Tag Archives: creative

My Secret Weapon for Overcoming Writer’s Block

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.If there is one tool that has helped me (or saved me, if you prefer) as a writer throughout my life, it’s placeholders.

When working on the draft version of a masterpiece, who hasn’t stopped and stared off into the distance, asking themselves, “What’s that word I’m looking for?”

It could be a more impactful word, a name, a place or a date. Sometimes it’s deciding what to name a new character that suddenly shows up like an unexpected guest while the story is being written.

The problem is when that process of pausing and staring off into the distance and going through the mental Rolodex doesn’t yield immediate answers. In particular, it’s when a few seconds turns into a few minutes or longer.

The challenge is when that little pause turns into a longer pause and the rest of the ideas stop flowing, becoming into a full-fledged shutdown.

…Writer’s block. It happens.

Having been in that situation often enough over the years, I had to figure out a solution, especially when there was an assistant at the door to my cubicle, tapping their toe waiting for a last-minute re-write of a response to an email that started with “Sorry for the short notice on this but…”

I was never scared off by literary emergencies like that. I actually thrived in them. I just needed to find a solution that maximized my output of ideas, maintained my flow and deferred any perceived obstacles.

Time has taught me that when more of the masterpiece has been created, with more context, my mental Rolodex kicks in just a little later with the perfect word. So if that’s how my mind works, why not work with that instead of against it?

To me, the answer is to only allow that moment of idling to last a few seconds.

The answer is to keep going, move on and continue as if I didn’t get stuck.

Moments of inspiration are very precious and can be easily sidetracked by any number of distractions. Word choice should not be one of them, otherwise many first drafts would never see the light of day as a final product.

However, dear friends, the danger is to forget to go back and to fill in the gap. For that reason, I leave a placeholder.

The placeholder can be whatever the writer wants it to be. It can be three dots. It can be the word “placeholder” itself. It could be TBD (“to be determined”). It could even be the word “pineapple” (Note: only applicable in a story not involving pineapples).

The point is to choose a placeholder completely out of context to the story to ensure that it stands out during the review and editing process.

In using placeholders, I have been able to keep drawing from the well of inspiration to keep tackling the other “knowns” of the story, and worrying later about the unknowns.

The first draft is about getting the ideas down. Word choice does not have to be perfect in round 1.

Later, with more of the story written and more context established, the perfect word usually finds me without as much struggle and without dwelling on that one word to the point of creating a dam of ideas.

It may sound simple, but in some of the collaborative writing assignments over the years, it drove me absolutely bonkers (sometimes to the point of exasperation) to see brilliant colleagues stuck on one word and production grinding to a standstill. Sometimes the suggestion of a placeholder worked, and sometimes it didn’t… human nature is what it is.

Placeholders have helped me to get out of my own way and to maintain my cadence, dealing with the easy words and ideas first, tackling the more challenging ones and the final polish later.

In doing so, placeholders have helped me to speed up production, to maintain confidence and to reach the finish line of written projects more expediently.

I guess those pressure cooker moments at the office paid off after all, in helping me find a solution to occasional writer’s block and in keeping the ideas flowing.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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How’s The Script Coming Along?

A close up shot of a computer keyboardWhen I retired from my government career, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to write, given the number of story ideas bubbling in my subconscious.

At about the eight-month mark, after clearing “The Backlog of Backlogs”, time and space finally opened up for me to venture boldly into the world of fiction. My first mission was to learn more about the screenwriting process itself.

I had already invested in a few books about screenwriting and was finally able to sit down and devour them, cover to cover. My reading was complemented by Master Class videos presented by renowned screenwriters, describing in glorious detail their creative processes. Next, I took to YouTube to find interviews with other writers to hear their personal stories about the process and the business.

After an intensive crash-course month, I felt that I had enough building blocks to get started. After all, it wasn’t like I was writing for the first time. In my back pocket I had a rich 33-year career of writing a variety of communication products, from different points of view, for different target audiences, under the tutelage of amazing mentors. Continue reading

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What Would My Contract Rider Contain?

