Looking Out the Window . . . Or, the Cure for Writer’s Block?

It was difficult to feel motivated, and I don’t think I was the only person in the class who felt that way.  Fellow students yawned, fidgeted.  A couple of times, the professor, a tall, bespectacled brunette in her late forties, had to remind the class to focus on the discussion at hand.

tiredclass

 

The malaise was understandable, perhaps even unavoidable.  It was the first week of the spring semester, which in itself seemed a cruel joke.  Spring?  It was the end of January, and outside, a soft snow was falling from clouds the color of ash.  The temperature had been stuck several degrees below freezing for days, and the sun, a shy, long-lost acquaintance, seemed perpetually hidden.

Western New York State in midwinter . . .

nyjanuary

 

“So,” the professor said, her voice high, energetic.  No doubt she sensed that she needed to inject some much-needed enthusiasm into the classroom.  “Today I want to talk about writer’s block.  We’ve all been there before, am I right?”  Nods, faint murmerings from the class.  “Well . . . when you want to write something, and you just can’t seem to, what do you do?”

writersblock

 

One girl raised her hand and said she just waits it out.  Ideas come when they will come, she said.  I nodded.  I had tried to force-feed ideas in the past, but it never worked.  The creative process was a mystery.  It wasn’t something you could order around.  It was the one in charge.  Not me.

creativity

 

The professor didn’t agree.

“Look outside,” she said.  “Everyone.  Look out the window.”  Heads turned, slowly, and I overheard one student behind me whisper to herself that she needed another cup of coffee.  It was an early morning class on top of everything else.

coffee

 

“Now,” the professor continued.  “I want you all to describe what you see.”

Blank looks and an audible grunt from one guy who looked as if he’d literally stumbled out of bed two minutes before the start of class greeted her direction.

“In your notebooks, write what you see through the window,” she went on.  “Just a single paragraph.  But in that paragraph, I want you to paint a picture.  Create a mood.  Get those writer’s muscles working!  I’ll write something up, too.”

One girl asked if we’d all have to share our literary creations with the rest of the class.  The professor rolled her eyes behind the lenses of her glasses, and shook her head.  “Only if you want to.”  The girl breathed a sigh of relief.

I peered out the window, taking in the scene.  The classroom overlooked a snow-covered expanse interspersed with walkways and dotted with maple trees, stripped bare for the winter.  This section of campus was presently empty, the early hour and cold, snowy weather keeping students and faculty inside.

mapletree

 

One tree in particular caught my eye.  It stood perhaps twenty feet beyond the window, its limbs reaching up into the white, wintry haze.  The trunk was large, solid–I estimated it must have been there a hundred years, if not more, an ancient guardian, a sentry of the walkways and classrooms within its watch.  A crow, cawing as it flew (or so I imagined through the closed window), landed on a branch, its black feathers bold against the whites and grays of a Rochester January.

crow

 

I stared at the crow, thinking, imagining, and began to write . . .

“In the maple that has been here so long, no one alive can remember its absence, a crow perches.  Midnight black on slate gray.  What secrets does the tree know?  What hushed conversations has it overheard?  What conspiracies has it been privy to?  It stands and watches.  And listens, listens . . .  Not eternal, perhaps.  But enduring.  The bird flies away.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it had sensed something in the tree.  A knowledge, maybe.  A probing . . . as if its innermost being, its secrets tucked away in a quiet corner of its black heart were being exposed, one by wintry one . . .”

I never did share that paragraph with my classmates.  And, truth be told, I’m not sure it should see the light of day now!  But it illustrates the point the professor was trying to make that day.  If you observe the simplest thing and decide to write a paragraph, or a page, about it, you can escape the creative logjam you might be in and ride with the river’s current.  Sometimes the current is slow, winding, hesitant.  Sometimes it rushes headlong toward some unknown destination, full of promise and optimism.  Either way, however, you are moving, not stuck in the mire and muck of writer’s block.

river

 

While the scene you describe may not find its way into a short story or chapter (though it might!), it very well may kindle the flame of an idea, kick-start a story line, or help you to navigate the maze of the novel you’re working on.

maze

 

There were times while writing The Eye-Dancers that I did indeed feel stuck.  What should happen next?  Sometimes your characters act in the most unpredictable ways!  That’s generally a good thing, except for when they act so unpredictably they cause you, the author, to question the next scene, or peer ahead, bleary-eyed and overwhelmed, not sure where the story should journey next, or if it should even be completed at all.

writersblock2

 

And for me, these creative crisis points are the moments when I need to remind myself to step back, take a breath–and write.  Create something fresh and new, completely unrelated to the work-in-progress that has me bogged down and frustrated.

