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En Francais, Síil Vous Plait
By Abigail Steidley

There are days when writing seems like the hardest thing in the world.  The blank screen mocks you, the pen sits still in your hand, your brain seems to have slipped into slow motion.  In your heart of hearts, you feel you should be writing, and the pressure, the SHOULD, makes your shoulders hunch over and your brow wrinkle. 

ďYou would probably get published,Ē says a voice inside, ďif you could just write something fabulous today.  This might be your last chance.Ē  You begin to sweat.

Then the fear begins to sneak into your thoughts, interrupting. 

ďMaybe,Ē says the voice, ďyou are just a horrible writer.  Good writers always have ideas.Ē  Frantically, you scribble a few mediocre lines.  You reread them.  No, they arenít mediocre, theyíre horrible.  They are a disgrace to all writers, to the English language.   

Well, let me terrify you for just a moment.  Itís true.  Good writers do always have ideas.  Before you run, screaming, from the room, let me reassure you.  So do you.  Yes, you, too, always have good ideas.  But everyone, published, unpublished, good, mediocre, and awful, has days when the ideas wonít flow.  It doesnít mean they arenít there.  In fact, I bet if you think really hard, youíll remember the idea you had last week but are afraid to write.  See? 

Good old fear and lack of confidence are the best idea-stoppers out there.  And every writer has to face them.  The good writers are the ones who learn how to step squarely into the quicksand of fear and come out alive.  Impossible, you say?  Iíll admit that it does seem like it when youíre having a slow, sticky, gummed-up idea day. 

The best advice I have ever heard is the simplest.  Write.  But what do you write when you are paralyzed by the stench of your own putrid ideas?  It might seem easier to just leave your desk, and sometimes that is the answer.  More often than not, though, I find myself facing a huge guilt fine later in the day if I take that tactic.  If you listen to the deep voice in your heart, (not the bratty one telling you that youíre a terrible writer) you will know whether or not you need to leave writing for another day and go seek sustenance for your soul.  If thereís a little wiggle of doubt down there in the bottom of your heart, itís that voice trying to tell you to stick with it, that you just need to shake things loose.

So what can you do when youíre not having a horrible day when you just have to quit, but youíre not having a good day either, or even a mediocre day?  Well, let me share with you some techniques designed to aim a stun gun at the bratty little voice.

  1. Put the pen in your non-dominant hand.  For me, itís my left.  When I write left-handed, it is with a third-graderís scrawl.  Writing with your non-dominant hand can get you in touch with the child in you, the child who wasnít afraid of blurting his ideas to the world, arms flung wide.  What does the child-you want to say today?  Listen.  Put his words down, caring nothing for form, grammar, spelling, or the lines on the paper. 


  1. Did you take a foreign language in school?  (I took French.)  Try writing in it now.  Donít worry if you think youíre getting it all wrongóthatís okay.  Put yourself in another country, and imagine you think in that language.  What are the words that come to your mind?  Try not to think English and then translateótry to feel the language and what you want to say in it.  Donít know a foreign language at all?  Try getting a book about one youíve always wanted to learn.  Look up words, phrases, whatever you need to write something in that language.  If all else fails, make up your own language.  Again, donít translate.  Become the alien on Mars who speaks that language, and just write.


  1. Type with only one finger.  To make it especially challenging, choose the pinky.  Tie one hand behind your back if you have to, but set the timer for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes.  You MUST write something until it beeps. 


  1. Write down the first twenty words that come to mind.  Quick!  Now, set the timer again.  Begin writing.  This time, though, you may only use those twenty words.  Any combination, anything, but only those words.


  1. Set your timer to buzz every thirty seconds.  Give yourself a topicóanything will do, such as why you hate rye bread, or what your favorite pizza toppings are.  Keep going despite the irritating interruptions.  If you donít have a timer that will buzz at intervals, then use something that will interrupt your train of thoughtóloud heavy metal music, an irritating noise, anything that you can think of.  You must write at least three paragraphs despite the intrusions.

If youíre wondering what on Earth these exercises have in common, Iíll let you in on the secret.  They are all designed to make writing so difficult that you are forced into absolute concentration.  Your brain will have left its rut for some serious four-wheel driving.  Not only that, but you will be forced to think in new and different ways, to use different parts of your brain.  You are shuffling your ideas like cards, and a new one is bound to end up on top.  You are forced to concentrate in a way that you canít when you are writing in a normal fashion.  You will not have room in your brain to think about how awful your writing is.  All of your brainpower is going toward just getting the actual act of writing to happen.  

Also, you may find that your ideas are flowing faster than you are physically able to write them, especially with exercise number three.  By forcing your hands to slow down, you are opening the floodgates, and it is my guess that you will soon abandon the exercise so that your hands can keep up with your mind. 

When you create, your mind slips into a certain mode.  Sometimes itís not easy to get there, and you encounter resistance.  By taking a step towards this mode and forcing yourself into a deep concentration, you will find yourself on your way to unlocking the ideas.  Besides, Iíve discovered that after fifteen minutes of writing with my left hand, I am thankful to switch to my right.  It makes regular old writing seem that much easier, and I realize that it isnít, after all, the most difficult thing in the world. 

Abigail Steidley is a freelance writer based in Virginia Beach , VA.  




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