Word Drought

Imagine you have just completed a written work, a marvellous profusion of prose or poetry. It has been well received and now, the next day, you are wanting to start something new. You sit in front of your notebook or laptop facing a blank page. A blank page empty as a salt flat. A boundless space without a single word on it and no sign as to where you should go. You are in a word drought.

In this blog, I give some thoughts on how you might break this drought by going out into the world and opening yourself to thought processes like the following:

Being a keen observer. Observe your surroundings attentively. Be alert across all of your senses. Put down the twinkling detritus of technology, your senses are of this world. Be open to thinking from different spatial perspectives. Be aware of your feelings and those of others around you. There are fields of nouns and adjectives blowing in the breeze.

By not thinking. Paradoxically, try to empty your mind of the day’s concerns. Use whatever technique you are most comfortable with, either mindfulness or non-stimulating music to slow down your rational thinking process and let your subconscious surface. Many writers like going for a walk without music, for example, on beaches or through forests.

Thinking of context. Be curious: ask the why, when, where, what and who of your surroundings. Ask yourself what else is like this or that? Some teachers I have spoken to have confided that they find the degree of curiosity has diminished in their students in recent years, that the desire to seek out other examples of items of interest has been subsumed by algorithms, becoming a passive receiver of suggestions rather than an active curiosity-driven researcher. Is this true? Question the history of your surroundings, its operation. Be an active observer. Here you may find metaphors that can populate your work.

Relational thinking. Look for anomalies, anachronism, unusual inter-relationships or juxtapositions that jar. Look for patterns and details others may not have seen. From in amongst all these thoughts eventually may spring new ideas or narratives and then the words will come.

De-familiarisation. Further, think of ways you could make the familiar unfamiliar. Note how mythologies and nursery rhymes do this through making everyday situations striking and memorable. The ultimate step in this direction is the creation of fantasy worlds, which should still say something about reality.

Then, when you have a seed of an idea, you should marshal your vocabulary, all those thousands of words, and start to make notes again. Don’t worry about correctness at this stage, just collect ideas, phrases, and words. Dictionaries and a thesaurus may be useful companions for this part of journey.

All these weapons may help you in your assault on the feared blank page. Your prize is prose, poetry, and, in particular, the special intensity of the sonnet. In my next blog, I’ll talk about approaches during the next step of creation when the drought has broken.

20210927 Word Drought - Crop and title

One thought on “Word Drought

  1. Being a keen observer, you say. Yes, that can be very productive. That new great novelist Sally Rooney is extremely observant. In fact, her novels seem to be more about close observation than about plot — and they are fascinating.

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