Friday Speak Out!: Fight Back Against Stalled Brain Syndrome (SBS)

Friday, April 24, 2015
by Terry Cobb

Stalled brain syndrome, or SBS, will kill a writer’s career. SBS occurs when a writer opens a new, blank document on her computer only to find her mind is just as blank as that new document. The harder she tries to think of a subject, a sentence, or even a single word, the more despair she feels. Instead of writing, she checks Facebook or watches YouTube cat videos. An opportunity to write, to publish, is wasted.

I had fallen victim to SBS too many times before I decided to fight back. I bought a dirt-cheap spiral notebook and divided it into two categories: Fiction and Non-Fiction. I wrote a story, article, or blog idea in one of those sections every day for the past year. At the end of 2014, I had created my own remedy for SBS, a notebook with 365 customized story ideas and prompts.

This is not a revolutionary idea. Throughout history, writers such as Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Wolf have kept notebooks. But why not just Google “daily writing prompts” and find a website to provide inspiration? Although that works for many writers, my brain remains stalled until I find a prompt that is customized to my interests and experiences.

By investing less than two minutes every day to write in my notebook, I created my own muse. My notes weren’t lengthy, just enough to let my imagination fly. For the fiction list, I jotted down snippets of conversation I’d heard in the grocery store, weird news I’d heard on the radio, and old wives’ tales my hair stylist loves to share. Childhood memories, gardening issues, and insights from Bible readings filled my non-fiction section. I soon discovered that my writing prompts didn’t stay locked in their respective sections, they jumped around and even multiplied. Many of the non-fiction prompts that I had planned to write as memoir pieces worked better as flash fiction or as scenes in my novel or both.

Beside many of my entries, I scribbled notations such as “blog” or “devotional” to make them easy to locate later. To an outsider, my notebook looks as messy as my desk (okay, not that messy) but that’s the beauty of it: personalization.

Now that I have over 365 writing ideas, have I stopped? No way. This notebook has provided inspiration for far too many published stories and articles for me to kick the habit. John Steinbeck, another notebook user, said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” I respectfully disagree, Mr. Steinbeck. Pretty soon you’ll have hundreds.

Stalled brain syndrome never stops stalking me. At least now when it threatens, I’m not a victim. I know how to fight back. When my mind goes blank, instead of opening Facebook, I open my notebook and scan its pages for writing ideas customized just for me. No more wasted opportunities to write. No more stalled brain.

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Terry Cobb resides with her husband on a farm in north central Missouri where she writes short stories, devotionals, and novels. She also blogs about gardening, her other love and challenge, at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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