Tag Archives: writing advice

writer’s block – causes and treatment

typewriter

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Let me preface this by saying I just liked the medical sound of that title. I’m not a writing doctor. However, I am an expert in getting writer’s block.

Writer’s block seems to arrive on my doorstep with such regularity that I’m much calmer about it these days. Instead of freaking out and thinking ‘I’ll never write another decent story again’, I now sigh with recognition and say ‘Heyyy, maaaate’ as writer’s block pushes past me and into the house.

I’m currently stuck mid-story (what a surprise and how unusual), so I decided to brainstorm all the reasons I know for writer’s block. I hope you’ll find something here that helps.

Reasons for writer’s block/Possible solutions:

Our health needs attention.
We need sleep, food, exercise, or fresh air. We need to take time off until we’re over an illness or injury. We need to slow down because of a chronic illness or disability. We need interaction with others, for our mental health. We crave the comfort of writers who understand and can suggest solutions.

We’re distracted.
We’re scrolling this, skim reading that. We sit to write and then get up two minutes later for a snack, a toilet break, anything but keeping bum on chair. If we don’t focus on our work for a decent amount of time, we can’t explore the work in depth.

We’re too impatient.
We want the entire chapter/poem/story/essay to emerge in two or three sittings. But our minds don’t always work like this (mine almost never works like this). A piece must unfold at its own pace. It might reveal itself day by day—as we shower, walk, sweep the kitchen floor. Contemplation is writing.

We’re trying to shove a pumpkin into a cocktail glass.
The fit isn’t right between idea and form. That powerful blast of emotion might be a poem, not an opinion piece. The space station comedy might be a novella not a short story. A painful memory might be best expressed through fiction.

The idea needs more.
It needs strengthening, modifying, layering. We’re writing about an older woman who keeps 33 cats and plays Elvis Presley all day but it’s lacking something. We haven’t revealed her hidden past, or introduced the young neighbour blasting Amyl and the Sniffers, or sent a flood that isolates the woman and her cats.
I sometimes use paper and pen to write a question in big letters, then draw arrows from the question, spouting multiple answers. Outrageous, sensible and plainly stupid answers. Just lots of them is key. One will often point the way forward. (Credit for this strategy goes to Jaclyn Moriarty, who described it in a workshop I attended a few years ago)

We don’t know our characters well.
What are their quirks, how old are they? What’s their occupation? Who are their loved ones? And of course the big questions—What’s their secret fear? and What do they desperately want?

We don’t know the setting well.
This is one is easy to neglect. When I need clarity, I use Google Earth, read about the place, look at images online. For places that exist in my imagination, I might draw mud maps and sketch floor plans so I can ‘see’ the places as my characters move about.

Our self-critics are poking up their ugly heads.
It’s important to banish that tall, sneery, pasty-faced inner critic (okay that’s my inner critic, feel free to picture your own) as our first draft emerges. We need to tell our inner critics to piss off (a technique I first heard from Edwina Shaw at a QWC workshop). For now, we’re just getting down words. We can add, cut, rearrange and refine later.

Forgetting joy.
We write because we love it. We choose and order words and ta-da!—we’ve created a poem, an essay, a novel, a play. A short story, screenplay, memoir piece or work of non-fiction. What a magical and powerful act.
It helps to remember joy. ❤️

 

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Filed under the joy of writing, the writing life, writing advice, writing angst

catching your (writing) breath

I wrote this a few days ago, then saw an article on the same topic. In any case, these are my thoughts on taking a holiday from writing.

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We’ve all heard the advice write every dayA number of authors say this is the key to success.

I understand this makes sense in certain situations—when on a deadline, when needing to get an idea on the page, or when words are flowing and you don’t dare stop or even want to stop. But as a hard-and-fast rule? I’m not so sure.

Two or three times a year, I stop writing. I stop for a week, a few weeks, occasionally longer. This time out starts because my ideas grow stale, or because I lose faith in my writing. Sometimes it’s linked to an event in my personal life, or follows a painful writing rejection. Other times I just feel overwhelmed.

Whatever the cause, I try not to fight it (A few years ago, I’d fight desperately, trying to bludgeon stories into life. This resulted in truly terrible work). Sometimes life feels like a race, and it’s hard to step away, but I believe writing vacations are important. Sometimes, the best option is to rest and renew.

Things that have helped (for me) during time off from writing:

Walking.
Watching a movie.
Seeing a friend.
Discovering a new place—a forest, a cafe, an art gallery.
Reading.

I’m still learning to take a break, and to know that it will renew creativity.

As of today, I haven’t written for a week (not counting blog posts 🙂). Already my brain is sending inspiration—Look at this! How about that? I’m looking forward to writing again.

What about you—do you take writing breaks? If not, how do you care for your writing mojo?

