I mention stage fright and the yips because I wonder if the problem is fear: perhaps we writers are afraid of writing absolute rubbish, wasting our time on drivel that we’ll immediately want to throw in the waste basket, or in winter, on the fire. It’s a confidence thing. I write a lot of rubbish, actually, and even my best stuff has a lot of rubbish running through it, much of which (if I’m lucky) is later removed by an editor. Once you can face up to the reality that you can have really rancid days as a writer, you’re halfway towards success. I think I should start a group called Writers Anonymous, where people can sit around in groups and confess to having written simply awful stuff. Then it can go in the bin, or better still these days, on a 500GB portable hard drive.
So here are a few tips for writers with writers block.
- Write something – anything – that comes into your head. 50-100 words of absolute drivel. If you find yourself writing, keep doing it. I post stories on a website called Friday Flash Fiction. Why not try it yourself?
- If you’re looking for a subject, consider what’s in the news. Try a ‘what if?’ scenario picturing yourself present at some scene you’ve read about. Or write about your own dreams or nightmares, even your own innermost desires (you’re going to put these onto another central character but you can always destroy it anyway).
- Try writing about something you can see – describe a chair in your room, or the fireplace, a garden, a bird flying, a woman walking on the pavement, a man reading a newspaper in a café. Treat your notebook like an artist’s sketchbook and sit in a railway or bus station. Imagine the people you see have issues – escaped prisoners, are suicidal, are refugees, clean a variety of houses (describe the houses they’ll go to) and so on.
- If all else fails, go for a long walk and while you’re alone, try telling yourself a story out loud. The golf course is a great refresher for me. Most of us write best when we replicate our speaking voice on paper. Not having anything with you can make you want to write it all down when you get home – the very process you’re trying to kick-start.
If you’ve got stuck on a novel (I’m slightly stuck just now), you just have to drive yourself forward. Take notes of potential ‘good bits’ that you think might work later in your book – essentially I wrote the last chapter of Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie when the book was half-finished. These later highlights – perhaps a little conversation exchange, a turn of phrase, a character’s description – act as little stepping stones that get you through to the end. Write the little stepping-stones down, though, or you’ll forget them.
I’m sure something will work. If you’ve ever written anything at all, then you can write some more. However, once you’ve re-started, keep going: the first stuff might be only so-so, but you’ll get better if you don’t drop out of the habit.
This post first appeared at Comely Bank Publishing.