Tag Archives: writer’s block

The Writer’s Marathon

In just under two months time I turn twenty-seven twenty- eight … Freudian slip/ wishful thinking, I genuinely first typed twenty-seven! But alas it’s the latter, and to mark the occasion, for some reason still unbeknown to me, I’ve decided to run the Budapest Marathon.

And so, as if to add to the many reasons why I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write for over a month, I’m now spending at least five hours a week pounding the pavements of my hometown.

It was on my run earlier this evening that I began to draw parallels between forging a writing career and a running race.

Getting a book published was never going to be a sprint, that much has always been clear to me. Getting published is an endurance sport. A steeplechase, as you face obstacle after obstacle on your way to getting published. First there’s the hurdle of the idea. The concept of the book. Then there’s the issue of committing that idea to paper, and actually finishing it. Once your book’s complete you have to find an agent … something which many of the authors I’ve met through this blog and via Twitter know all too well is one of the most challenging hurdles of the race.

With your agent onside, suddenly what started as an individual race becomes a team game, and together you unite to get your manuscript in the best working order possible.

But once the editing hurdle’s been tackled, the sport takes on a very different nature, because you as a writer are suddenly in the backseat – a spectator rather than a competitor. After years pushing forward, getting yourself and your writing over one hurdle after the next, you finally have to pass the baton over to someone else … and sit back and wait!

And I guess that’s where I am now …

I can see the finish line ahead … or my current personal finish line – publication – but as for getting there, I’ve done my leg of the race, and all I can do is watch on and cross my fingers, because (crossing sporting metaphors ūüôā ) the ball is now in my agent’s court.

I’m not gonna lie, for me is the toughest part of the whole process. This week a friend at work jokingly called me a ‘control freak.’ And whilst it’s not something I’ve ever been called before, there is some degree of truth in the accusation. I like to be in control. I’m a planner. I’m efficient and organised, and if I want to achieve something, I put my mind to it and get it done. If I didn’t work that way, there would be no way I would have got into Cambridge, or achieved half the ‘extra-curricular’ things I’ve done so far in life.

But getting published isn’t like that. If I want to be taken seriously as a writer, I need an agent. And if I’m going to be represented by an agency, then I need to know when to take a step back and let them get on with their jobs.

The difficult part is that I’ve put all my efforts into my books over the past two years. I’ve spent two long years glimpsing a finish line, and now it’s finally in clear sight, I am completely powerless as to whether I’ll get there. I’ve put all possible effort into the first draft, and every subsequent draft I’ve been asked to do, and that’s my job done … for now.

So the question is, what do I do now? Because frankly, when it comes to life, I’m the world’s worst spectator!

I NEED to be doing something! I NEED to feel like I’m doing something productive. That I’m still making steps in the right direction to becoming a bona fide author.

I guess to continue with the athlete metaphors, I need to stay in pique condition, and work out exactly what training is going to be most beneficial for whatever my next writing race turns out to be.

When Flicker, my first book, was doing the rounds of publishers, I busied myself with The Dream Navigator, my second novel. The book was something completely different, a spontaneous experiment as compared to the tale of Flic Firestone which had rattled through my mind the entire time I was at university. Writing a second book was the cheat’s route to getting to my target … like running in two lanes of a race at the same time, because by finishing another book, and getting it publisher ready, suddenly I was giving myself double the chance of achieving my end goal – publication. Either book might get me there!

And that motivation worked. Sheer determination to get published, mixed with the frustrated futility that an author plays in the final stages of getting a book deal drove me to write, and to write quick. I beat all my previous records, and had ‘TDN’ finished in a few short months.

And now TDN is running the race too. My second complete, edited, novel. My second chance at getting to the publishing finish line …

But now I’m back in the spectator seats, itching to do something that might possibly help my cause.

Except the problem is, I’m tired. I feel like I’ve been running my part of the race on a treadmill, positioned just metres away from the finish line. And that no matter how hard I work, I’m still not getting any closer to that end goal.
I’ve completed three novels, and have the bare bones of three more … but I’m beginning to feel I’m lacking an incentive to write new material. I’m lacking the drive to carry on writing new stuff because I’m yet to see the fruits of any of my previous labours.