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the importance of play

IMG_2686The past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing and writing. Sure, I’ve wasted time here and there, but I’ve also worked at my desk for hours.

Except, what I’ve written has been awful. Flat, uninspired, dull. I revised 3 stories in the past ten days and became thoroughly sick of each piece. Not because they were finished, either. They were just so terrible I couldn’t stand to read another word.

So I’ve been feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my uselessness and wondering for the zillionth time why I thought I had any aptitude for this. And then last night something occurred to me.

Maybe doggedness can be a bad thing.

I’m not saying I’m about to give up, or that I don’t believe in hard work. But I realised that lately, my approach has been all wrong. It’s joyless. I’m showing up at my desk as if I’m sitting an exam. I’m not getting outside enough, not walking enough. I’m thinking about where I’ll submit a story before it’s even finished, instead of losing myself in the tale I’ve created. I’m as playful as a back brace.

I know writing isn’t all fun and games. I know it involves hard work, showing up, putting the words together. But surely that can still be done with a sense of fun, with an attitude that brings a lightness of spirit, creating prose that sparks and surprises.

Maybe my defensiveness over hearing criticism of ‘earnest’ writing was not just because I write emotionally, but because I sensed I was writing without enough playfulness in my heart. Which is not to say that story content should be always be humorous – just that the approach shouldn’t be so stompy.

Maybe I’ve had my gumboots on when I needed to skip around in a pair of sandals.

Or even barefoot, across the grass.

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How to Write – a manual for distractible writers

Step 1. Check email, in case you have won some nationwide competition or had a world-renowned journal accept one of your stories.

Step 2. Check Facebook. There could be a writing opportunity on a page you’ve liked. Or a cute puppy video.

Step 3. Check Twitter. You may hear some interesting news that prompts you to write a brilliant new piece of fiction. Or creative non-fiction. Or a cool sort of limerick.

Step 4. Check Instagram. You may get good ideas for a snack.

Step 5. Get a snack. And a drink while you’re at it.

Step 6. Sit back down. Open your document. Yes, just go to the toilet. Be quick.

Step 7. Write. Stay there. Do not access the internet, ring people or text people. Write.

Step 8. Briefly congratulate self. You’re writing!

Step 9. Keep writing.

 

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Work it, baby

This is not a post about high intensity interval training. I walk the dog and take the odd yoga class, but I’m no fitness guru. In fact, I’m not a guru of anything. However, my friend Jen* has achieved guru status in my eyes.

I met with her this morning for coffee and a catch-up. We talked about books we’d read, our own writing progress, our ‘day jobs’, our kids. And then we hit the topic of procrastination. Otherwise known as The Writers Curse. We both admitted that the internet is a distraction, and I bemoaned my tendency to avoid writing by doing household chores, snacking, phoning people and patting the dog. (I claim to love writing, but I think the truth is I mostly love having written. Sure, I love writing when the words are flowing thick and fast, but honestly, that’s pretty rare. Often it’s a hard, bloody slog. So what I really enjoy is when I’m done.)

When I’d finished complaining, Jen looked at me with her clear, steady eyes and said, “What I do is put a timer on. For thirty minutes, I have to sit there and work. I can’t get up and do anything else. Then, when I’m done, I set the timer for a ten minute break.”

How fantastic is that? None of this ‘I’ll work till midday now’ when it’s only nine a.m. and within five minutes you’ve checked email, followed a link and are reading about dogs who sense seizures. Oh no, you only commit to thirty minutes of work. An achievable goal. A sweet, approachable, friendly sort of goal.

I tried this plan today, and guess what? Over the two hours available to me, I did three 30/10 sessions, which is (embarrassingly) waaaay more than I’ve been getting done lately. I was focussed and calm. There was no other option but to write, yet I knew I’d get a break in a matter of minutes.

I suppose the 30/10 approach is nothing new, but I hadn’t thought to apply it to writing. So if, like me, you find yourself faffing when you want to be writing, it might be worth a try. And Jen, if you happen to read this before I tell you in person … thank you, thank you, thank you!

*Name changed to protect the guru.

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comfort for writers

If you haven’t yet read The Writer’s Room, a series of interviews with well-known Australian writers by Charlotte Wood, I can highly recommend it. I seem to be one of the last to the party here, as other writing friends have been reading these interviews in an e-magazine, and telling me how inspiring they are, for ages. But for whatever reason, I hadn’t read these amazing interviews until I bought the book (released August 2016).

If you procrastinate terribly, you’ll read about other writers who do, too. If you doubt yourself constantly, you’ll find authors who feel just the same. If you’d like a sneak peek into how published writers go about their work – the actual nitty gritties of when they start, when they stop, how much cake they eat (okay I made that part up) – it’s all here.

If you want to read more, here’s an interview that Charlotte Wood gave about how the insights she gained changed her approach to writing her most recent book, The Natural Way of Things, at this link.

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