Writer’s block, artist’s block, whatever you want to call it, everyone has hit some kind of roadblock when trying to create something new. Except for Stephen King, who is apparently the Spiders Georg of writing—a Writers Georg, if you will. I’m not even kidding. During an interview with George R. R. Martin last year, Stephen King talked about his process of writing a book. Essentially, he works for three to four hours a day and churns out six pages in each of those three-to four-hour sessions—and not just any six pages. He produces six “clean” pages per day, which includes some level of revision and editing. And he does this every day without fail—except for the occasional doctor’s appointment or other unavoidable interruption—for however long it takes him to finish a manuscript. If you’re completely flabbergasted at the thought of being able to write like that for months at a time, you’re in good company. Even George R. R. Martin, in the same interview, describes writing as sometimes “-like constipation, and you write a sentence, and you hate the sentence, and you check your email, and you wonder if you had any talent after all, and maybe you should’ve been a plumber,” which I think we can all probably relate to a little more closely than Stephen King’s methodology.
All of this is an extended side note to say that Stephen King is an outlier and should not be counted in a statistical representation of how artists work. Whether we are writers, visual artists, musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, knitters, bakers, or heck, even just students trying to write an essay, we all know what it’s like to hit a wall. These walls can come up at any point in the creative process, from brainstorming initial ideas, to putting those ideas into effect, to crafting the finer details, to the final finishing touches. Sometimes our brains can be our worst enemies. But, unfortunately, we can’t all afford to be like George R. R. Martin and spend ten years writing our next book, either. We all have submission deadlines, commissions, and personal goals for finishing works in a timely manner. So how do we deal with our lack of inspiration without completely ignoring all our deadlines and responsibilities?
Everyone has their own preferred method of overcoming artist’s block: taking a walk, eating a snack, freewriting or sketching, staring off into space and chanting “come on brain, think good thoughts, come on brain, be so smart,” among others. My personal favorite method is pretty simple: being ridiculous. Take whatever it is that you’re working on, add some completely ridiculous element to it, and see where that takes you. Flip to a new page in your sketchbook, open a new Word document, grab some modeling clay, sit down at your piano or drumkit or whatever it is you play, then think up the stupidest, funniest thing off the top of your head and find a way to incorporate it into your work.
As a writer, I’ve found all sorts of ways to insert a little ridiculousness into my work. Once, during a conversation with a friend about an essay I had to write about a book I didn’t like, I made an offhand comment comparing the main character to Disney’s Aladdin. Two days later, I turned in an essay making the same comparison—yes, I compared Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence to a Disney movie, and yes, I spent the entire process of writing and submitting the essay asking myself what the hell am I doing? But hey, I got a 90% on the essay, so it turned out okay! In a different class, I had to respond to a poem we’d read about a flea, so I wrote a poem of my own about mosquitoes and how much they suck (get it?). I’ve added dragons into stories where I previously had no other fantastical elements, because what story wouldn’t be improved with the addition of dragons; I’ve written a story where the narrator told the reader what to do, because I saw an assignment sheet that said fiction couldn’t be written in second person and got stubborn about it; I’ve written a poem that was two pages long, single spaced, and all of eleven sentences, just to see if I could; I’ve even added memes to a blog post and then referenced my decision to do so in the blog post itself, because who doesn’t love getting meta? The ridiculousness could be as small as a sentence or two, or as big as the entire structure of your work, or anything in between.
As a fun revision exercise for a poetry class not long ago, my professor had a similar idea about getting weird and ridiculous. She had us add ridiculousness into each other’s poems: we each wrote one or two random fantastical plot twists then grabbed one at random to incorporate into our own poem. I ended up trying to add both a frog prince and a bright green pair of boxer shorts into a poem that was previously all about snow. And the weird thing was, it worked—well, the frog prince did; the boxers, not so much. Like I said before, not all ridiculous ideas will work for every piece. Sometimes, just the exercise of forcing yourself to think outside the box will be enough to get your creativity flowing again. Either way, it’s a fun break from the boring and ordinary ways of doing things.
Maybe this process won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s always worth a try. The worst that could happen would be that you have a little bit of fun brainstorming dumb things to add to your work. The next time you hit a wall in your creative process, just think up some completely ridiculous ideas for your project and go nuts with them. And above all, don’t forget to submit your finished product to genesis!
You can check out the full interview between George R R Martin and Stephen King here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_PBqSPNTfg
And here is the snippet at the end of the interview in which Stephen King describes his six-page-a-day process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR7XMkjDGw0