Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Write on!

We're all writers, right? We write blogs, letters, shopping lists, books and more. Or less. But there are times when doing something as simple as putting words down on a sheet of paper (or on computer) seems about as difficult as dry-stone walling with your hands tied together. And blindfolded.

This is one of those mornings. I've loads of ideas (this isn't one of them!) and no inkling about shaping them into something as ephemeral as a tweet, let alone a blog post. Of course, they say a problem shared is a problem halved. And a problem not only shared but solved is not a problem anymore. So, I'm asking for your writing tips. In particular, I'm asking for the strategies you use when you are stuck.

Ted Hughes advocated writing anything - gibberish, rubbish - just scrawling on the paper until the real ideas, the real words, started flowing. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview a number of authors (Bill Herbert, Talli Roland, Tamsyn Murray, Gary Murning and Guy de la Bédoyère among them) in the process of compiling my latest book and they all had some fascinating things to say about the process of inspiration, writing, revising and publishing.

But probably because I was 'on fire' at the time, brimming with ideas and at a stage where the words were flowing I didn't think to ask them anything about writer's 'block'. I did, of course, cover it in the book. But perhaps I failed to give it due attention. And now the muse has done a runner and I need your help.

Share your tips below and I'll give my favourite a copy of the book. It needn't be scientific or profound or even original. As long as it works. Because if it works for you, it might do the same for me. And at the moment I need all the help I can get!


  1. Not being a published author I'm not sure I'm the right person to give you tips, but here are mine for when the words just won't come...

    1. Get out. Out of the house. If possible do something completely different, although even a trip to the supermarket can help to free up the mind.

    2. If the urge still doesn't take you to write anything down, (and btw I have a notebook for the times I'm not near the computer and ideas come to me - amazingly it even sees some use from time to time), put it to one side and give yourself permission not to worry about it for another 24 hrs or so.

    3. But finally, if you're still not getting anywhere, just give yourself a target - nothing exhaustive, maybe 200 words - and start writing until you hit it. By the time you get there something will probably have sparked off. Or not. Which may be why I've only just reached the 9,000 word milestone in 8 months of writing 'the book'*.

    (*They are all beautifully crafted, mind you...)

    1. Three for the price of one, PM! And all excellent tips. If it weren't for rain of near-biblical proportions I'd certainly be trying number one right now!

  2. I sometimes like restrictions or set tasks, for example, write a haiku. Write a 100 word story - not 99 or 101, exactly 100.
    Sometimes the challenge of making it a word game frees you up from fretting over whether it's any good or not.
    You mentioned lists. One of the writing exercises I did in a workshop once was to list the contents of your bag (it could be your desk I guess) and to say something about them - how they feel, their shape, colour, texture, what they mean. It can create some really powerful stuff.
    Good luck unblocking the inspirational flow.

  3. I find that if I need to write something and I'm finding it hard to do so, I just need to start. Write a sentence of the idea. It can be as simple as "One night the cat sat on the mat". And then it will develop: you immediately have four things to work on: night, cat, mat and the act of sitting. By the time you've written a couple of sentences about any one of them you're flowing.
    I have to write a quarterly "Secretary's column" for the newsletter of the literary society. Sometimes I have an idea; something I need to say. Sometimes I don't. It's only about 200 words but often I can't get started. So I make myself start with some sentence of an idea, and within 30 minutes it's written, and probably reworked as well.

  4. If I am stuck for ideas for a post I go along and get involved in discussions on forums relating to my chosen subject (or with actual real live people sometimes too!) and usually once I am chatting an idea sparks :)

  5. I'm with Mr Hughes that as soon as you start the flow often comes.

    Failing that, stop trying all together. Do something else, sort the sock drawer, walk the dog and when you come back to your desk often Ms Muse will have returned.

    And in extremis ask the good folk of Twitter. "Help, I'm stuck. What should I write about?" and the answers you get will either be so inspiring you start working or so ludicrous you'll know you can do better.

  6. A trick (strategy?) I have used with young people when they 'don't know' is to ask them the question..."If you did know what the problem was, what do you think it might be?" Translated, to the question being asked:

    "If I did know what to write, what might that be?"

    Admittedly, the one that works best for me at the moment is: "If I could write anything ANYTHING without fear of repercussion what would I write?'

    And while I can't go on to print exactly what I come up with, I do manage to come up with a modified and acceptable version....with names and places changed to protect the guilty, of course!

    Good luck.

  7. You should read Dorethea Brande's 'Becoming a Writer'-the original purveyor of 'morning notes' and it really helped me. I'm a writer/director and the brain freeze/blocks don't come as often since that book and also 'Why I Write' by George Orwell. For novels/screenplays Lagos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing is incredible for character building/ understanding the psychology and actions of characters. Good luck.


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