Is anyone else at this point? Where you’ve spent the majority of the last few years putting everything into your books, and yet as of yet you haven’t got anything back from them?

I’ll be honest, it IS a demoralising situation, and every day, you’re hopes get a bit smaller, a bit more jaded.

So what is there to do when you’re in that situation? When you’re fed up with playing the role of spectator, and watching from afar with crossed fingers, as an agent queries publishing houses on your behalf?

The obvious answer is to write. But as I’ve tried to explain above, sometimes that really isn’t possible. Writing is the product of inspiration and desire to write, and when you haven’t seen any positive results from your previous efforts, it can be hard to motivate yourself to continue the slog. I guess it’s a bit like running a marathon, but never seeing the mileage change.

So if you can’t write, what else is there to do?

I think these days, that’s where social media comes in. As an aspiring author, you’re not just a writer, but a self-publicist, and so I think as a progressing author, it’s important to keep up with social media. I don’t think I need to repeat how important blogs and Twitter are, it’s a topic I’ve written frequently about. But what else can an author do to busy herself? To keep her hands busy, and her mind occupied, whilst waiting for her agent to complete the relay race?

That’s where you guys come in!!

What do you do to keep occupied? How many of you are in writing limbo? Anyone else beginning to feel a bit jaded and lacking the energy to put pen to paper, despite however many new ideas you might have?

It’s funny … in some ways this is the closest thing I’ve had to writer’s block! It’s like I’m blocking myself … my own impatience and dwindling hopes is putting up a block between the ideas and the writing … because where I haven’t written properly for a month or so, my head is streaming with ideas ….

I know this is less up beat and neat than my normal blog posts, but I’d just love to hear from other authors in a similar position. Being an author in limbo can be rather lonely at times!!!!

C-C xx

 

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A Change of Approach

Last week I hit a bit of a brick wall with the book I’m writing. ¬†I’ve realised that, ¬†rather ironically considering how much I enjoy travelling, I really don’t enjoy writing the ‘travel’ sections of stories – how characters A and B get to C. Something which you can in some circumstances simply skip altogether. ¬†However, when the story is one about a series of interlinked worlds, it seems rather important to describe those links. ¬†I just get rather impatient and can’t wait to get to the main story again … and that leads me to a bout of good old Writer’s Block.

However, I think I found a solution … or at least it did in my case! ¬†Two week’s (of unemployment!) in, and I’ve now hit 30,000 words. ¬†Obviously, their calibre is still to be decided, but they are words, on a page, and for that I’m proud/

In fact, it was actually words on a page which got me past the infamous Block, because I decided to change my approach to writing for a few days.

I write in  Word documents.  Each chapter is a simple Word document, and then sections are compiled as folders on my laptop.  I spent my life writing on a computer screen.  And so I mixed it up a bit.  I printed out my chapters.

For a start, actually being able to physically touch the pages of my work reminded me of what I had achieved. ¬†30,000 words is about 76 pages of print. ¬†That’s a pretty hefty weight in your palms … even more so if you print it out double-spaced (which is actually something I would recommend if you have a lot of editing to do!)

But also, seeing the writing in a different way Рas printed pages, as opposed to a never-ending scrolling computer screen really helped me look at it in a fresh light.  I ended up editing everything I had written, and being inspired enough to go straight to writing another three chapters.

So if you’re struggling with a writing hurdle of some kind – whether it’s a travel section of your novel, or just simply a scene that you still can’t get to sound quite right – why don’t you try looking at it in a different way? ¬†Print it out, type it up, or simply copy it out again … You never know what the results might be!

C-C xxx

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Getting Over The Writing Hurdle

I’m constantly thinking up stories. ¬†As in literally every day. ¬†If I’m working on a book, then that story plays out in my head throughout my day. ¬†It’s there in the background, so that whenever I have a solitary moment – working out at the gym, or walking for the bus – the story picks back up in my head, and I carry it on.