Two bowls of M&Ms, one containing a variety of brightly coloured ones, and the other containing the brown ones that have been taken out.The first time I ever heard of a contract rider was back in the 1980’s, when I heard that in the tour contracts for rock band Van Halen, a clause stipulated that backstage, there needed to be a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones picked out.

A little over-the-top? Perhaps.

Author Steve Jones, provides more insight into the reason for this clause, in a fascinating article from Entrepreneur Magazine entitled: “No Brown M&M’s: What Van Halen’s Insane Contract Clause Teaches Entrepreneurs.” If you are interested in checking out the article, please click on the article’s title.

As celebrities progress through their meteoric rise to stardom, I think it is fair that their expectations when touring or on location should indeed be commensurate with the financial rewards they bring to the table.

Some requests may be very practical if they need to travel with family members or an entourage of staff.

Other requests might seem less practical, maybe bordering on the frivolous, but that would be a matter of opinion. I am certain that some celebrities make such requests to create the environment that ensures that they are at their creative peak and completely in the zone. Continue reading

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Deadlines: Friend or Foe?

After three decades working in the public sector, I am no stranger to deadlines.

Frankly, I don’t have a problem with them. If a colleague, a client or an executive needs quick information to enable them to take action, I am more than happy to make that happen.

I don’t know who hit the fast forward button in late 2012, but it seems that around that time deliverables seemed to increase in quantity and deadlines seemed to get progressively shorter.

I tried to adapt as best as I could and along the way, I noticed a contrast in how I was able to take some deadlines in stride while others had hair-raising, stress-provoking, anxiety-inducing effects.

For example, preparing briefing notes and status updates didn’t scare me. If I was actively involved in a file, describing its background, evolution and next steps seemed to come pretty naturally. To me, those were low-stress, easy deadlines to meet.

For the most part, solving client problems was also a straightforward process for me, a lot like solving math problems in school. I was pretty comfortable with those deadlines as well.

But surprisingly, it was the written assignments that were more of a wild card.

If a request was for something short, concise and to the point, I could usually pull that together in good time, no problem there. Continue reading

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What Am I Gonna Wear?

A few years back, I wrote a blog post called “My Writer’s Uniform” in which I speculated on what I might be wearing in retirement when I would be free from office dress codes and pursuing my life’s purpose in writing. Of course, the pandemic was nowhere on our radar at that time.

In 2020, when we started working from home due to the pandemic, the line between home life and work life quickly blurred. That being the case, I made a point of putting on jeans during working hours. When I was off the clock, I could relax and cozy up in my comfortable sweat pants and sweat shirts. In my mind, this helped with the boundary setting between work and home.

In 2021 when I retired, it came as no surprise that the sweats became the default outfit. After 33 years of getting dressed for work, I appreciated the break from the pressure of putting on the office “armour.” However, when I was making public appearances like in-person appointments or running errands, I was more than happy to build a comfortable outfit around my favourite jeans.

But it was early in 2022, when I knew it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and answer life’s calling in writing that the wardrobe question came up again. With this next phase in life just beginning, I could not imagine spending the next 30, 40 or 50 years in sweat pants. There had to be a happy medium.

As I was waking up one morning, I looked over at the sweat pant and sweat shirt ensemble I had hung on the door handle in preparation for that day. I asked myself, “Does this outfit really make me feel more creative?” Continue reading

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When I Don’t Feel Like Writing

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.Recently, someone asked me if I ever have a day when I don’t feel like writing. The answer is absolutely yes.

Even though writing is my reason for jumping out of bed in the morning, it is possible to have an off-day.

To put things in context, I’ve known for at least fifteen years that writing was my calling. Writing is one of the activities that I can count on that gives me energy rather than depletes it. Writing relaxes me. Writing makes me feel whole. Writing makes me feel like I am connected (and connecting) to something greater.

