Every once in a while I sit down to write something and my mind freezes up completely. I stare at the screen, try to think of something interesting to say and ... nothing. Big. Blank. Screen. A bit of writer’s block, I suppose. Does this ever happen to you?
After putting the cake in the oven, I wondered how other people cope with the big, blank screen. I looked up how some prominent authors have dealt with writer’s block and it turns out a few of them have offered up some pretty good advice.
First, there's the writer of my favorite program, Downton Abbey. I admit, I'm a bit obsessed with Downton. Seriously, how can you not be? Come to think of it, this is the perfect cake to eat while watching the show.
Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey -
“There are days when I realize I'm writing rubbish. But my solution is not to not write. I plan a plot structure, and usually the writer's block passes...One thing I don't believe in is constantly going back over what I've done. Editing my scripts seems to be fruitful only once I've reached the end -- when I have the broad strokes, the big picture. If I'm constantly going over what I wrote last Tuesday, it's difficult to actually finish it...
When I've exhausted my general fizz, I'll write the title of the next scene: "Dining Room, Day." I think it's a mistake to stop working without a clue as to what comes next.”
Here are some nice practical approaches.
Norman Mailer novelist, essayist, journalist -
“A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”
Mark Twain, author and humorist -
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
Maybe it's a better idea to step away from the screen?
Hilary Mantel, English Author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies -
“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
Ernest Hemingway, American author and journalist -
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
For me, the method I use depends upon what I’m writing. If it’s a blog post, I’ll typically alternate between writing, photography and baking and let my thoughts percolate. For more formal documents, I lock myself in a room and follow an approach similar to Mark Twain. Of course, it’s easier when it’s snowing and I have a chocolate chip pound cake in the oven.
What about you? What keep your creative juices flowing? How do you deal with the big, blank screen?
Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
17.5 tbsp (250 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 c (250 g) organic powdered sugar
1 tsp (4 g) vanilla extract
1 1/4 c plus 2 tbs (200 g) flour, sifted
1/2 c chocolate chips (70 g)
Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C). Butter and flour 1 large or 4 small loaf pans.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter. Blend in the sugar, then the vanilla extract. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well-incorporated. Mix in the flour and chocolate chips until just blended.
Pour into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 45-50 minutes.
Allow cake to cool completely on a rack, then un-mold.
Note: To prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom, like mine, toss them in flour before adding to the batter.