcphee.com/

    If their products can’t get you thinking . . . nothing will. I still have one of my 1/2 gallons of tiny treasures.

  11. Allison Brennan

    Oh, to have a waterproof laptop . . . heaven . . .

    I need my iPod (when my old iPod was busted, I had a very hard time writing. Music through the stereo is NOT the same thing as when it’s being blasted through ear buds directly into your brain.) I didn’t realize how attached I was to my iPod–almost as much as my youngest is attached to his nigh-nigh (blanket)–until I didn’t have one.

    I also need to get out of the house — Starbucks by day, bars by night . . . Maybe it’s psychological. No one knows who I am (most people think I’m a teacher!) and I feel like if I’m not typing away, everyone is going to know I’m a slacker . . .

  12. Karen from Mentor

    Flirting is good for a jolt. Anything that revs your motor up jump starts the brain.

    Karen 🙂

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