If I’m not working on a project at the time, I find my head filling with new ideas. ¬†I’ll toy with an idea for an hour or two, a day maybe … and if it sticks, write it down … if not, I start again.

So the stories are always there … and yet that doesn’t mean they automatically translate onto my computer screen. ¬†Because sometimes I take my stories too far …

This has been my writing hurdle with my current book ‘Mercury’s Child‘.

I spent too much time thinking about the story before I began to write.  And I got too far along the story!

You see, I write books in the same way I read them. ¬†I want to know what happens next. ¬†I invest in my characters, and want to know where they’re going … and so the problem with thinking up too much of a story before you get it down on paper, is that you don’t want to be writing the first part of the story. ¬†You want to be writing the later parts!

With Mercury’s Child I laid all the groundwork in my head, and couldn’t bring myself to write it all down, because I was worried that my impatience to get to the newer parts of the story – they parts I didn’t know yet – would translate into my written word.

And so for months and months I dawdled. ¬†At first I had excuses – it was the end of my ski season in Whistler, and I wanted to make the most of the skiing and socialising. ¬†Then I returned home, and there was the obvious excuse of catching up with friends and family who I hadn’t seen for years.

But now I have no excuse. ¬†I’ve been back home exactly 1 month, and I’m still yet to start work. ¬†I’m spending weekday after weekday waiting for my grown-up friends with their grown-up adult jobs, to leave work and come and play with me, and I’m getting bored. ¬†Now, if I’m really an author, I ought to be using all this spare time productively. ¬†And there are only so many magazine writing competitions I can enter in one month!

So I finally got started. ¬†I’m happy to admit that the first couple of days were a struggle – trying to make sure the start of my book remained as exciting and full of promise as the idea had when I first came up with it, despite my desire to fast-forward through the story until I got to a point where I felt like I was still being creative.

But the reason I’m writing is that I got over my hump! ¬†I got over the writing hurdle, and I’m back in a zone where I feel like I’m using my imagination again. ¬†And once I got the first three chapters of Mercury’s Child down, I could go back over them with fresh eyes, and actually add in new snippets. ¬†New ideas, which made me feel like I was actually using my imagination, and that I was injecting those things that I had been worried would no longer be present in the first parts of my story – excitement and intrigue – properly into it.

Obviously whether I’ve been successful is a subjective judgment, but in just four days, I’ve managed to pen twelve thousand, five hundred words. ¬†The first of my six chapters is on the blog – have a read, and let me know what you think. ¬†And if you want to read more, let me know, and I’ll post another chapter ūüôā

So I guess my message today is that everyone has their hurdles, and for every writer, the challenges present themselves in different ways. ¬†But from my experience, the only way you get over a hurdle is by gritting your teeth, and hitting it face on. ¬†At first it might be tough, but once you’ve got something on the page, you’ve created a framework that you can go back and tweak. ¬†And trust me, the tweaking stage is far easier, and far more fun, than the initial ‘laying the framework’ phase – so just get that first part over and done with!

C-C xx

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Give Yourself an ‘Inspirational Day’

Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs exercise.

And whilst you’ll know by now that I’m not the biggest fan of exercises where you have a set amount of words to write every day, there are other writing tasks that I definitely approve of. ¬†And one of those tasks is about inspiration …

I always find the initial planning stage of a book the most exciting. ¬†The canvas is blank … and in the first stages, anything and everything can affect what goes onto that canvas. ¬†Inspired by my recent read ‘The Hunger Games’ (which I thought was amazing!) and by one of my favourite books as a child – Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ ¬†–¬†I’m playing with an idea of a story set in a post-apocalyptic community. ¬†The great thing about writing fantasy is that the boundaries are quite literally endless – the only limits are my imagination, and at this early planning stage, I like to think of my brain as a sponge.

I’m currently visiting a friend in New York, and yesterday spent sixteen hours trekking around Manhattan, opening my mind to all the possible stimuli available.