Because whether you live in upstate New York as I once did, or northern New England as I do now, where the January landscape is a black-and-white photograph, the snowdrifts deep, the wind a serrated knife, the growth and renewal of spring seemingly a lifetime away; whether you live by the sea in a sunny, mild climate, the sound of the waves an echo from some long-ago century; or whether you live on a farm or in a bustling downtown, or on the outskirts of a Norman Rockwell-esque village, there is always something to watch, to hear, to contemplate.

rockwell

 

All you have to do is look out the window . . .

window

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

68 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurel Leigh
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 18:51:15

    Nice post, Mike. Love the pics! Windows are critical, aren’t they? My friends and I often pick our coffee shops, where we write, by the view out the window.

    Reply

  2. greenlightlady
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 18:58:20

    Thank you, Mike, for such an inspirational post. I will now stop procrastinating on a little project I started and will go get writing. 🙂

    Blessings for 2014 ~ Wendy

    Reply

  3. merrildsmith
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 19:06:20

    I loved this one, Mike. Thanks for the inspirational pick-me-up–and the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon! I’ll get back to work now. 🙂

    Reply

  4. paekthoven
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 19:23:44

    Excellent post, Mike! I enjoyed it and may have found a remedy to my frequently occurring problem. I plan on blogging tonight, and I would like to give this a try should I hit that logjam. After all, it snowed a lot last night and I actually have some beauty to look at out the window. But I would like to ask a question: when you free yourself from the writer’s block, you sometimes have too many diverse ideas flowing uncontrollably that you just don’t know where to begin or what ideas to filter out. In that case, how do you go about writing?

    Also, I am very interested in reading your novel, The Eye-Dancers, after I finish the book that I am currently reading. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading your posts!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 07, 2014 @ 19:46:43

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you’d like to read The Eye-Dancers.:) As for the problem of sifting through so many diverse ideas, hmm . . . that’s an interesting one. When you think of it, though, it’s a good problem to have! Much better than writer’s block. The short answer would be–of those ideas floating around, is there one in particular that really grabs you, one that needs to come out? Start with that one . . .

      Reply

    • 'CC' Richards, Daytripper Sippers
      Jan 08, 2014 @ 05:44:36

      Hi paekthoven. You can also just write everything down. No holds barred. No censoring or monitoring.
      When the muse is done with you, if you still don’t know which direction to take, go do something else. The mind will work on it in the background anyway…like dreaming. Nothing is wasted. Nothing lost.
      Trust that it will come out when it needs to, how it needs to. Don’t force it. Let it flow.
      Then go back, read, and shape it. It will grow from the mass organically when the flurry has settled.

      Reply

  5. Letizia
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 19:33:11

    Love this story and your reaction to your prof’s prompt. Happy new year to you!

    Reply

  6. BroadBlogs
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 20:00:03

    Love this:

    “In the maple that has been here so long, no one alive can remember its absence, a crow perches. Midnight black on slate gray. What secrets does the tree know? …”

    Reply

  7. Bonnie Marshall
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 23:28:49

    Almost…almost worth the good feeling when the block breaks. )

    Reply

  8. Lyn
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 23:44:41

    Great post, Mike! That one paragraph has great potential for a complete book.

    Reply

  9. honey
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 00:13:47

    Awww Calvin and Hobbes, The Twilight Zone… I really think you need to meet my son. As always a thoughtful read.

    Reply

  10. jjspina
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 00:37:01

    Another winning post, my friend! Thank you. You are amazing how you come up with your fascinating posts! Love your blog!

    Reply

  11. thisisyourbestyear
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 00:57:19

    Wonderful pictures, and a post that I sometimes need.

    Reply

  12. Eric Alagan
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 01:57:42

    Interesting approach to tackling writer’s block. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Reply

  13. insearchofitall
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 04:19:40

    Good inspirational piece. Guess we all have to get to work now. I take a walk if I’m stuck. Getting out and changing routine help too. Thanks. Happy New Year.

    Reply

  14. Harliqueen
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 17:23:56

    Brilliant post! The pictures went with it really well.

    Reply

  15. Francina
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 17:49:57

    Interesting approach and solid advice. Wonderfully written, Mike.

