Some simple writing tips to blast through writer’s block and help people get the words out running in their head.
When I was in school, I wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to write stories, crazy stories, and I daydreamed all the time. In school, I was able to express myself rather well, at least my English teachers told me I could. My writing style was never classical, but I would find some innovative tidbit and then I would interpret it through my wild imagination. I even held on to some of my favorite papers from high school and college.
But somewhere down the line, I lost my writing touch. My first job out of college was working at an advertising agency. I moved up fast and spent my days as an account executive. I was talking on the phone ALL DAY LONG.
That job made me LOATHE talking. Seriously. Loathe it. I still avoid the phone today. Many times, my husband has to pull the words out of my mouth. But then again, he talks way more than I ever could!
For my inability to complete a thought coherently, I blame my children. All you mothers out there know what I mean. Years of being interrupted, sleep deprived and overall bouncing all over the place has taken it’s toll on my communication skills and my lack of train of thought.
“But you write a blog?”
Yeah, you see my conundrum?
Creating recipes is easy. Photographing my creations is my play time. But then I sit down in front of the computer, tired, frustrated and with a completely empty mind.
So when I found out that Dianne Jacob was going to speak at IFBC this year, I knew I had to attend her seminar. I read her blog all the time. Her book, Will Write for Food, was instrumental in the development of my olive oil cookbook. My friends Liz and Lisa took Dianne’s workshop in San Diego and felt their writing had transformed afterwards.
I wanted to transform, too.
If you have never had the opportunity to take one of Dianne’s workshops, I strongly recommend it. At IFBC, her talk was only an hour, but the time flew by fast, even for me, the non-writer.
Dianne opened the seminar with this:
Adjectives are the crack of food writing.”
Okay, mind blown. YES! YES! YES! Dianne continued on with her writing tips.
We were encouraged to go beyond “delicious” and “yummy” and use powerful action verbs.
Don’t just describe the food, but evoke imagery and create a mood.
When adjectives don’t come to you, use metaphors, analogies and similes.
Try using contrast to highlight your subject.
Use your other senses, besides taste, to describe food.
Include memories, a family story to convey your message to your readers.
I sat in class and took all of these tips to heart. Then we had the writing exercises. Dianne instructed us to write for 10 minutes about the lunch we ate that day. I was sitting with my lunch companions, and we three ate the same meal – one of the best Ciopinnos I ever ate. Ever.
But, our writings were light years apart. I admit it. I was jealous of how easy writing came to people. I sulked in my chair as I heard volunteers read their stories. (click here to read Lisa’s beautiful story about our ciopinno lunch!)
For the next exercise, Dianne handed out some snacks from the swag fest of the other night. Some tables received cookies. At my table, we each got an almond. A dry, bland, gag-enducing almond. I threw my pen down. I couldn’t do the exercise. I was not inspired. I fiddled in my chair, doodled, wrote some garbage and pulled out my phone. I took a picture of the those blasted almonds.
“Dammit,” I told myself, “I’m a visual person. I can’t write.”
Volunteers read their mind-blowing, 10-minute James Beard worthy narratives. I sat and stewed.
Our seminar was winding down and the final questions were being asked. Exasperated, I raised my hand.
Somehow, I stammered out my problem, which I cannot quote, because again, words were not coming to me easily. But I managed to ask, in a roundabout way,
What advice do you have for a visual person who sits down in front of a blank computer screen and can not find the words to write?”
The following advice came from Dianne and the audience.
Some like to speak when they “write” and use software to transcribe their words. I was also encouraged to speak my thoughts out loud, as listening to your words gives you different insight.
Another suggestion was to write bullet points while developing and photographing a recipe and to use those notes when writing a post. Brilliant!
Dianne encouraged us to write that “shitty first draft.” The idea is that you start the process and throw out the work. Even return to it the next day. You second draft will be easier to write and much improved.
I was also advised to work on small writing exercises every day. Similar to what we did in class, write about lunch, my kids, my favorite shoes, anything subject at all, but to use the tools that Dianne suggested every day.
The last advice was really motivational – the inner critic. I had mentioned that I could not describe my amazing lunch the way that my friend, Lisa, did that day. Ooooh. That whole comparing oneself to others. The inner critic can be helpful if you strive to do better. But when it stifles you from moving forward, then the inner critic needs to be shoved aside and ignored. Stop worrying about what the other guy or gal is writing and just write.
After class, many people came up to me and thanked me for asking my question. Somehow, I inspired others. Quite honestly, I was embarrassed with my problem and question. But I soon learned that I was not alone. And that made writing less daunting in my eyes.
It took me over a week to write this post. I took all of these writing tips to heart and knew I would share it with all of you. I hope it helps you blast through your writer’s block and pull out the words that are running rampant in your head.