When I create something that has never been written before, I get a sensation that feels like a runner’s high. Writing gives me a sense of euphoria. This is what keeps me going.

Also, I am very fortunate that in the back of my mind, ideas are constantly churning, blog themes are constantly being pitched and my fictional works are evolving and maturing.

For these reasons, I never lose interest.

But do I ever wake up some mornings and not want to write? Sure, but I don’t question it. Even the most passionate of writers can have an off day. Continue reading

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The Origins of My “50 Reasons” Blog Posts

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee. Those who follow my blog regularly may have noticed that some of my blog posts have had titles starting with the number “50” and contained a list of fifty thoughts on a given topic.

For example, you might have read:

50 Reasons Why I Love Baking;
50 Reasons Why I Love Writing;
50 Reasons Why I Enjoy Running;
50 Reasons to Love Travel;
50 Reasons to Love Music;
50 Reasons to Love a Good Book;

How did this series of posts start?

There are some mornings when despite the best of intentions, I might be having a hard time getting into the flow of writing. When that happens, getting into a wrestling match with words before the coffee has properly kicked in sometimes feels like I am setting myself up for a struggle.

Starting with a more gentle writing activity where ideas can flow freely is one way that I can offset that struggle. Once the creative energy is flowing and momentum is building, I can then tackle more challenging writing tasks.

Coming up with fifty ideas on a given theme was the challenge I presented to myself to get the creative juices flowing. Continue reading

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The Writer’s Studio

I have always envied artists when they made reference to their “studio”.

When a recording artist referred to “time in the studio”, it always inspired me as that special place where the magic of creativity happened. It was the incubator where ideas were hatched and where new sounds were created. It was the place where the collective creativity of songwriters, producers, engineers, musicians and singers culminated in the birth of new musical material.

Similarly, when seeing visual artists working in their studio, it struck me as a sacred place that gave them a chance to play, to experiment and to work in their chosen medium, to translate vision, imagination and creativity into physical form.

It didn’t matter whether actors, photographers or fashion designers mentioned “studio”, the word itself was to me like an incantation invoking the spirit of the creative masters of the centuries. The term “studio” always gave me palpitations.

But I have often asked myself, “Do writers have studios too?”

Why shouldn’t they?

While on the one hand, I could refer to my writing room as an “office”, I just concluded a 33 year administrative career, working in offices. To me, the term office doesn’t necessarily associate itself to a space for deep creativity, but that’s just me and my baggage talking. Continue reading

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What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!” Continue reading

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My Past Adventures in Recording and Dictation Tools

A secondary part of the writing journey seems to be the constant hunt for the perfect writing tools.

While committing words to paper is a pretty simple concept, the multitude of ways one can capture, retrieve, store and rearrange story ideas is very impressive. When I find ways to make things run more smoothly, the opportunity to spend more time actually writing than “maintaining” becomes a joy in itself.

Audio recording devices have always interested me. I have often thought that a recording device of some sort could be helpful in trying to capture those random writing ideas that seemingly hit at the least opportune moments.

When I think of prolific writer Dame Barbara Cartland who dictated to a secretary and was able to produce some 723 books and 160 unpublished works over her lifetime, I dream of how much more efficient I could be if I could incorporate some sort of dictation tool in my process.

A couple of decades ago, when I was first aware of my leaning toward creative writing, I got a good deal on a microcassette recorder. I admit that I had grand visions of capturing ideas on the run like some sort of secret agent writer. It seemed like a good idea at the time but unfortunately the only thing that ran were the batteries, as it sat in a drawer, mostly unused.

While in principle a microcassette recorder made a lot of sense, when I tried it, I felt like Cindy Brady in the “Brady Bunch” episode when she was on the show “Quiz the Kids”. When I hit the record button, I froze up. I don’t know why it is, but over the course of many attempts, I only captured a few words and the tidal wave of ideas I was hoping for produced only a mild drizzle. Continue reading

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