Beating writer’s block with a little help from Mozart

Wolfie didn’t plop himself down at the keyboard without first rolling ideas around in his noodle, and neither should you. Cogitate and percolate, so you won’t have to hyperventilate.

Got writer’s block? Be like Mozart.

That is, Mozart as depicted in the film “Amadeus.”

In that movie, adapted from Peter Shaffer’s stage play, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is asked about a composition.

“I’ve finished it.”

“Well, where is it?”

“Here—in my noodle.”

The composing has all been done, in his head. The rest (committing it to paper) is, he says, “just scribbling.”

The takeaway is to start writing before you start writing.

That entails several steps:

  1. Come up with a basic theme or idea. Do this well in advance of your deadline.
  2. Set it aside, and let it percolate in your brain. Your hippocampus will store it for easy retrieval while you’re washing dishes or showering or filling the bird feeders.
  3. Plot out illustrative examples. Two or three will give you a pushing-off point.
  4. Set them aside, and let them percolate in your brain. Have fun. Don’t tether yourself to any of them; this is the free-flow period.
  5. Revisit them as time allows. See which seeds have begun to sprout.

When the time is right, you’ll know. The ideas will cry out, “We’re ready—write us down!” They’ll surge forth as though a dam has broken.

One recent Brighter Writer post likened punctuation marks to roadway markers and signals. The original premise was that without such arrows, stop signs and other indicators, drivers would not be able to navigate to their destination.

Mental percolation brought forth the notion to liken certain punctuation marks to specific signs—their roadside counterparts.

Then during the “scribbling,” a question arose: What about exclamation points? Because those should be reserved for extreme circumstances, the comparison pinged: They’re like sirens and flashing lights on emergency vehicles.

If and when such an epiphany occurs, go with it. Jot down those new ideas, and come back later to whichever example or passage you temporarily deserted.

By the way, this very post came about in much the way described above, inspired by—you guessed it—writer’s block. Once the Mozart analogy arose, it all just cascaded. Putting it on the screen took about 15 minutes, plus another 10 for formatting and tweaking.

That came, of course, after several days of wondering, “What the hell am I gonna write about this time?”

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