Thursday, April 02, 2009

Are You Write Brained?

The HaulAuthor/inventor Bonnie Neubauer has a neat writing prompt book out that I discovered on my last trip down the writing reference aisle at the bookstore. The Write-Brain Workbook offers 366 daily exercises (one per page) designed to (as the cover says) "liberate your writing."

I liked the book the minute I flipped through it for a couple of reasons: it's very visual, with 100% full-color pages, unique graphics, interesting prompts and a quirky sense of humor all its own. The exercises aren't intimidating; they're friendly and provocative without being snotty or annoying. I think it would be appropriate for writers of just about any age, too, whether they're youngsters just starting out or old battleaxes like me.

When you're dealing with a block or feeling just depressed in general about writing, this is the kind of daily prompter that actually helps you ease back into the work without putting a lot of additional stress on you (something some other, more serious inspy-exercise books can tend to do.) Sometimes I think we learn more from having a little writing fun versus being endlessly lectured to about the work.

The book was too large to fit in my scanner, so I took a couple shots with my camera (one-handed, no less) of some of the pages to give you an idea of what's inside (click on image to see larger version):





Normally I would whine a little about the cost (it's a big trade pb priced at $19.99 U.S. and $23.99 Canada) but for once I think it's actually worth it. This was not a cheap book to produce, not with all the color pages and graphics, and if you figure you get a year's worth of decent writing prompts out of it, that works out to about a nickel a day. These days bubblegum machines cost more.

As always you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name something that has helped you get through a blue period or break a block (or if you're still searching for a cure, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, April 3, 2009. I'll choose two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer as well as a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

82 comments:

  1. OK, I must be a bad person. I saw the picture of the man with his pants down and the caption says "Take the next step." My first thought? If you shoot him then you're done with the homework quickly.

    *sigh*

    I guess I'm probably not write brained tonight...

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  2. I am definitely in search of a cure, so consider a hat tossed!

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  3. Music helps me get out of almost any funk. It usually has to be loud with lots and lots of screaming, but Everclear, Garbage, and Kidney Thieves tend to help, too.

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  4. When I was in High School we had to keep a diary for English class. When I couldn't think of anything to write, I just closed my eyes, opened a dictionary or encyclopedia, and pointed my finger. I could always think of SOMETHING to write about a random subject. Nowadays, I just click on the "Random Article" button on Wikipedia -- boy does THAT bring up some odd things.

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  5. Music mostly gets me through blocks-and in the rare instances that it doesn't, I go looking for what works for other writers and see if I can apply it. Doesn't always work, of course, but gotta start somewhere. :)

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  6. Still cureless here. Throwing my name in.

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  7. Libby1:37 AM

    I have had my eye on that book forEVER! Thank you for putting it up. Even if I don't win, I have to have it at some point.

    Getting out a block is so hard because my scatter-brain wants to fanfic the story in progress when I'm stumped and make new, totally unrelated, stories. It's actually happening to me right now because I'm in the middle of my semester and am having a hard time focusing on pretty much everything *headdesk* I've had to step away from the WIP files temporarily.

    Usually what I end up doing is reading research books and making notes on how things relate to the WIP, and how I can integrate them. I'm a research geek, so it's a good way for me to unwind and to beef up the book. Sometimes going back to research I've already done puts me back in the right frame of mind, taking me back to whatever motivated me to write it in the first place.

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  8. Two things often help me get through the writing blues: music and cooking. Nothing like making a cake to get your cookie cooking.

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  9. I find that the right music can jar me loose from a particularly sticky bout of block. It might take a little experimenting to find the right album for my muse at the time, but for me, music can make a huge difference in whether I scrape together a measly paragraph or spin out pages and pages.

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  10. Considering that most of the writing I've done in the last few years has been for school, I'd have to admit that the things that got me through it were caffeine and panic. I wouldn't recommend this technique.

    I keep thinking I should get back into writing for fun, because as a kid I really enjoyed it.

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  11. Sierra2:56 AM

    Anything that can kick my brain into gear would certainly be helpful. Toss my hat into the ring.

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  12. FYI

    http://writers-challenge.blogspot.com/2009/03/creativity-in-auto-replies.html

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  13. Taking a quick daytrip has helped me break through blocks a couple of times. Even just going to one of the museums or strolling through the downtown area of my city and reading the historical markers and such, it's helped get my brain working again--or get the front part of my brain distracted enough so that I can really get creative.