    Reply

  16. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 19:09:35

    Well done Mike!! Happy New Year.

    Reply

  17. Meredith
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 19:48:54

    Thanks for that bit of inspiration. Now in the depths of what’s proving to be a very harsh Minnesota winter I hope my days at the keyboard will be productive. If not, I’ll just look out my window…

    Reply

  18. Joanna
    Jan 04, 2014 @ 21:41:21

    Thanks for another great post. All the best for 2014.

    Reply

  19. Fashion Mayann
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 13:48:43

    This is truly inspirational because it shows how a simple vision can offer endless possibilities in our imagination ! That’s really refreshing to start the year reading this, and very motivating too ! Thanks for this !

    Reply

  20. isabelburt
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 19:37:23

    Where did you get that picture? Love it 🙂

    Reply

  21. Jane Dougherty
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 08:30:23

    Good, common sense, Mike. It has served you well. Happy New Year!

    Reply

  22. Sam Han
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 20:28:07

    Great post Mike! I was staring at the coffee, too, lol… You write very well. I admire your work here. If only I could express myself simply but I think being a good writer like yourself is a talent not everyone possess. It is a joy to read your pieces.
    Happy New Year and looking forward to more of your insightful posts. I take a piece of knowledge each time 😀

    Reply

  23. laurie27wsmith
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 22:08:58

    I have a couple of windows to stare out of, the view never changes, it’s what happens with the mind that stirs the writing juices. Great post BTW Mike.
    Laurie.

    Reply

  24. Antionette Blake
    Jan 07, 2014 @ 22:30:01

    So true, if we just slow down or stop and look out the window….

    Reply

  25. ptero9
    Jan 08, 2014 @ 15:18:34

    Very useful tip Michael and thoughtful of you to share it with us. Thank you and Best wishes for the New Year!
    Debra

    Reply

  26. 2embracethelight
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 00:58:52

    Thank you for sharing that. i find I often need changes in scenery. Even if the scenery is the same but one thing creates a new door to a new point of view. Keep on doing as well as you are.
    Yisraela

    Reply

  27. lscotthoughts
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 01:32:12

    What a great, inspirational post, Mike! I know I haven’t paid you as many visits as I’d like. But I do know that you’ve visited me many times, for which I am grateful. I can’t seem to catch up with everyone, along with family and work, so I apologize for my absence. But, I love what you’ve said here and your paragraph is wonderful, honestly! That’s such a great lesson to…to just look out the window and write a paragraph. Who knows the creative possibilities just waiting to be written? Anyway, thank you, because as of now, I’m experiencing a little bit of a block since my last post featuring my Dad. 🙂
    Take care and wishing you a wonderful new year!
    Lauren

    Reply

  28. dannadesigns
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 03:36:23

    Great post….hope your new year is off to a fabulous start!

    Reply

  29. FreeRangeCow
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 17:51:07

    I also do the strangest thing…take a shower. For some reason the spray of water on my back helps my mind release to new places. I.Am.Strange. Excellent post!

    Reply

  30. stockdalewolfe
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 18:58:49

    I meditate. But lately nothing is working. I don’t even want to write. Maybe I could write about that. In hoping to jump start my imagination I am posting a piece totally unrelated to what my blog is about. Anyhow I enjoyed this post a lot, and as usual, want to thank you for your encouragement and support all the time. You have a natural flair and style and it comes out in your posts. It is like you are talking to me.

    Reply

  31. stormy1812
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 17:10:00

    Gosh – I’ve had so much going on workwise, etc., I hadn’t realized how far behind I’d fallen in keeping up over here and that’s a shame. This is a wonderful post and certainly pertinent to me right now. With work and my blog, I just feel “tired.” The ideas are slow and feels like it’s being forced. I feel like I’m just writing the same thing over and over – it’s so boring. You have a great approach and something I’ll have to be sure to use. Personally, I really like the line “no one alive can remember its absence.” Thanks for sharing your ideas – I know it’ll help me. 🙂

    Reply

  32. Karen's Nature Art
    Jan 18, 2014 @ 00:55:17

    This post is very pertinent to where I am right now…and I may not have looked out a window, but I did start a new project and that has helped tremendously. Wish I’d read this earlier 🙂

    Reply

  33. evelyneholingue
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 20:15:26

    You are prolific, persistent and generous. I wish you well with your writing.
    Cheers,

    Reply

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