It happens eventually to every writer, that moment when you stare at the blank page or screen and nothing comes out of the brain even with knocking and/or poking with sharp sticks. There are all kinds of ways to kick the recalcitrant brain pan into action, but here’s a really simple one:
Write by hand.
I have terrible penmanship. I always tell people the only time I ever had to stay after class was for my bad penmanship. It didn’t help. My hand writing is atrocious, but I love to write by hand especially with a nice pen. I left my fountain pens in New York — didn’t seem wise to bring ink on a airplane after all. But I just broke down and ordered a pen and some ink because I love the feel of writing with a fountain pen.
Letters forthcoming, everyone!
I’ve written a lot of things: books, essays, stories, conference papers, etc. Except for the short stories, almost everything began life as notes scribbled by hand on paper. Sometimes good old yellow pads, sometimes on envelopes or scraps of papers, and in the case of conference abstracts, almost always on the back or margin of meeting agendas.
There’s something different that happens when you put pen to paper. I type on this computer, the iPad, my phones all day long. I need to do it, my hand writing is often illegible especially when I’m rushing. But I know the brain thinks differently when I pick up a pen. Something gets unlocked. The speed and simplicity of typing is great when thoughts are flowing fast; when the words come with hesitation or uncertainty, the pen draws them out in the physical effort of making the letters manifest.
Try it: see if you can’t unlock the words with a pen in hand.
And happy birthday, Tom Stoppard!