Chopping Down on Writer’s Block

One of the biggest challenges for me as a writer is coming up with something worth writing about and more importantly, something others will find worth reading. Often times I notice that instead of working around that obstacle, I let it block me from writing anything, which isn’t good for someone who aspires to be a famous author one day. Working toward a minor in creative writing however challenges me to face my writer’s block everyday. It also allows me to explore other types of writing styles and techniques and how to incorporate the things I’m learning into my own style.

In one of my writing classes, I read a literacy narrative by Peter Elbow, an author of several books and papers and a retired English professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While discussing Elbow, my professor mentioned a writing concept Elbow commonly discusses: free writing. Free writing is an exercise where you set a time limit, however long or short you want. Find paper and something to write with, and then start writing whatever is on your mind. Your pen or pencil isn’t supposed to leave the paper until time runs out.

When I first heard about this, I honestly thought I would still have nothing interesting to write about. I thought there must be some rules or topic I had to use. Nope! The only thing you have to do is keep going. Don’t stop to re-read what you just wrote or edit. You just simply write whatever is on your mind – whether that is your opinion on Miley Cyrus, what you’ve done so far that day, or the fact that your hand hurts from writing. Just keep on writing. Trust me, you might be surprised to find out where this little exercise takes you. I certainly was! 

 

–Madeline Chambliss 

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Cliches, Tropes, and Overused Ideas, Oh My!

You know them, you hate them, you’ve used them. Just a few things to avoid to improve your writing and give you new ideas.

Overly Used Adverbs
I quickly and intelligently typed this creatively thought out blog and hurriedly posted it neatly on the nicely put together and beautifully designed web site.
Boy Meets Girl
Never heard that one before. Wait, yes, yes we have. In every chick flick and in books like those by Nicholas Sparks. This is a common idea and while entertaining, it is hard to do in a new and refreshing way. Find a new idea that can present a conflict and interest your audience. Just because everyone can relate to this does not mean it should be a go to topic.
Unrequited Love
Shakespeare’s been there and done that, as have many others. Don’t be one of them. This is an instant source of conflict so many turn to it as a story idea. I’d rather read a story about two people who are happily in love but have another great source of conflict. Be creative.
Feisty Female
Why so feisty? Many protagonists,not just female, are given strong and independent personalities. In life people are not always this way and it is important to give your characters realistic traits.
The Big Misunderstanding
It’s not what it looks like! Movies and tv shows are known for doing this more than books but it is still common. This is when the entire plot is changed by a misunderstanding or missed opportunity that can often be fixed easily. If the misunderstanding is so trivial it can be fixed with a phone call or text, find a deeper conflict.
Mean Girls
Girls are mean. No, they are not all blonde or cheerleaders, nor do they need to be in every story. This is common in teen fiction but the idea of the mean girl is seen frequently. There are frequently bad guys in stories but get creative with who yours are. Throw the story for a twist and make it someone no one expected.
Dead Parent
Parents do die. Perhaps not as frequently in life as in literature. Cinderella, Jane Eyre, and Wizard Of Oz are a few examples where the main characters parents are missing. This is an instant source of conflict or drama and can add depth to your story. It has been done many times though so you should possibly look for something new.

This is nowhere near all of the cliches that are seen frequently in literature. Here are some websites to give you a better idea of how not to use cliches, and a more comprehensive list of them:

Today’s Top News Stories

Child Becomes Youngest University Student, Throws Nut Into A Cup

LUANDA, ANGOLA—Although there has been much controversy with the diminished quality of the American education system, history was made in Luanda, Angola Thursday when 14-year-old Djimon Chumbra officially became the youngest student to be admitted to The University of Luanda, the country’s most prestigious and only university. Kandeh Bumkella spoke on behalf of the university’s acceptance committee when he explained that Chumbra passed the entrance exam with “flying colors” when she exemplified extraordinary skill at throwing a nut into a cup. She was also asked to take on the task of slitting a goat’s throat, releasing the blood into a gourd, and mixing it with the goat’s milk. Chumbra is looking forward to broadening her horizons and would like to someday be a successful accountant. Chumbra is excited about her first courses at The University of Luanda: An Introduction to Snare Building, The Fundamentals of Basket Weaving, Foods and Other Things That Look Nice But That You Will Never Get To Try, and Tactics of Avoiding Guerrilla Warfare 101.

Study Shows That Drinking Gasoline Will Not Prolong Life

CHICAGO—An official statement was released by Dr. Dimitri Nomochov Tuesday morning in Chicago in which he stated “we’re pretty much almost positive that gasoline has no benefit in prolonging human life and it’s probably not a great idea to drink it.” The statement follows after a period of ten years doing extensive research by Nomochov and his team at the American Institute of Experimental Research. Nomochov states that the team’s most recent experiment in which they paid several homeless Chicagoans to drink numerous cups of gasoline over a course of several days was the most revealing because several of the subjects became overcome with nausea and eventually unresponsive. When asked if they were one hundred percent certain of their find, Nomochov revealed that the team can no longer afford to carry on with the study since they spent most of their grant money on Mentos and Diet Coke.

Get Out of the Writing Rut: Writing Exercise

Have you ever wanted to write something, but as soon as you sit down inspiration simply will not come? Don’t fret. This is common for many writers, but to skip any future afternoons spent staring at the wall begging a muse to bestow you with a stroke of creative genius, I have included a writing exercise that I have used over the years to get out of a writing rut.

First, get four pieces of paper that are all different colors. If you do not have this take four different colored pens or markers and color the back of each sheet a different color.

Then take one of the sheets and cut it into four sections. On one section create a character including name and personality. On another section come up with a setting (a rural town in the middle of May, etc). On the third section write out a plot. On the final section write a specific mood you want the story to convey (happy, sad, mysterious, etc). Do this with the other three sheets, coming up with different characters, settings, plots, and moods each time.

Now take all the characters and put them in a hat, shoebox, anything that you can mix them up and choose one at random (No peeking!). Do this for the settings, plots, and moods, but be sure to put each section in a different box. Once you have chosen your four slips of paper make sure each piece of paper is a different color or has a different color dot.

You should have four story elements. Your challenge is to use these to come up with a story. Don’t be scared if they don’t make sense together, that’s the fun part.

Happy writing!

Writing Prompt

Wouldn’t it be nice every now and then to have something to use as sort of a springboard for creativity? Between school and work and the many other things that clutter our daily lives, sometimes it can be hard to find genuine inspiration, or to even think of ways to do so. That’s what we’re here for. Every week or so we’ll be posting a new writing prompt in case you’re one of the many that frequents that creative rut that so often comes with writing.  That said, to start off, today’s prompt is easy.

Take a poem you have already written and are not particularly fond of. Now, rearrange it any way that you want to. You may add or subtract words here or there, but try to do so infrequently. Make it an entirely different poem using the same words, just in a different pattern. See if you can become more satisfied with the poem simply by moving the words around.

This is actually a really great tip on how to improve or add a fresh perspective to your poetry, especially when you feel stuck or are unhappy with a poem you’re working on. In a poetry workshop class I had here at UTC, while workshop-ing one of my poems, my professor (the one and only Earl Braggs, to be exact), asked me to read a specific stanza of my poem backwards, that is, reading the last line first, the second-to-last line second, and so on, from the bottom up. Needless to say, it worked brilliantly, and to this day, that particular poem is saved with that revision.

So go ahead, try it! You never know what new things you might discover in something you’ve already written.