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  14. The last time you helped me through a rut in writing it was with the Writer's Book of Matches. I adore that book and must dust it off and use it again.

    Will definitely check out the new one you are suggesting. Looks fun.

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  15. Keita Haruka4:19 AM

    :P Nothing helps me as much as moving on to a new project. Either that, or in the case of my long-term sci-fi series, writing something a bit further up or down the timetile. Often I've found answers to whatever is blocking me in one part of the timeline in another part of it. :P

    I also have a "writing buddy" (we're both budding sci-fi/fantasy writers). If one of us gets stuck, we sometimes role-play a scene, using our own interpretations of each other's characters. You'd be amazed at the results. :P

    That's my name thrown in the hat! :D

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  16. I'm lucky enough to still take my inspiration from other writers, either the ones that produced the book in my hand or the show on my television.

    I look at what a character is going through and wonder if it will work for my character at this stage of the story.

    I remember very distinctly in the last book I wrote that the H&H needed something to get them into the bedroom. I read a book where the hero fell into a pool and the heroine jumped in to rescue them.

    I was determined that I could send my couple to a hotel, and have a sexy swimming scene that would lead them into the bedroom. It didn't work out like that though.

    They were happy to go to a hotel, but they didn't need any excuse to heat up the sheets together. They didn't even see the pool from the window, much less get wet near it.

    The inspiration to write that scene came from that other author though. She pointed out a place I could go, and my characters returned the map to her (and me) and went in their own direction. They always do.

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  17. I always have a back-burner project or two. If I'm immobilized with my primary project, I take the opportunity to make some progress on one of the secondaries. Usually, a little distance from the block provides the perspective necessary to get around it.

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  18. Watching movies. And Buffy.

    Buffy breaks my blocks so easily.

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  19. I need a cure also. Actually I probably just need my butt kicked. This does look like a butt kicking book.

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  20. *throws name in hat*

    I need this book!

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  21. I enjoyed Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic(I believe thats the title).





    BreiaB
    bbrickeATyahooDOTcom

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  22. G/morning Lynn,

    I've like to use a journal method to get out of a difficult writing period. I buy a cheap photo journal and then I cut and paste images I find on the net or in magazines that fit an idea. I use multi-media to create a "scrapbook" on the subject. The result is a multiple page research tool that comes off very artistic. I purchased twelve journals at the beginning of the year at 1.00 a piece. So far, I've used two. I have to laugh because one has several variations on farm houses in the south. Added to that are pics of cornfields and a whole page on how the planting season works.There's also two pages on mules and how to train them. Go figure. I also found pics featuring sunrise and sunsets in different types of weather.

    Very cool. I feel great when making these while listening to music. Sometimes I will even add textures like dried corn husk or cotton.

    Laurel

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  23. I don't usually have long-term blocks or blue periods, but when I'm burned out for the day, I actually find that watching TV helps. It is a totally mindless activity and yet can be riveting so it forces me not to think. Plus, it can inspire at times!

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  24. I'm with Libby...iffen I don't win, I'll probably end up buying that one (too bad my birthday is over). One thing I've done that's helped is have a friend give me x number of random words..and I have to write a story using all of them. Sometimes that will break things free; if not, it's always a fun exercise and leads to a short story anyway.

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  25. What frees me from writing block is free-writing. I set a timer and just keep my fingers moving even if what comes out is "i don't know what to write i don't know i don't know".

    I usually go for 15 minutes, and I ALWAYS get at least one useful thing out of it.

    Pretty sure I got this from Holly Lisle's plot clinic book.

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  26. Freewrite, freewrite, freewrite. I've been reading "Writing Without Teachers" by Peter Elbow and a 10 minute timed freewrite always gets me going again.

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  27. For the blues/blocked energy I use a strong cup of coffee, a walk around outside, and a little Abraham-Hicks (Ask and its Given) to shake it all loose.

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  29. Sometimes it just helps me to give myself permission not to write for a few days. Pretty soon, the urge to write proves to be more serious than the block.

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  30. This is going to sound like complete suck-up, but it's the truth - when I get depressed with writing, I pull out an ARC I got from you, with an inspirational message in the front, or a signed copy of a Jim Butcher book, also with a "keep writing" kind of message in it. They help immensely. Horrible teacher's pet reference, I know. :)

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  31. Right now, re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been helping me through the hell that was March. April's not shaping up to be any better so far. lol. It's all good though, 'cuz I have Spike to get me through it. ;)

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  32. When I get stuck in my writing, I shift to another mode. If it's the WIP giving me fits, I look for poetry prompts, if it's the poetry tying me in knots, I play with a short story, of focus on my journal for a while.

