Guest Post: Something to Write About Nothing to Write

This post was written by @MatthewClyburn another former boss and great friend. He’s a CCSU PoliSci graduate and has taught me a lot about writing, editing and how to be a responsible adult.

If you’re a writer, a time will come when you have nothing to write. This is a universal truth – whether you’re a reporter in the trenches churning out two stories a day, or a now-and-again blogger turning two posts a year. You’ll panic when there’s nothing to write. You’ll create sloppy pieces of scattered thoughts when there’s nothing to write. And worst of all, you’ll still write, even when there’s nothing to write.

In these moments of uncertainty, return to the fundamentals.

Take a shower.
When you’re in front of a computer screen – heck, when you’re in front of a typewriter or notepad – you’re in front of a world of distraction. Indeed, we pay a high price for modern tools of information and efficiency: anxiety and attention deficit disorder. The shower is a place where fear works in your favor. Mainly, it would be a much higher risk to use your iPhone in the shower than to spend five minutes without it. That’s coverage you can count on! A few minutes of thoughtful solitude, away from electronic devices and writing utensils, can do a world of good for your writing. To boot, people get their best ideas in the shower. In fact, I got my idea for giving you this idea in the shower. That’s unusually meta.

Read one chapter of a great novel.
Two things to note on this one. First, I did not say, “read a news article or a blog posting, or whatever-the-hell it is you usually write.” I also did not say, “read a factually inaccurate book by Bill O’Reilly about Abraham Lincoln.” Read the first chapter of a classic, solid, beautifully-written novel. Dickens usually does it for me, A Tale of Two Cities in particular. Second, I did not say read the next chapter of a book you’re already reading. Although the best storytelling belongs to the meaty middle section of any novel, the beginning of great literature demonstrates how to tell a great story. You’ll be reminded of the important foundation being laid out in the first chapter, and this foundation is critical to a well-constructed narrative. No matter what you write, you’re telling a story. Good storytellers need to create a narrative in the style of great storytellers, so simply pick up a book and start reading.

Call your mother.
Just great advice generally. Moms also have a knack for inspiring and/or annoying us. Use those times to look at yourself, your approach to interpersonal relationships, and your approach to writing. You also might score a real gem about the good old days, complete with tall tales of long distance phone call charges, video stores, and Herman Cain.

In line with the narrative theme, you’ll want to get a good look at some real characters. Perusing Facebook won’t do the trick here; our digital presence is often a caricatured version of ourselves. Get out into the world to watch your fellow homo sapiens in action. Accents, quirks, bad habits—these are all reminders of how humans act and how the human story is told. Great characters provide focus for your writing. If nothing else, you’ll be prompted to remember your most important character: the writer. Your style, your persona, and your personality are conveyed in your writing to great effect, for better or worse. Use your observations of real-world characters to determine the character you want to be. “Is this introduction an appropriate foundation for the story I’m trying to tell?” you should ask yourself. “Does the flow of this piece serve my objective, or delay it?” you may consider. Or, “will jokes about Bill O’Reilly and Herman Cain make the reader think I’m a Democrat?”

Finally, the best piece of advice I can provide for writers with nothing to write is this: write an article about writers that have nothing to write. You’ll end up just fine.

Want to read more from Matt? Check out his blog here. Look for my reaction post tomorrow!


One Response to Guest Post: Something to Write About Nothing to Write

  1. Pingback: Insert Idea Here « Just Starting Out

Leave a Reply

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

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: