As has been alluded to a few times recently, I have been experiencing more than my fair share of writer’s block, that all pervading paralysing fear that the ideas will dry up and not a single interesting sentence will be transmitted to the page.
This happens to me periodically and so I’ve built up a whole host of stratagems for counteracting the dreaded block, most of these work at least some of the time. I thought it might be of use for other people*. So here’s my top ten:
1. Don’t stop writing – Most of the time, for me anyway, it’s not a case of writer’s block but starting to write block. My most basic strategy is to have at least two projects on the go, each one overlapping, this means I’m rarely in a position where I have nothing to work on.
2. Allow time for ideas – If you wait until you’re sat at your keyboard you’re on the fast road to nowhere: it’ll never happen. Your writing time is for just that, you need to allow time for your ideas to permeate when you’re not at your keyboard. For me it needs to be something where I’m able to daydream and not one to really try while driving or operating heavy machinery. I don’t bother catching the tube anywhere once I get into central London as all that walking allows me time to think, not withstanding lamp posts.
3. Location, location, location – Writing in the same place using the same kit can be extremely liberating but if I’m blocked this can also contribute to the problem. Sometimes it’s just taking the laptop downstairs to the sofa to work, sometimes it’s closing the laptop and using a notebook. But a change of scene often works wonders.
4. Flash – No, not like that. Writing a piece of flash, however short, however flimsy an idea; just playing around with the words until you have a story in order to feel like you’ve finished something, anything, is really useful.
5. Ideas – They’re not gold dust, they’re not mythical, or magical, they just are. Waiting for the Big Idea is silly – ideas come from pretty much anywhere and like buses often turn up in pairs – as a writer your job is to be open to them. And to know how to work without them. Pick ideas from newspapers, take titles of stories you’ve written and string them into a story, take memories from your past and turn them into the nubs of ideas. Just keep writing.
6. Small sips – Writing for hours at a time, like reading for hours at a time, is extremely challenging if you have a day job. I personally struggle to fit in more than an hour to an hour and a half of writing per day during the working week; often it’s less. Not because I don’t enjoy it. But because I have to sleep sometime. As a result I try to do a bit everyday rather than waiting for a free day to do loads; the later adds too much pressure and almost instantly blocks me. This is a far cry from when I was younger and I would happily spend the entire day writing until my wrist cramped…at least that was the story and I stuck to it…the story…oh dear I appear to have gone into an innuendo loop. Moving on…
7. Calm – You need some interesting things to happen in your life in order to garner enough experience to flavour your writing but you also need to be able to keep yourself rational. Stress is a key trigger for blocking creativity in anyone. Not sure why but it does. For me writing actually keeps my stress levels down but life can often spoil that hard fought for calm and then I have to rely on good old fashioned techniques like exercise and/or rest before I can write again. So stay calm.
8. Read – Lots, as widely as possible and from the real world as well as the fictional. If you can’t manage this you’re not really a writer, end of discussion and I’m prepared to actually fight on this one.
9. Keep a copy of the most successful worst book you’ve ever read. When in doubt pick it up and read as far as you can get before you chuck it at the wall exclaiming “I know I can do better than that.” This works effectively but can ruin the wall if the book in question is a hardback and make sure no one is in the way.
10. Don’t worry about mistakes. You fix them later. Honestly, the process of editing and creating involve different parts of the brain – if you try to do them at the same time…well it’s not pretty.
That’s it. I hope that’s of use. Feel free to add more to the comments. Oh and one bonus one: unplug the internet.
* Disclaimer: I am not pretending to be a successful writer here, just one who can get himself over writer’s block.