In a recent post that I wrote about Writer’s Block, I explained how reading other fiction can really be helpful when you’re feeling stuck writing your own. ¬†Personally, if I’m having trouble finding my voice in the first person, for example, then I’ll read other texts written in the first person. ¬†That way I’m ‘thinking right’. ¬†However, some of the readers of the blog misunderstood this advice. ¬†One particular comment asked if I simply thought ONLY fiction could inspire fiction … and wasn’t there just as valid a place for poetry as an inspiration?

Hopefully this blog post will allow me to properly answer that question. ¬†When I’m at the actual writing stage of a novel, I need to surround myself in other fiction, in order for my internal narrative voice to take the appropriate tone. ¬†To be honest, I rarely read at all when I’m in a ‘writing phase’, because I become so consumed in the text I’m writing, however, if I get Writer’s Block, then its fiction that I will turn to. ¬†If I were to turn to poetry, for example, then I’d end up thinking ‘poetically’, and that would end up being what I wanted to write.

However, that’s not me saying poetry can’t be inspirational … particularly in the planning stages of a story. ¬†Personally, I find everything and anything can be inspirational when you are gathering the bare bones of a story together. ¬†For example, Suzanne Collins, author of the aforementioned ‘Hunger Games’ claims she came up with the idea of children fighting to the death in a twisted futuristic reality TV show-setting by channel hopping between footage of the Iraq War and a reality TV show (I’d assume Big Brother?). ¬† Inspiration can come from anywhere, so literally with that in mind I decided to indulge in an ‘inspiration day’ – opening my eyes and ears to everything around me in one of the busiest cities in the world, and not filtering anything thing that came in too carefully.

Personally I find ‘inspiration days’ work best if you’re alone. ¬†You’ve got time to think and develop ideas on the go, and the only conversation going on is your internal one, as you ferret through ideas, piecing possible scenarios together. ¬†I like to move while I’m thinking, so beating the streets of New York seemed the perfect place for such an exercise. ¬†And as I was planning on visiting museums, I was likely to encounter a number of stimuli unusual to my every day. ¬†I visited MOMA and the Met, as well as the Museum of Sex, Bodyworks, Madame Tussauds and the Empire State Building (yes my feet hurt, and I had a free pass, so don’t worry I wasn’t forking out heaps of cash in any of these places!)

I won’t go into detail about the things I heard and saw, but by the end of the day at least a vague outline of a story had begin to form in my head. ¬†And it made me feel like a writer. ¬†Creativity spun through my head like fresh blood pumping through my veins and it was like personal adrenaline. ¬†If you’re a writer, and you’re ever doubting yourself or feel like you’ve hit a metaphorical brick wall, then I would definitely recommend giving yourself an Inspirational Day. ¬†Think out of the box. ¬†Think outside of your writing comfort zone, and let the world come to you like a series of unmatched puzzle pieces, and just see what starts to take shape in your imagination. ¬†You never know, you might have the makings of the next best-seller.

If there was anything that yesterday taught me though, it was the value of other manifestations of the arts to writing. ¬†Ok, so when I have writer’s block midway through a novel, sitting at MOMA and staring at a painting for two hours might not do me any good, BUT when I’m tracing the path of an as yet untold stories through the waves of possibility, sitting in an art gallery and surrounding myself with a very different selection of ideas might be just what I need!

C-C xxx

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Falling into the ‘Forced Writing Trap’

As I trawl through the offerings of other ‘writer bloggers’ on WordPress, I regularly come across two personal niggles.

The first is people blogging simply to tell the world EITHER that they are feeling totally uninspired, and can’t write a single word, OR to report exactly how inspired they are feeling, by telling us all EXACTLY how many words/pages they have written that day.

And that is ALL they write in a blog post!

Really? ¬†Is this the kind of stuff you want to waste your words on? ¬†There are only 24 hours in a day … both yours, and mine … please don’t waste them with blog posts like that! ¬†Even if I were your Mum I wouldn’t want to know this kind of stuff!

I’d rather read an opinion, a paragraph of pose, a poem … ¬†Think about it – your blog-post has a short shelf life on the WordPress ‘Recently Posted’ Writing Page. Don’t put off future readers by catching their eye with a mundane post like that! They won’t ever come back! ¬†Complaints about writer’s block, or self-congratulatory back-patting over a couple of paragraphs of writing should be reserved for the private sphere.

