By Janet Eastman 
Lifestyle Editor, Los Angeles Times


Yellow whiffle balls were tossed to stunned writers who never expected toys to play a part in better writing.

Janet Eastman told the audience attending her writing workshop that a novelty break helps activate the brain's right hemisphere, its verbal side. The features editor at the Los Angeles Times says she keeps a big supply of toys on her desk and often loans them to writers so they can get unstuck and move forward.

The interactive discussion started with laughter when Eastman shared a personal story of how she literally got stuck on a story. She went to the opening of LA’'s Temporary Contemporary Art Museum, where she accidentally stepped in some wet cement and lost her high-heeled shoe in the gummy gray goo.

Eastman left to find a security guard to help pull her shoe out. By the time she got back with one, a crowd of people had gathered around the stuck shoe asking, "What does it mean?"

The anecdote served as a good analogy for the writers, who all admitted they'd been stuck on a story at some point in their career --– or, perhaps even stuck in their career, wondering, "What does it mean?"

Everyone joined in and shared at least one of their sticking points. A journalism student said she had lots of energy and enthusiasm, but didn’t know how to get started. A crime reporter wanted help, but didn't respect her editor, and a sports writer found herself overwhelmed by big projects.

When writers find themselves staring at a mountain of paperwork, wondering where to begin, Eastman suggested a trip to the cafeteria --– not to eat, but to walk and talk and see if they can get another person excited about their story.

Once you have an interesting idea for the draft, don't censure yourself, Eastman said– just get the story down on paper while you're in a creative mood. Later, you can read it out loud, self-edit, or leave it for a while and come back later with a new vision.

Eastman recommended more challenges for experienced writers who've gotten lazy, or too comfortable in their jobs. The most challenging stories give writers the most grief … and the most satisfaction, she said.

Eastman's best advice for dealing with editors: "Don't take it personally."

If you need help, ask for it, because it’s better than wasting your time on a story editors don't want. If a story changes in the field, tell the editor, because you have the facts. If your editor is completely inept, get some outside coaching.

Don’t become a prisoner to the wrong job, Eastman said. If it’s not the right match, send out resumes and find something that better suits you. If it's just a people problem, you might want to change positions within the company, or move to a new place in the newsroom, she said.

Some of Eastman's writing tips apply to everyday life:

  • What you enjoy, you’'ll do best.
  • To keep enjoying something, add complexity.
  • Try to be surprised by something everyday. Try to surprise someone.
  • Wake up with a special goal each day.
  • When something sparks your interest, do it.

Eastman ended the class by reminding writers to reward themselves whenever they complete something tough. Maybe with a new toy.