Anyone who has to put words to paper for a living encounters the dreaded blinking cursor eventually. The one that keeps blinking because you can’t think of anything to type. Well, besides your name and possibly the date. And no, that won’t get you 200 points on the SAT, despite what the kid next to you said.
You don’t have to be a professional scribe to encounter writer’s block—you don’t even have to be writing. It can be present in brainstorming sessions, project planning and yes, even tests. (I’ve been out of school for 20 years, and have taken many skills tests since then.)
Every writer develops a ritual for ridding themselves of the dreaded block—and they love to share them. The most common ones I’ve heard are exercising (“I think best when I walk”) or bathing (“I do my best thinking in the shower.”) Then, there are the unconventional ones.
A college professor once advised me to just start typing something I know by heart. His favorite was the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (Seriously.) He believed that if you just start typing, the words will come. This was particularly impressive because back then, he used a typewriter. He would write his piece, change paper and then re-type it on a clean sheet. Eccentric, but it worked. I can only imagine how happy he was when computers came around.
My Mom, an extraordinary copywriter with a wall full of awards, has kept a copy of “A Whack On The Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative” in her office drawer for as long as I can remember. It’s like a grown-up version of those activity books parents get for kids before a long trip, except instead of connecting the dots and coloring, it offers puzzles, brainteasers and other exercises to get you thinking outside the proverbial box. Or just thinking, period.
I recently inherited the well-thumbed book, and I can see why she kept it close by. Not only does it stimulate the mind, it’s pretty fun, too. (I don’t remember her ever mentioning that part.) I’ve found myself thumbing through the book in the evenings just for enjoyment. But honestly, I haven’t used it much to unblock myself. When I need a whack on the side of the head, I go to Facebook and play Bejeweled Blitz.
The Bejeweled games are basic match three games (match three, get points) with a few twists. Match four-in-a-row, get a bomb. Match five-in-a-row get a power gem that eliminates all gems of the same color when you use it.
The Facebook app, which I believe is number 10,432 in the PopCap Bejeweled family, is the perfect brain stimulus for a videogame fanatic like me. It’s quick, has a built-in time limit (1 minute per game) and requires the brain to make fast decisions. An ill-placed bomb can take out a power gem before you can use it. Match three too fast, and you might miss a match four or five opportunity. Just finding matches can set your brain into overdrive, and by the way, the 10-second countdown is on.
As an added bonus, PopCap has weekly drawings for multiple prizes. Earning high scores, and more importantly, getting friends to play and earn scores, is the key to reaching the milestones required to enter. Prizes range from games to the Holy Grail, a PopCap laptop. (Good luck reaching that milestone, kids.)
But that’s all just bonus. The real value here is that I have easy access to something that stimulates my brain, has a built-in time limit and is there when I need it. Just like my mom’s book.
Although last time I looked, the book wasn’t giving away laptops.