“We can’t be as good as we’d want to, so the question then becomes, how do we cope with our own badness?”
– Nick Hornby
I’m off work with a bug. While the idea of staying at home and not dragging our butts to work is inviting in theory, in practice – sick days are rubbish. Not only because you’re actually ill – which means feeling like death as I do right now – but that you also find that by the time Come Dine With Me/Pointless pops on the telly, you realise how out-of-your-skull boring being ill really is. As I sit and watch the idiot box, I can’t help but think I’m wasting all this free time by not writing and being poorly. But the words wont come through the fogged-brain, I have zero energy and getting out of bed seems like the worst idea in the world.
But it has got me thinking about all the other times I’ve been plagued by writer’s block. It feels a bit like being poorly – lethargy sets in, and you’d rather do anything else than work – and you just think, “sod it, I’m going to go watch back to back episodes of Law and Order instead.”
Its the worst part of the writing experience. A solid wall that springs up between you and your story, when the characters fall silent and the scenery is grey and bland, but – what we have to remember – is that its not uncommon to go experience this.
Most writer’s have spent time slumped over a blank piece of paper with nothing to offer, or staring at the cursor on an empty screen. It is not unusual to have that nagging voice in your head, the one that likes to put a bit of a downer of your plans for getting stuff done. “I’m too young/I’m not talented enough/I’m too inexperienced for someone to take me seriously and want to hear what I have to say.” This is the self-critic we have in our everyday life. The one that says you cant wear that colour, ask that cute guy out, eat all that pizza, take up deep sea diving, or whatever it is, the voice that holds us back and keeps us firmly in our place. But, have no fear. We are not alone. There are some seriously famous writers who got on-board the pity-train to NotWritingville – Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemmingway, Joseph Conrad – people who have written such great (and in the case of Leo, dense) works. In fact, when asked what he most feared, Hemingway said, “a blank sheet of paper.” I hear ya, Ernest, I hear ya!
But its OK. There are things we can do to help combat Writer’s Block and end that on-going battle with the empty screen **phew**
Everyone, and I mean everyone, goes through a period of crippling self doubt at some stage in their life, and changing our outlook – and banishing negative thoughts – is not as difficult as it seems.
Here are my 10 tips for trying to break it off with the block:
1. Stop Procrastinating.
“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
(Mary Heaton Vorse)
OK, so this one is pretty simple. Procrastination = not good. Sit down. At the computer or in front of a notebook. Pick up a pen. Turn the monitor on. Switch off the telly. Half the battle won.
2. Come up with a schedule and stick to it.
“I write 2,000 words a day when I write. It sometimes takes three hours, it sometimes takes five.”
I am guilty of not keeping to a schedule. Something always comes up and I tell myself that its more important – sleep, work, spending time with friends – when really I’m just wasting time. I could, and should, organise my time better which would mean writing at allotted periods of the day. Its really beneficial and an excellent way to keep in the writing game. Morning Pages is an excellent exercise. I’ve talked about this activity before. Its basically just waking up twenty or thirty minutes before you usually would and writing, non-stop, whatever comes into your head. You’ll be surprised at what comes out when you’re all puffy eyed.
3. Stop being so hard on yourself.
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
Sometimes you’ll write a load of rubbish. Sometimes you’ll feel like you should just stop writing and shut up. But don’t. Turn off the inner critic. Don’t go back and edit. By all means, sift through some of the bad stuff as there’s bound to be something good there – a piece of dialogue, a great image – but just don’t over analyse every line. You’ll never get it finished if you do!
4. Take time off.
“Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”
Take a walk. Have dinner with friends. Relax. You’ll find that the words will soon come or that difficult plot problem will finally resolve itself. Its there inside you but its possible you might have to let it come in its own time.
5. Get inspired.
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Read. Watch a film. Some writers disagree and argue that exposing yourself to other creative works distracts from your own. I say, each to their own. Personally, I think the more I read or watch, the more inspired I feel. Particularly if it roughly the same genre as what I am writing.
6. Don’t over do it.
“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
There will be crap days. There will be crap weeks. When work or family life take over and you can’t write. Don’t push it. You don’t need too. By all means have a schedule (as mentioned above) but don’t let it rule your life. Writing isn’t an exact science. There’s no definitive method that successful writers adopt, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Don’t over do it – you’ll be in danger of falling out of love with what your writing and it will become a chore. Having said this, do take your writing seriously. Otherwise how can you expect others to do the same? If anything is worth doing, it will mean working hard at it.
7. Capture Ideas.
“Actually ideas are everywhere. It’s the paperwork, that is, sitting down and thinking them into a coherent story, trying to find just the right words, that can and usually does get to be labor.”
Notebooks are brilliant. Keep one handy at all times. Those great lines or plot twists you conjure up on the bus or think about on your lunch break can disappear all too easily. Brilliant ideas can come at any time of the day, and its highly likely that they’ll come any other time than when you sit down to write, so make sure you’re ready to capture them.
8. Try Writing Exercises.
“You can make anything by writing.”
I’m a huge advocate for writing exercises and really believe that they are helpful. I have written a previous post with some tips for great activities that will get your imagination whirring.
9. Think about where you write.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Its possible the space you’re working in is not working for you. I’m a big believer in the Field of Dreams mantra (yes, I mean that terrible, terrible film with Kevin Costner) “if you build it, [they] will come.” Find a desk, or a shed, or a space in the garden, or a coffee shop even. Give yourself room to work as well as time.
10. Write! Write! Write!
“If you want to write, write it. That’s the first rule.”
Another self explanatory one. If you want to write, then write. Write rubbish. Write lots. It doesn’t matter, just keep going. Half the battle with writer’s block is spending too much time worrying and thinking and obsessing about writing, and not actually doing it.
So does anyone have any fab tips for avoiding the block?