Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Why You Should Think of Yourself as an Orange

Stuck with your writing? Hitting a roadblock? Feeling you just can't go any further? Here is a game to help. It will sound a little crazy but, trust me, it works.

I'd like you to think of yourself as an orange — yes, orange, as in citrus fruit. Then try both of the following strategies:

  1. Squeeze more juice out of the orange. Remember that we human beings are often prone to giving up too quickly. We get an idea (or words written on paper) and then we can't think of anything else. Our brains shut down as if they were saying "Whoa, Nelly, that's enough!" But often, deeper down, there are more (and better) ideas. In other words, there's more juice in that orange — you just have to squeeze a little harder. To do so, take the topic or central idea you're writing about and, on a fresh piece of paper, start writing down every thought that pops into your head. As you do this, be fastidious about observing the rules of brainstorming:

    1. Aim for quantity not quality — you might even want to give yourself a quota for ideas to generate. Volume counts!

    2. Tell yourself that nothing is too crazy or too far out — in fact, the crazier the ideas the better!

    3. Don't judge or criticize — just record. The critical brain is different from the creative brain and you want your creative brain to be in charge.

    4. Write everything down — you don't want to lose the good ideas you worked so hard to generate.

  2. Get more oranges. If you've squeezed the life out of your orange and still don't have enough juice (ideas), you'll need to think about collecting some new oranges (information). In writing terms this often means doing more research. Writers sometimes worry so much about the perils of procrastination (such a loathsome word!) that they start to write before they are really ready. This is the path to misery. Remember, it's essential to have enough to write about before you sit at the computer — otherwise you can't possibly know what you want to say.

    Furthermore, recognize that there are different kinds of oranges — not just the navel but also the Valencia, the Hamlin and the Tangelo. So, instead of doing the same-old same-old when you're blocked, you may also need to do something different — read for a bit, work on another project, go for a walk, listen to some music, talk to some colleagues. What looks suspiciously like procrastination may, in fact, be the solid (orange-collecting) work you need to do to be able to write.

Never forget that writing, while it can be fun, is as much a process of depletion as of creation. Expect this and don't criticize yourself. Instead, ask: Have I squeezed the orange hard enough? And, do I have enough oranges? You may be surprised by the answer.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday June 4th 2008, 9:44 AM
Comment by: Gabriela Y. (san vicente Argentina)
Great article. I work with students who are trying to learn how to write essays. I believe they'll find this extremely useful!
Monday June 9th 2008, 11:34 AM
Comment by: Marlene D. (Seattle, WA)
my husband & I are adventures and have just completed a 3 1/2 year project of photographing and documenting every named Island from Canada to Mexico. We would like to write a book about our experiences, but just don't know where to start. How do you find the right publisher.

I try to study other writers format, it seems overwelming, but I would like to try. Any help you can give is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday June 18th 2008, 11:09 AM
Comment by: Patricia D. (Santa Clara, CA)
Dear Marlene,

I can feel your loss at trying to organize a vast collection of, no doubt, delightful and surprising pictures and information. I believe the HOW will come much more easily if you concentrate on the WHY. Why did you and your husband perform such a comprehensive work? What is your story? Did you go to one island and find it so intriguing that you went to another? When did the idea click that you wanted to see and experience and record every named island from Canada to Mexico? I don't think I've ever looked at a picture book that moved me that didn't have a point of view. Something in this extensive experience was singing to you, THAT is the book. Make it personal.

So much of what appears here on this site is personal, in spite of treating what to some would seem dry and fussy. You have a magic carpet! I would like to take that ride.

Wednesday June 18th 2008, 8:37 PM
Comment by: Daphne Gray-Grant (Vancouver Canada)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Hi Marlene,

I echo Patty's wise advice that you should have a strong point of view and make the book as personal as possible.

If you have trouble figuring this out, one thing you could do is go to your favourite library or bookstore and look for other books that exemplify the TYPE of approach you would like to take. (NB: The books you look at needn't be on the same subject -we're talking style rather than content here.) This could help in several way:

1) It could help give you a model or "framework" for your book.
2) It could lead you to a potential publisher. (The publisher who did that book might be interested in your book. Certain publishers specialize in coffee table or photography books.)
3) It could help you describe your book to a publisher or an agent. Publishers & agents just love to hear comparisons: eg: "My book is kind of like The Audicity of Hope meets Eat, Pray, Love." Sorry, I know that's not a direct comparison to a photo book, but I hope you know what I mean. This is a pretty standard part of any book pitch.

Good luck! -daphne
Wednesday June 25th 2008, 5:46 AM
Comment by: gmarie808 (HI)
"my husband & I are adventures" - I can't find the word "adventures" in the visual thesaurus... Did you mean it as more than one adventurer or that the two of you are each an adventure? Hmmmmmmmm... Sorry, not knit-picking, just wondering.
Monday July 21st 2008, 1:49 PM
Comment by: Varun R. (Stamford, CT)
She must have meant Adventurers!
Wednesday September 3rd 2008, 6:15 AM
Comment by: pat M.
Ah!Creative Brain must assert again:the Alpha position!
Wednesday September 3rd 2008, 11:25 AM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
that is actually very helpful
Thursday October 2nd 2008, 8:23 AM
Comment by: El (Los Angeles, CA)
Hi Patricia D.

Thank you for your answer to Marlene. These instructions will help me get started writing the book I feel I must
write. The subject is eminent domain, and homes that were taken from families in Los Angeles in the late 50's
or early 60's. A hugh high school was built where homes once stood. That school is Crenshaw High School. I am moved to find out what happened to those families who were uprooted. I don't why I am moved, but it makes sense that I must figure out the why of this subject and make it personal. This may be of importance
to no one but me. The subject burns in my soul and is the major reason I subscribed to the Visual Thesaurus.

Thanks El
Saturday April 4th 2009, 6:46 PM
Comment by: A. Z.
That is actually extremely helpful.
Thursday November 18th 2010, 6:37 PM
Comment by: SBaumanSF (Berkeley - San Francisco, CA)
fantastic article! I now have a bowl of citrus on my desk. A helpful and attractive reminder that I can always 'squeeze a little more writing out' for my dissertation, especially when I don't always 'feel' like it. Many thanks!

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