Rochelle Melander

Rochelle MelanderRochelle Y. Melander is the author of Write-a-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It).

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

I try to avoid writer’s block. I depend on a few foundational practices to help me. First, I end each writing day with a sense of what I will write next day. If I am writing fiction, I know what scene I will work on. If I am writing nonfiction, I know what topic I will cover. In the best possible situation, I even jot down a few notes or ideas about the next day’s work, so that I am not facing a blank page. In the morning, I carry the scene or idea with me as I exercise. If I get a great idea, I might even make a note about it in my smart phone. When I get home from the gym, I write. I do not talk to my husband, check email, or log into Facebook. Once I have written, I can emerge and face the world. Because of this system, I rarely face writer’s block. When I do, I simply start writing about anything even if I don’t know what I am doing. Sometimes I use the writing prompts in #2 (below).

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

My absolute favorite writing prompts are the ones I discover at writing workshops. It’s delightful to be a student again and write just for the pure joy of it. That said, when I face writer’s block, I give myself two prompts to help me move forward. The first prompt is the prosaic, “What do you know?” When I start with what I know, I can often sneak a few words on paper before my cranky and critical inner editor wakes up and starts shouting at me, “That’s not good enough. No one will read that! Who do you think you are?” The second prompt is, “What are you curious about?” For me, curiosity is like a magic idea pill. When I am stuck, all I have to do is ask a few questions, and the block disappears. When I am writing a story, I ask the characters about their past, who they would most like to have dinner with, or what they are fearful about, and the words come. When I am writing nonfiction, I ask the idea questions like: what purpose do you serve, how can you change the way I think, how can you change the way I behave, or what don’t I know about you?

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

When I was 7, I fell in love with Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time. In my 20s, I discovered that L’Engle had written a whole bunch of books for adults, including her treatise on creativity: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. She wrote:

“Work. . . .  As with all of life, it is a rhythm: tension, release; tension, release. Work, discipline, obedience; pull the bow string taut, and then let go. But it must be done daily.” (p. 150)

“Our work should be our play. If we watch a child at play for a few minutes, “seriously” at play, we see that all his energies are concentrated on it. He is working very hard at it. And that is how the artist works, although the artist might be conscious of the discipline while the child simply experiences it.”

From L’Engle I learned that the only way to become a writer was to write. I learned to write every day, whether I felt like it or not, because inspiration rarely precedes the writing but often occurs during it. And on the best of days, writing does feel like play. I lose track of time. I am no longer lonely because am connected to the world of our characters and ideas.