Writer’s block: it comes to us all. Despite the fact that I churned out a little over a thousand words in less than four hours yesterday, today I found myself with nothing to say.
It’s times like these when I’m really grateful that I went to theatre school. Anyone who says a drama degree will not help you in “real life” clearly has never held a drama degree. In this case, it was a trick for character that was taught to me by several different people in several different contexts: stream of consciousness writing.
The basic idea in drama terms is that you can create an awful lot of character history and really “get inside” a character simultaneously by writing, non-stop, for about ten minutes. I’ve also seen this used as a creative writing exercise. You start from a single word, phrase, or idea and simply write whatever comes into your head for the duration of the exercise. For me, the first minute’s worth of writing is usually complete nonsense or, in the case of my first go at this technique, comments on how stupid and useless the exercise will be. But eventually, faced by ten uninterrupted minutes of constant writing, I begin to settle into the exercise and just let my mind wander where it will. Amazingly, it usually wanders on-topic and brings up bits of research I’d forgotten or connections that I hadn’t consciously realised were there.
Of course, the writing style is very casual and sometimes completely fragmented; you can’t actually use the product of stream-of-consciousness writing as anything more than a starting point. But it certainly does help to get the ball rolling, particularly when I’m really struggling just to start something. I’ve found it equally useful for writing papers, working through a character, and solidifying ideas for a production I’m directing. It’s almost like mind-mapping (which I also love!), but with a more linear structure.
Who ever said drama training wasn’t useful??