I’ve just collected a new technique for saving yourself from writer’s block. John Casey, a Charlottesville novelist, told how a friend taught him “a trick for beating writer’s block: Think of a fairy tale that you don’t know entirely. Rewrite it.”

Why does this technique work? First, it distracts you from your own writing that you’re not writing. You can’t not think of something, but you can think about something else. Thinking about failing at the keyboard is not likely to inspire you or distract you. What better than an easy story?

Second, it lowers the level of seriousness. You stop failing to write THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL or THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN WORLD THOUGHT SINCE GILGAMESH, and start thinking about a damsel with tower-length hair. Many writers succumb to writer’s block because no matter how hard they think and write, they keep failing to produce a masterpiece. As V. S. Naipaul puts it, “Great subjects are illuminated best by small dramas.”

Third, you don’t have to come up with a plot or a thesis. The fairy tale story is fixed. Actually, it’s not. It’s only a skeleton ripe for riffing. That’s why you don’t write a fairy tale. You rewrite one.

Fourth, the tale you choose is one “that you don’t know entirely,” meaning one you haven’t read in a long time, perhaps since childhood. Fairy tales have an elemental power that will startle you when read them anew. In graduate school, I studied German by reading the Grimm Brothers’ legends in the original. These little kids’ tales were full of puns and profoundly obscene. “Rapunzel” is delicious smut.

Finally, if you’re merrily rewriting a fairy tale, you’re writing and no longer stuck in writer’s block.

[ Have you tried anything like this technique?]

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 8:32 pm  Comments (4)