Background noise

All writers have strategies for coping with the psychosomatic bane of their existence: writer’s block. For me, writer’s block is usually the product of too much mental chatter. When the signal-to-noise ratio is unfavorable, the characters’ voices can’t come through clearly enough for me to write.

Stripping out the interference puts my creativity back in SETI@Home mode — running quietly in the background, putting any unused resources into resolving the problem scene or chapter. Instead of the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence, my subconscious conducts the Search for Evolution, Theme, and Identification.

  • Evolution: How does this scene or chapter progress the story? What function should it serve in the overall plot?
  • Theme: How does this scene or chapter fit into the ideas and meaning in the story? What kind of meta-messages should it be sending?
  • Identification: How does this scene bring the characters and the readers closer together? What kind of emotional interaction or involvement should it elicit?

A static-filled brain can’t concentrate on those questions. I sweep away the chatter with an activity that keeps the body busy and leaves the mind free to roam: swimming.

Laps don’t require thinking about anything but stroke-kick-breathe. And once I’m in the rhythm, those things don’t require thinking, either. Thirty minutes in the pool, with the background noise silenced and an abundance of brain-computing power devoted to listening for the character voices, can cure just about any case of writer’s block.

The only thing missing is a device to record my thoughts while I’m swimming, so I don’t have to type them up later.

Anybody else have a sure-fire remedy for writer’s block in their lives?


M.Q. Barber

M.Q. Barber is the USA Today bestselling author of the Neighborly Affection contemporary romance series. She's also an inveterate, unrepentant scribbler of ideas on whatever's handy.

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