Throw a Writer from the Train

I dedicate this post to the poor writer portrayed by Billy Crystal in the movie Throw Momma from the Train.

Have you ever know a writer who wants to write but just can't get started? Or, worse, are you that writer? I get emails from a lot of writers who want to write, but they can't seem to get going. 

Those of you writing novels may be like the frustrated writer played by Billy Crystal. He's sitting in front of a typewriter. (Yeah, old movie.) He has typed: "The night was. . . ." After three words, he's stalled. He stares blankly at the piece of paper.

Then he adds the word, "hot." No, that's not it. He rips the paper out, wads it, and tosses it in the wastebasket.

Then he types, "The night was humid." No. That's not right. Out comes the paper. He crumples it and tosses it. As the hours pass, the only thing that grows is his wastebasket full of paper wads.

Later, the titular momma of the movie rasps, "The night was sultry." The perfect word. The word he couldn't think of in all the days of agonizing writer's block he endured. Is it any wonder this crazed writer immediately agrees to kill her?

Perhaps you're writing a novel or articles, blogs, whatever, and you too find yourself dithering about, unable to get started, unable to find an entrance into the subject matter.

Stalled Brain

This is what I call stalled brain, a condition that occurs because your brain isn't warmed up and ready to race.

If you have a car parked in a garage and it's 20 degrees outside, chances are you sit in the car with the motor idling after you've started it. You wait a few minutes, warming up the engine before you put it into gear and drive away.

When writing, if you're having difficulty getting started or if you start and stall out immediately, maybe you didn't warm up your brain sufficiently.

Try these brain-warming exercises to get the thoughts flowing and to turn off the internal critic or editor. These work whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, short or long. The only caveat: these exercises actually work better using pen and paper than the computer, but you can try them on the computer if you like.


Write a word in the center of a page. Select a word that has something to do with the subject or theme about which you intend to write.

Draw a circle around the word then lines from the center like spokes on a wheel. At the end of each spoke, write the first word that pops into your head. Write as many words clustered around that center as you can.

Look at the cluster. What do all the words you wrote have in common? Are there some words that resonate with you? In what direction do the words lead your thoughts? Compose a sentence and write it down immediately.

In most cases, this sentence is a doorway, a lead-in, to what you want to write and will enable you to keep writing because the brain has been stimulated in that direction. The words will flow. Get the words down without stopping. Don't give the internal editor a chance to intrude. Go back later and edit.


What are you wanting to write about? Make a list about it. Take your subject and list the first 10 thoughts that pop into your brain. Or list 10 things about some aspect of the subject that really interests you. If the subject is music, you might list 10 thoughts about it that might vary from the first song you learned as a kid to the concert you went to last night. Or maybe a list of groups you like, songs you like, songs about heartbreak, music in the movies, or scandals associated with music, etc.

Don't legislate your thoughts, just let them flow. Don't even try to confine the list to a certain number. Just list, but the goal is to list as many things as possible because the more you write down, the greater the mental flow. Don't try to prioritize the list either. The goal is to list as many things as possible as quickly as possible, not to be logical about the items.


Describe something with words, and the description doesn't have to relate to your subject at all. Perhaps you'll write a paragraph describing your ideal reader, this is a mental creation of the person who finds what you write interesting to read. Is your ideal reader someone who looks like your mom or your spouse or your best friend or your high school English teacher?

The act of writing a description puts the brain to work, processing words to create an articulated vision. That's what writing is all about. Write it for practice and it's easy to just continue writing on your project.

These brain-warming techniques work because they assign your brain the task of producing words and giving those words a form. Without over-thinking it, you find yourself working with words instead of agonizing over how to craft the perfect sentence.

Takeaway Truth

From free-flowing thoughts come written words resulting in paragraphs, pages, and books.

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