Either get a journal … or if you still insist on addressing the blogosphere, then turn it into something positive. Write about how you cure your personal writer’s block, or what helps inspire you on ‘good writing days’ … ¬†At least a reader can take something from those kinds of posts.

My second niggle is what I like to call the ¬†‘Forced Writing Trap’.

While I understand that every now and again writers may need a metaphorical kick up the bum to write, I’m really against setting a specific goal of words to write each day.

Like any author, I go through periods of hyper-creativity, and phases of zero-creativity. I have days where I stare at a page and am happy to complete a full sentence, and other days where I’m forced to stop simply because my lap-top battery has run out, or it’s 4am and I’m meant to be up again in three hours.

But rather than reprimand myself for not making a word quota, or seeing a super-creative day as meaning I don’t have to write for another three day, I prefer to simply roll with the punches, and treat each day as it comes.

Writing a novel shouldn’t be a series of daily battles, but one long war. ¬†Sometimes that means you don’t write for a week, and other times it means all you do for three days is hack away at your laptop.

I can understand that committing to a ‘5000 words per day’ regime may discipline you to write … I just think that where a novel is concerned, if you insist on writing 5000, or however many, words a day, every day, you are often going to produce 5000 words of crap!

On my zero-creativity days, if I were to force my novel forward 5000 words, what I’d most probably be doing would be setting my book back at least 2 days of re-writing.

Instead, on those days when I sit down at the computer, and can’t see a path through the metaphorical trees, I find other tasks. ¬†I might do administrative chores linked to my book – like numbering and heading pages, or keeping track of the developing stories or character profiles. ¬†Or if there’s a particular topic the book requires me to know about, I might do some research. ¬†Another positive thing I often do when I’m not feeling creative enough to write, is to edit. ¬†I look back over previous chapters, and sometimes simply re-reading a chapter or two will get me into the correct frame to continue with the story.

And if that still doesn’t work … I don’t push it. ¬†I read something else, or heaven forbid … DON’T DO ANYTHING! ¬†Writing shouldn’t be a chore. ¬†We do it because we love it. ¬†It’s the future career we’ve chosen for ourselves … and for the first couple of years at least, we’ve chosen it not for monetary recompense, but for a creative outlet. ¬†So why would you force that outlet? ¬†Shouldn’t it be fun? ¬†And shouldn’t you be proud of what you write?

If I read 5000 words I’ve written, I want to feel proud of them. ¬†I want them to be polished and perfect, and the best 5000 words I could have used to describe that particular scene. ¬†I don’t simply want them to be five thousand random words … because I NEEDED the word count reader to say ‘5000’.

Just to clarify, this isn’t me complaining about those of you blogging everyday. ¬†As I’ve explained before, in The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger I address fiction writing very differently to blog writing, and don’t have any problem with people resolving to write a blog post every day, because the blogs stand alone each day, and a bad day of blogging won’t wreck a whole story. ¬†However, saying that, I will obviously object if all your ‘blog every day’ does is tell me how many words you have or haven’t written that day ūüėČ

On a personal note – I signed up to Script Frenzy … which some might see as a ‘Forced Writing Trap’ – 100 words of a script in a month. ¬†But with Script Frenzy, I simply see it as a task you could give yourself a month to complete. ¬†An inspiration, rather than a set word count governing your day. ¬†And in that light, I have to admit to taking it rather liberally so far … In the absence of Final Draft, I’ve been struggling to form my words into an acceptable script format. ¬†As a result, this month, whenever I’ve felt the need to write, I’ve found myself turning to blog posts instead of the script. ¬†But rather than punishing myself for not fulfilling my ‘Script Frenzy’ commitment, I’m simply happy to be creating something legible.

Should I tell you how many words I wrote today now? ūüėČ

C-C xxx

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Some Cures for Writer’s Block

I recently asked for suggestions for blog topics, and one which resonated particularly with me was ‘writer’s block’.