    And of course, taking my dog for a walk always helps, no matter what.

    :)

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  33. I find that music helps set the tone, not only for my writing, but for my day as well.
    Now, for that right song...

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  34. Things that have helped me ease back into writing: reading for fun, and writing for fun. Playing with words. You're right, I think play is a factor that does us more good when we're struggling with the work than anything else. This book looks terrific!

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  35. Last time I got stuck in my book I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to read my heroine's story because she just seemed kind of boring. Please don't tell her I said that. :) I got so fed up I finally asked why she thought her story was so #%@%^ exciting anyway and let her tell me as I wrote it down.

    It didn't get me everywhere, but it helped me figure out where to go right that minute, which was at least a start.

    I'm stuck again, though, so this book could definitely help!

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  36. Showers. Nothing produces little scampering bunnies of ideas like showers - and usually I end up getting out, scrawling a note on the nearest available paper, and then having to go wash the conditioner out of my hair. ^^;

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  37. Traditionalist here. One of my favorite books on writing is Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow.I copied a blurb from this book here which explains the process well. Instead of editing and outlinig material in the initial steps of the writing process, Elbow celebrates non-stop or free uncensored writing, withough editorial checkpoints first, followed much later by the editorial process. This approach turns the focus towards encouraging ways of developing confidence and inspiration through free writing, multiple drafts, diaries, and notes.
    I also liked On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I had the opportunity to hear him speak - very inspirational.

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  38. monkeyberry9:18 AM

    Throwing my name in too. Thanks for offering this, PBW!

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  39. While cruising the art section of the bookstore, I found a great little book called *Caffeine for the Creative Mind* by Mumaw and Oldfield.

    I was hooked when I opened it to the first page and the project was to "pimp my red wagon."

    I got a great short story idea out of that immediately.

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  40. I do need an instant cure. Taking a long walk in the beautiful, bright sunshine is always the best method. Thaks for this unique giveaway.

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  41. I have most of Holly's writing ebooks, and Zette's 2 Year Novel project, (and one Cheetah). When I get "stuck" I just start randomly look through one or more of them and I usually get something out of them that clicks my brain in gear again.

    I wouldn't mind a copy of Write Brain to add to the gear oil.

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  42. Reading something out of my usual realm does the trick for me.

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  43. For awhile journaling really helped get me through but now it doesn't seem like anything is doing the trick.

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  44. Shannon10:28 AM

    What writing book I turn to depends on what's causing the problem. I've been floundering in editing mode lately so the book Revision & Self-editing by Bell has been helpful.

    Perhaps the most helpful though is when I step away for a little bit take a shower or just zone out for a while (not quite asleep/not quite awake but relaxed). It usually gets me going.

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  45. My cure includes going through archives of PBW and a few other author blogs.

    However, would love to have something new to try so throwing my name into the ring!

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  46. I saw that at the bookstore but never got it because I didn't think it would work "for me", but after going through a month of horrible doubt, I can see its usefulness. Encouragement of others and SELF-PERMISSION to stop the crazy, the writing, whatever it was, so I could STEP BACK, has helped me greatly in the past month.

    (and I'm blogging again)

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  47. I've been depressed about my writing for months and have all but decided that I don't want to play in the publishing arena anymore. Then I remember that I've always been and always will be a writer -- whether I publish again or not. Someone shared a quote yesterday from Frank Zappa who said (paraphrasing) that the music industry might suck but music itself never let him down.

    So, I'm trying to rediscover the joy of writing fiction just for the fun of it. Sounds like this book is right up my alley. Thanks for the tip!

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  48. Bonnie Neubauer wrote: Hi. I am the author of The Write-Brain Workbook. Thank you so much for all your kind words about the book. I am thrilled it's been so helpful and that you are recommending it to others.

    Nice of you to stop by, Bonnie. I do really like your book, and along with this giveaway will be handing it out to some public school kids when I do my creative writing workshops this semester.

    I also appreciate the generous offer to send your Story Spinners to my winners. However, in order to keep my blog and opinions unbiased, my policy is to personally purchase everything I give away here at PBW. It allows me to invest in great books by my colleagues, support our industry, and assure my visitors that everything I recommend is only because I really liked it enough to buy extra copies to give away. It's weird, I know, but it keeps me out of trouble. :)

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  49. That looks good. Consider me entered. (Please.)

