This post is both a shameless self-promotion (it’s my blog, so where else would I do this, right?) and hopefully something for you writers out there to think about when it comes to writer’s block. A week ago I participated in the Fifth Annual Sledgehammer Writing Contest. The contest combines a scavenger hunt with a 36-hour creative writing competition. The goal of the contest is to creatively inspire writers to break through their writer’s block (hence the sledgehammer).
The scavenger hunt led participants to four locations in Portland where we picked up four different writing prompts. The prompts were:
Setting: a meeting of a subversive group
Character: a police station clerk
Action: tightening a knot
Object: decorative songbirds made out of old vinyl records
The meeting of the subversive group and the police station clerk immediately frightened me. These seemed like two things I would never write about, and they both reminded me of something that would be in a crime thriller. Once we finished the scavenger hunt, my friend (and fellow participant) and I sat down to brainstorm. When we started talking about subversive groups, he mentioned anarchists. He also had the initial idea to write about a female rock band. These two ideas, combined with the group of women who walked into the bar where we were brainstorming (who looked like a female band/anarchist group) combined to give me the foundation of my story, “Hooliganism.”
I wanted the story to begin with a lighthearted tone. The main characters are teenagers–listless, on summer vacation, and looking for something to do. By the story’s end, the plot has taken a turn and a dark reveal is made. I feel proud of how the story turned out, especially considering that I churned it out in less than 36 hours. Had it not been for this competition, I probably never would have come up with the idea for the story.
That is what was so great about competing in this contest (the prize packages for the winning stories don’t hurt either): through a fun activity and a series of writing prompts I wouldn’t have considered on my own, I was able to come up with a brand new story. In a weekend!
Writer’s block falls on all of us writers at some point or another. That’s why I am thankful for opportunities like the Sledgehammer Contest. I highly recommend you try something like this. The contest may be over, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try these writing prompts out yourself. Or attend a workshop. Or sign up for a newsletter that gives writing prompts. Pacific Northwest writer Midge Raymond has a newsletter that always comes with a writing tip and prompt (go here to sign up: http://www.midgeraymond.com/subscribe.html).
I also suggest trying out a rigid self-imposed deadline. I write the occasional newspaper article at PSU, and I love writing under a deadline because it means I can’t procrastinate. Try the 36-hour challenge yourself some upcoming fall weekend when the weather forces you to stay inside. You don’t have to use the same prompts, but I guarantee you will be proud of yourself if you finish (the first draft of) a short story in one weekend. The last time I rode the bus between my hometown of Yakima, Washington to Seattle, I made myself write a story in that three-hour time frame. The idea came to me while in Yakima, and I knew that if I didn’t give myself a deadline, I’d put the idea aside once I returned to work and school and real life (and all the other things that get in the way of our writing).
So try something, anything to beat that writer’s block. Sometimes you have to get creative to get over the fear of the blank computer screen.
And if you’re feeling especially kind after breaking through your writer’s block, please visit http://sledgehammercontest.com/, read my contest entry “Hooliganism,” and vote for me to win the Reader’s Choice Award.