It’s quite a dramatised area of writing. ¬†The romantic image of the creatively-stifled author, tying himself in mentally draining knots, until along comes his muse and frees him from his own personal misery.

But from my experience at least, writer’s block doesn’t work like that.

I’ve never really been plagued by ‘the block’ … and I think there are some key reasons for that.

Firstly, I know and understand the way I write.

I have three different stages of writing.  The framework phrase, then the more specific ideas phase, and then finally the most precise phase.  Like cutting a piece of wood into chunks, then carving it, and then finally whittling away the finer details.

The first part is the brainstorm phrase. ¬†Everything and anything is potentially of use. ¬†And so I store it all. ¬†I don’t worry about the finer points, or being neat about it. And it’s not a problem if I don’t use half of the stuff I come up with … I just … for want of a better word … spill! ¬†And I carry on ‘spilling’ (such an awful phrase!) until I feel like I have enough material to work with.

During the second phase, I begin to shape those ideas into chapters and a more rigid framework. ¬†As I explained in ‘Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘, I try to work my ideas into a useable framework, so that chapters begin to form, and I have specific parts of a book in which the initial ideas are then filed. ¬†Because I’m still working on the book as a whole, and not individual chronological sections, it means that if there’s a particular section I’m interested in, or more inspired by, I can focus on my ideas for that part, and then go back to other trickier sections when I understand them more.

At this point I should probably interject with my second piece of advice for avoiding ‘writer’s block’. ¬†I don’t set myself any strict deadlines. ¬†Obviously I have a rough timescale in mind … but because I’m essentially writing for myself at this point, I am the one calling the shots on my time, and how I use it. ¬†And with this relaxed approach, I find I never feel specifically ‘blocked’. ¬†If I’m not feeling overly creative one evening, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere – doing more mundane, less creative tasks like numbering pages, or writing synopses of each chapter so that I can track character development etc. ¬†That way, even in my less creative moments, I still feel like I’m doing something productive.

Going back to the phases of my writing, the third phase, where I fill out the frameworks of each chapter with the actual story, is obviously the phase where I’m most susceptible to blocks. ¬†To get myself into the ‘writing mood’, I find it helps to start each session by reading the chapter beforehand. ¬†This gets me into the right tone, and just reminds me of exactly where I am. ¬†I also try to focus on the story outside of my writing time. ¬†Over time I’ve worked out what works best for me, creatively. ¬†Particularly with dialogue between characters, which is, I think, one of my strong points, I find the best way for me to work out the conversations, is to play them out in my head. ¬†In order for that to happen, I need focussed solace. ¬†And that’s where exercise comes in. ¬†Whether I’m running, or hiking, or just working out in the gym, the focussed alone time is the perfect setting for dialogue to take shape. ¬†And then I just need to make sure I can write down what I’ve come up with, as soon as possible.

When I was in Peru, I hiked the Inca Trail.  Whilst I was in a group, and it was quite sociable, there were also long stretches of tough hiking when no one talked.  And these were the times I found most productive as a writer.  At the end of each day, as we sat around waiting for dinnertime, I would madly scribble out page after page of notes.

Finally, I have one last tip for writer’s block … and that’s to read!

The best way to think like a writer, is to surround yourself with writing. ¬†Now, I’m not suggesting plagiarism! ¬†I just think the way to be most creative, is to get yourself into a creative frame of mind. ¬†And that means immersing yourself in stories, because they will stretch your own imagination. ¬†I find, if I want to think in the first person, I need to read stories written in the first person, so that my internal voice is playing out accordingly. ¬†Likewise, I’m about to start writing a book for younger children than I normally write for, and so, I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite children’s books, so that I can achieve the best tone, and think from a children’s book perspective.

So those are my ‘cures’ for writer’s block –

  1. Know and understand your writing style
  2. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
  3. Find other productive things to do when you’re not feeling creative
  4. Creativity doesn’t only have a place when you’re sitting down in front of your laptop
  5. Surround yourself with creativity – particularly your current genre of writing

C-C xx

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