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  50. Jonathan11:26 AM

    Shoot, I am still looking for a cure. Please toss my name in the hat.

    JB

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  51. Best advice I ever got was just recently from Patricia Briggs's web site: play with your story.

    I usually get stuck when the story isn't flowing the way I want it too and I get impatient, and then I start putting pressure on myself because it's not publishing-ready, even though it's only a first draft.

    The play with the story makes it much more light-hearted and fun. I need to remember that - have FUN with your characters.

    Even when you're smacking them around.

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  52. Switching to writing by hand in a new notebook with a nice pen tends to work for me. It doesn't have to be about the project at hand, I just start stream-of-conscious writing like we had to do all the time when I was in high school and it jogs loose how much I just enjoy writing.

    Normally, the issue works out at some point for me.

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  53. Taking a walk or a drive in the car almost always breaks any rut I'm currently stuck in. Changing my personal scenery fires up my brain and helps me get the words flowing again.

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  54. As a mystery writer, when I get stuck for an idea, I pick up my copy of Deadly Doses (a writer's book of poisons) and flip through it. There always seems to be plenty of ideas there.

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  55. You know, I've been thinking about getting a book like this, so I'm glad to see your recommendation. Sometimes just looking at little snippets of story ideas can help me think of my own. I'll start with the prompt and then spin off random tangents until I come up with something I like.

    I also find looking at artwork to be inspiring, especially art featuring people or pretty (usually fantasy or futuristic) landscapes.


    Word verification: 'storme'. And now *that* has me thinking of story ideas...

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  56. I loved Libby's comment that her brain wants to fanfic her own stories. LOL.

    This book looks really fun. Name in hat, please.

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  57. I'm blocked and blue right now. I'm considering the 'caffeine & panic' method mentioned above, but the panic is hard to come by when there are no deadlines. sigh...

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  58. Going to a bed and breakfast. :) I was just going through the room, thinking how it might be fun to base a book in an old B&B and viola...idea. Before that, I was having fits about the vurrent project, you know the kind of fits that make you want to pound your head against the monitor until either the monitor breaks or your skull does?

    Anyway, had an idea about a story set in an old B&B and it ended up helping me out of a writing funk, gave me a new idea to focus on and while I was doing that, the knots in the current WIP somehow unraveled themselves.

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  59. Writing ANYTHING longhand.

    It could be whatever I'm stuck on, griping about whatever I'm stuck on, a rant about current events in my life, poetry, my grocery list, a budget, ANYTHING that keeps the pen putting ink in my notebook.

    For me, writing is the only way to become unblocked.

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  60. There's a great book that helps me stretch by pushing me to write poetry called PoemCrazy. Can't live without it!

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  61. For a long time, I had the impression that I didn't really get writer's block. Then I realized I would go months at a time not working on my novel- suddenly my schedule was crazy and unpredictable and it just couldn't be done. I'd come back fresh and knock out another hundred pages or so before "life" mysteriously returned.

    It's only recently I realized that getting stupid-busy is how I deal with writer's block.

    PS Name in hat!

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  62. Something that has helped me break a block was that I started a blog. I try to write a post a week and b/c of circumstances didn't write this week. I miss it and learned that I need to write regularly no matter what.

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  63. Kathryn6:14 PM

    Hi Lynn,
    I find that Stephen King's book "On Writing" is always good for a "pick-me-up." As well, a long walk in the woods always takes away the blues...
    :)
    Cheers,
    Kathryn

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  64. Maintaining a blog full of writing prompts certainly helps me through. Otherwise, just promising myself creative time - even if I decide to scrapbook rather than write - seems to encourage my 'muse' and lets 'her' know I think she's important enough to make time for.

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  65. I struggle with the gumption to sit down and write sometimes because I'm not quite sure of where I want to go with where I'm at, or if I even like where I'm at. I realize as a writer, we don't have to be "any place" we don't want to, since in theory we call the shots - but the translation from mind to hand (or keyboard, as it were) doesn't always go smoothly.

    I still struggle with this, but I have found that doing some character interviews when I feel stuck... kind of like the whole "what's my motivation?" thing can help get me back on track. I also let my mind wander a bit and jot down new ideas that keep pestering me - I just need to learn to box up those ideas so I can get back to the task at hand.

