blocked!I’ve been experiencing a bit of picture book writer’s block.

This is unusual for me. I haven’t been seriously blocked about anything writer-ish since the late 1990s. That was when I accepted a job as a newspaper reporter. On my first day of work, I was told that in order to avoid getting fired I needed to crank out six researched stories every week (“And that’s the minimum,” my cantankerous editor, Jack Carle, would grumble). Writer’s block was a luxury I could no longer afford.

As a consequence, I developed an ability to find stories even when a story was barely there. In other words, I learned how to pull a story outta my butt.

This “everything’s a story” mindset soon trickled down to my independent writing, too. I’d crank stuff out at work and — still high on adrenaline (and six-to-eight cups of coffee) — I’d race home to crank something out for me.

But things change. I’m getting older. The Oh-My-God-I-Need-This-Job-So-I-Can-Move-Outta-My-Parents’-House level of urgency is gone. And my bossy, petulant lower intestine will no longer allow me to drink six cups of coffee.

So, writer’s block was bound to happen. And nothing makes me crabbier.

How could I not be crabby? I’ve been unfocused and adrift. I’ve started stories only to abandon them midway through a first draft. I come up with great ideas that seem a bit too similar to other people’s already-published great ideas. So I sit and flail about, pursue a few more false starts, utter a few choice words, and feel the crabbiness build.

When the words don’t come, I take some comfort in straightening the house. Ellen and Alex are fond of creating piles of stuff, so there’s always something to straighten somewhere.

And, through this incessant straightening, I found the means to get back on track.

One day, when I was dumping some of Alex’s many, many scattered papers into his desk, I found this little thing staring up at me.

Silly Starters

It’s a story-generating flipbook for kids. Ellen bought it for Alex a few years ago in the hope it would spark an interest in writing. It didn’t. Not by a long shot.

But could it work for me?

Why yes. Yes it could.

Silly Starters 1

Silly Starters 3Silly Starters 4As I flipped around at random, I could almost feel my brain yanking itself out of its stagnant oobleck. And while there’s little chance of getting a publisher interested in a pop ditty about a telepathic mall, that’s not really the point.

Writing for kids requires a bit silliness, I think. When I had my blockage I was anything but. But now, as I putter around writing stories about singing backpacks and hamburgers that can grant wishes, I can feel the silliness seeping back into my soul.

I don’t have a new PB manuscript yet, but I know I will soon. Things are gonna be OK.

So! How do you unblock your writers block?

93 Replies to “Blockedbuster”

  1. What a fun inspiration book that is!

    I think I did a Limebird post a while back about unblocking writers block. I don’t do much fiction writing but I needed some tactics when doing NaNo. I like to just throw something completely random into the story, like the building across the street suddenly explodes, or an alien craft lands in front of the main character, or something from a different time period, like if it’s a historical novel, they open a drawer and come across an ipad. Then I can just write about how the characters respond this unexpected event. It no doubt won’t stay in the final story because it’s way off piste, but it allows you to have bit of fun with the characters and usually stimulates some ideas about where you might take them. It definitely gets you writing anyway!

    1. Welcome, Laura! But why are you hiding from your notebook in shame? Are you not prompted by your own prompts?

      Here’s one for you: Write about a capybara who works as an accountant for the mafia.

      No need to thank me!

  2. What a great idea that book is, no matter who ends up using it. I wish they had one for thrillers. 😉

    I haven’t yet had writer’s block. But now that I’ve said that, it’s no doubt around the corner.

    1. Carrie, make one for thrillers and market it. Pull ideas from books you’ve read. Kids are a great source of ideas, mysterious creatures that they are. Would be quite sellable (teachers are always looking for ides…and writers) Could even be a magazine article on spurring creativity. (Like you have vast amounts of spare time HA HA)

      1. That’s actually a great idea! You always have good ones. But you’re right–it’s the time thing. But a little bit each day might get me there. I’ll collaborate with you on the zoological outbreaks. 😉

  3. Drifting and doing ordinary stuff is simply simmering. Your brain is working on something – it just needed something like the flip book to remind it that you should be let in on the idea in progress. Play is good for that.

  4. I am usually pretty lucky when I am blocked. I open my eyes a bit more to the things around me and something usually inspires me. It could be a comment in the grocery store, a bumper sticker or a strange formation of clouds. Let’s hope that luck continues!

  5. Organizing stuff is a really good form of procrastination because it lets your body do what your brain should be doing–putting stuff in the right places, even if the brain stuff would be words rather than papers and laundry. Failing that, I look for a good cartoon by YOU, Mike. More cartoooonz!

  6. I’m glad you got your mojo back, Mike. I want one of those thought starters! My grandson (who is almost 3) is in mega story-mode, and I run dry pretty quick after the 59th two-minute run of silliness. Hey, do you have any Allegra books appropriate for a 3-4 year old?

      1. That’s what I thought, middle grade. I’ll give the story a go, but heaven forbid he gets a taste of Marshmallow Fluff. My daughter feeds him seaweed and quinoa. He and I go for milkshakes on grammy day (and boy, do I get in trouble!). Thanks for the story!

