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Posts Tagged ‘writer’s block’

Wading through treacle backwards in flippers

April 19, 2016 2 comments

This is what it can feel like when writing isn’t going well, usually in that saggy middle bit of a new book. I know it’s going to happen – it’s happened with almost every book I’ve written.  I know I can get through it – because I’ve done it before. But knowing these things doesn’t necessarily help when I’m in the middle of the treacle-wading.  It’s especially tough when the treacle seems to last a really long time.

Just as well that I’ve worked out some ways of dealing with that treacle then.  And if these work for me, they might work for you too.  So here goes, my top tips for sweeping away that treacle and discarding those flippers.

Apply posterior to seat

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Yes, really.  It sounds simple – just sit down in that writing chair, wherever it may be, and get started.  But as anyone who has encountered the treacle will know, it’s not quite that easy.  However, if I don’t sit down, ready to write, then I’ll never get through the block.

Trick yourself

This is one way to making it easier to get started.  I tell myself, “I’ll just open the document” or “I’ll just make some notes” or “I’ll just write for ten minutes.” Sometimes just getting started is all it takes to get the momentum going and I’ll be happily typing or scribbling away for ages.

Treat yourself

Bribery works wonders for me.  I promise myself that when I’ve written a certain number of words or edited a chapter or reached another short-term writing goal then I can have chocolate – even a chocolate button or too can be enough of an incentive.

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Sometimes even the promise of a cup of tea will work (but I do know a group of writers who are also encouraged by a virtual St Bernard who runs the length and breadth of the country delivering an author’s favourite tipple in his trusty barrel).

Cliffhangers

If I finish in the middle of a scene or even the middle of a sentence, then I find it much easier to get into writing the next day.  I have an immediate job to do in finishing what I’ve started and that’s a great incentive to get going. I know this works for me – but it’s also a bit scary.  What if I don’t remember where my story was going when I come back to it? That’s why I often scribble cryptic notes to myself, so that I don’t lose the plot.

Make a date with your subconscious

When I’m really, really stuck I walk away from my writing. Getting increasingly frustrated with myself and annoyed with my book is not going to help.  But before I walk away, I make a date with myself.  I tell myself, for example, that on Tuesday morning at 10.30 I will sit down and start writing again.  I give myself permission not even to think about what I’m writing until Tuesday.  The thing is, my sneaky subconscious then gets to work without me knowing anything about it.  When I sit down on Tuesday, a solution to the problem will just flow out and I’ll be thinking “Wow! Where did that come from?”  It gets me every time.

Set goals – and go public

I’m one of those people who finds goals helpful.  I know not everyone does but they work for me, especially for writing.  I like to have fairly short term goals so that I can see where I need to go next and whether I’m getting there.  Setting goals for myself is one thing, and it does work, up to a point, but what is even more helpful for me is to go public with my goals.  I don’t mean that I go around with a loudhailer announcing my plans to all and sundry.  I have found that sharing my goals with a small (secret – sh!) group of fellow writers and posting regular progress is really useful for treacle-wading purposes.

Deadlines help too

Ah, I hear you say, but nobody’s waiting for your finished work.  You don’t have a deadline.  Me neither.  I don’t have a publishing contract at the moment and I don’t have any deadlines.  So I set my own.  This also works – but you have to believe in it.  You have to be strict with yourself.  And of course telling other people about your deadline is a help too.

Change of scene

If I’m getting nowhere at my desk, then I’ll unplug the laptop and go and sit in the sitting room or out in the garden.  Or I go to a local café with my notebook or a printout of my latest draft and work there over a coffee.

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Similarly, it can help to change my method – to switch from typing to longhand or vice versa, or to read my draft aloud rather than just reading it silently. I find that any of these things tilt my perspective just enough to get a fresh view on what I’m writing and help me to see the way forward.

Avoid social media

Set aside specific time and space for writing and don’t be tempted by social media.  “I’ll just check Twitter” has a very similar effect on me to “I’ll just open the document” – ie I just go to check and then half an hour later I’m still on social media having a lovely time but not doing any writing.  So no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Youtube, whatever your own particular downfall is,  until you’ve done a chunk of work.

And that applies to blogs too – so why are you still reading this one?  Go on, off with you and get writing.  That’s what I’m about to do.

Writing whether you feel like it or not

I’ve been thinking this week about all the things that stop me from getting on with the several writing projects I have on the go in the past couple of weeks.  Apart from the “real” reasons not to get down to it – compulsory school sports day attendance, doing some cleaning before the environmental health people are called in, filling in the monster that is the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature application form – there has not been anything else to stop me.

So why have I not been head down, working away frantically?  The true reason?  Because I haven’t felt like it.

Now, when Lari Don was trying to decide on an extra writing tip to pass on to a reader, I suggested “Write even when you don’t feel like it – that’s when you surprise yourself the most.”  A good tip.  I know it makes sense – so I tried it out myself.  And you know what?  When I sat down and started, I wrote a whole new first chapter to the book I’m currently editing.  I got so engrossed that I forgot the time and was late for my parent-helper stint at my local school.  I certainly surprised myself.

Today it’s raining and chilly.   I have a stack of books waiting to be read and a pile of laundry to deal with.  I don’t feel like writing.  I do feel like reading by the fire with a cup of tea.  I should deal with the laundry.  But I’m off to do some editing.  I wonder where it will take me…