    A copy of this book sounds great!

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  66. Sometimes I just open a new document and write down a dream I had. Or a daydream. Or even a fantasy. Sometimes, these documents get pretty darn long and I start embellishing to more what I wish I'd dreamed or daydreamed or fantasized. In fact, sometimes, they become story-length themselves, and I feel a little guilty spending so much time on them and not writing "real" stuff.

    But then I remind myself that the reason I started this stuff in the first place was because I couldn't write "real" stuff, and by the time I start feeling guilty for goofing off, I'm usually ready to go back to actual work. I dunno why it works, but it usually does.

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  67. T Gail8:31 PM

    My hat's in, too!

    Walking helps get unstuck--anything that relaxes my mind and puts my focus someplace else.

    A sentence-at-a-time helps, too, but it's slow. Make a temporary goal to write one sentence. Only one, but it must be purposeful--advance plot, deepen character, sharpen setting, something like that. Only one sentence, then go do something else for a while. After several sentences (and more breaks), things often seem to start moving again. Diane (I've forgotten her last name) from a writing group suggested it many years ago.

    Sorry I can't add much. . .

    Thanks for this blog, Lynn!!

    Trish Gail

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  68. Mitch9:03 PM

    When I'm blocked, I like to take a break and read, it usually helps get me inspired again. I also like to go for a walk in the woods. Not only is the scenery inspiring, but being out in the open helps me feel less clogged.

    ~ Mitch

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  69. Oh, that looks fun!

    *throwing name in hat*

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  70. I've gone for long drives in the country when faced with writers block. Only problem is remembering to bring a pad of paper & a pen for when the inspiration hits! Oh, and of course a safe place to pull the car over ... ;p

    — Bonz

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  71. Throw my hat in the ring. I could use a book like this as I'm having a bit of a block just now.

    Recently I finished editing my latest MS and started submitting it, and now I can't seem to get a hold on the next MS. My usual way to break writer's block is to read back what I've written until I find the last part of the story that "worked" for me. For there I usually end up scrapping everything that's come after and starting over from scratch. It's not efficient but it what seems to work reliably.

    I also highly recommend Jenny Crusie's patented "12 Days of". It's how I actually managed to finish the first draft of my latest MS.

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  72. I really like to flip through Robert McKee's Story when I'm stuck. For some reason, it inspires me to see all the ways you can mindf*ck a story to death. Then I just go put in a chase scene. I can always take out the chase scene later, but it usually gets things moving again.

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  73. I usually take some time to research mythology. For some reason world mythologies shake ideas loose from my brain, even if the myths had nothing to do with what I was writing.

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  74. Please throw my name into the ring! I need something to help me get the brain going again with my writing (I'm stuck in a bog)

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  75. I think what you are doing is totally marvelous, and not at all weird.

    Please go ahead and delete my initial email about the Spinners so that it doesn't look like I am trying to sell something. That was never my intention. Besides, there's an online Spinner that is free that can be used by everyone, 24/7.

    Many congrats to you on both your publishing successes and your generosity to others in the field. You are a gem.

    -Bonnie

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  76. Watching movies, Walking the dog and talking to myself also letting go and praying for help to get me through the block has helped in the past.

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  77. Anonymous10:46 AM

    Wow. These comments are great!

    I work in a psychiatric hospital. When I'm feeling blue, I step back and consider what a lot of our patients are going through, and it makes me thankfrul for what I have. As for writer's block -- some of these folks can spin the wildest yarns you've ever heard, and I'll admit that I've "borrowed" elements from some of the more fanciful ones that have planted the seeds for a story or two.

    Jack A. Lope

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  78. I am placing my name in the hat. It is written on a piece of paper folded in a way that makes you want to pull it right out of that hat.

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  79. A looming dead line does wonders! But also does just sitting down and writing/drawing/creating anything. One idea begets another.

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  80. I find when I'm blocked that I need to change my playlist. Instrumental music is really good at putting new images in my head to work with.

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  81. I haven't found a way out yet. I've been reading like there is no tomorrow instead!

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  82. Oh MAN... I'm totally into writing prompts. You posted one a long time ago about looking for common things in your writing area and using them to come up with a story idea. I used it, and have since published "Kitchen Matches" with Samhain based on your prompt.

    I <3 them... and am absolutely sold on the book. Woot! Yes, please toss my name in.

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