      2. Oh, I do picture books, too. My children’s book is a PB, but is skews a bit older than 4 years old.

        And I salute you for being a good grandma. (Seaweed and quinoa? Isn’t that child abuse?)

    1. I liked the crabby bed, too. It needs to be cuddled at least eight hours a night or it spends all day in a very bad mood.

      I would be happy to do a swap with you! Let’s talk this time next month. I’ll have a polished something by then, I’m sure.

  7. I’ve always wanted to write about the guy with a special super power, which is the ability to CMD-Z real world situations. Undo your balls-ups, calamities and he first discovered it because he is a clumsy writer whom stumbles upon his super power whilst writing a novel. He spills his coffee all over his prized manuscript, ruining it. CMD-Z! Wow! I’ve restored it to normality!

  8. Nothing like a deadline to break through writer’s block. Love your comment about “learning how to pull a story outta my butt.” Haven’t heard that one before, but I love it because I get it. Remember my days as a newspaper reporter and having the deadline kept me my mind on fast forward. Kids books are different and it is easy to have so many distractions. I do have a stack of cards that jump-start me when I get stuck. Great post!

      1. I began as a rooky reporter covering the courts, PD, FD etc. But, my love was public affairs and feature writing and that was my focus for years. Also spent my years on the editorial desk (back when we had lead type). Then I moved into PR working for the Ohio Senate, but most of my career was spent doing PR and community relations for the USAF.

      2. Impressive resume! For my newspaper gig I was responsible for covering several small towns — so government stuff, crime, education, and feature-y stuff. I also did PR for a few years, but I didn’t really cotton to it.

      3. Sounded like we worked in similar areas. I miss those days — but not the haze of cigarette smoke in the back of the newsroom. PR came knocking at my door and the pay difference was so much more in the 70s. And, the excitement of working at the Senate was something I couldn’t walk away from.

  9. I suffer not from writer’s block–just the opposite. I have oodles of ideas and lots of finished products. I just get oh so tired of the boomerang game of sending them out to have them return. My children will have to deal with my bulging file of waiting-to-be published wonders. Cow jokes, Hamlet ponders and they like wait ever so patiently. Maybe I need to write about crabby beds. Now, that sounds like a hot seller. If pigeons can drive buses than beds can get crabby.

      1. It’s a fun one indeed. Check out the book trailer. Shakespeare is playing with his Star Wars collectibles. Shakesnerdery at its best!

  10. Smiling and frowning at the same time as I read about your ‘writer’s flu,’ (I kinda made that phrase up – when I can’t get the pen moving, my writing brain feels all feverish and achy). I wish you could take my creative writing classes. The (sometimes ridiculous) prompts cut up the block with precise incision, and we all end up writing with a terrific flow. (EX: Write a short story using only one syllable words with an opening line of …STOP, I SAID TO THE ONE EYED BEAST…) By the way, I’ve been asked to teach a creative writing class to a gaggle of 11-year-old girls this summer. I’m thinking I may need those Silly Starters. Wonder if they have them for Grades 4-6?

  11. Writer’s block is the worst. I have experienced it and I do not like it. Usually, I just put away my writing for a few days. Taking a complete break. If I have a deadline, then I will find short writing prompts to try to blast through the block.
    I hope you get past it soon.

      1. Very true. I find that just mentally working out stories or outlines in my head often gets the juices flowing again.
        But a deadline can be the best medicine.

  12. I hate writer’s block. Nothing worse than needing to write something and nothing makes sense. Switching to paper and pen sometimes works. Exercise of any kind helps, too. I love the flip book. I could immediately “see” a crowded mall with the walls knowing exactly what the people are thinking about. Now, is this a horror story or a comedy? I hope you’ve gotten over the crabs. 😉

  13. No no NO! You would NOT write a pop ditty about a telepathic mall – you’d write an introspective ballad, with rock hints! Use it to discuss how society has fallen! 😉
    I’m glad that you got out of your Writer’s Block. 🙂 I’m sure your family is, too. 😉

  14. Oddly enough…house cleaning or gardening get the writing juices flowing. Something about doing mindless work…stuff starts popping into mine. 😉

    Love the flip book! Often going to the most basic is the best solution.

  15. That’s great that you were able to use the kid-friendly prompts to get out of your writer’s block. Block be gone! I like to escape the house and go for a walk when I am in the midst of writers block. It’s a tough feeling when you just stare at the blank screen and your mind is even blanker… Ack I feel anxious now for some reason, hmmm… lol

  16. That is a very fun book.
    I’ve always been able to avoid the block by staring with dialogue. I go back and fill in later, but if I’m really struggling, that’s my go to. Oh, and absently staring into space at a cafe.

    1. Oh, I love working with dialogue,too. Before I wrote for children I was a playwright, getting my one acts produced on West 42nd Street.

      And staring into space while inhaling coffee is not without its merits, either.

  17. Dear island vacationers, I am an island in the land of Flip-it. I’d love for you to bring your family to visit. Everybody like to swim in the clear aqua water around my very deep palm trees and look for coconuts to bring back up on land for supper. It tickles in my tummy when people do that.
    (Now we know why I don’t write children’s books.)

Join the conversation! We're all friends here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: