Monthly Archives: June 2007

Writing tip 1: 5 ways to beat writers’ block

Writer’s block is usually a sign of anxiety. For me, it’s when I’m worried about what people will think of what I’ve written and how I’ve written it. It’s fear of being told that I can’t write. Other people get blocked because they’re worried about spelling and grammar or that their ideas aren’t good enough.

The only way round writers’ block is to lose the anxiety. You need to persaude yourself that it doesn’t matter what you write, or how you write it – you can always revise it later – it’s just getting it written that matters.

Here are my top ways to beat writers’ block:

  1. Freewrite
    Just write, without stopping, for 10 minutes. Write about anything and everything – if you’re stuck on a particular project, then write about how you are stuck. Just the act of writing, knowing that what you’re producing can be thrown away and won’t be seen by anyone will help you to get un-stuck. For more about freewriting, see Writing with Power by Peter Elbow.
  2. Set a timer.
    This is a good way to get into writing if you don’t feel like it just then. Set the timer for 15 minutes and don’t allow yourself to stop writing until the timer goes off. Knowing that there’s a time limit will help, but I usually find that when the time’s up I don’t want to stop writing.
  3. Ask questions.
    If you’re blocked from writing because you don’t know where to begin, then get a fresh sheet of paper and write a dialogue, answering and asking questions about the project. It’s another way of getting into writing without feeling under pressure to produce something perfect, and it will help you find out more about the topic, see where you have gaps in your knowledge and might even help you find a new angle.
  4. Play around.
    This is sometimes the hardest method to use – especially if you’re at work – but it can also be the most useful if you are really stuck for new ideas or need a new way to look at something. You take your topic as a starting point – whether it’s a letter, a leaflet or even a story, and change the format. Make it a dialogue, change your point of view (why not try writing a draft of a leafet from the POV of a customer, asking for what they want from the company?) Try playing around with rhyming couplets, write it as it would be said by one of your favourite tv characters – anything to get you thinking about it differently.

    After a while, you’ll find a new way of looking at the original piece of writing, and with a little (or a lot) of editing, will have got what you needed. The downside is that it can take a lot of time, and that if you’re writing something for work and your boss comes up behind you, it might take some explaining. But I still think that it’s a more productive way to deal with writers’ block than tidying out your desk drawer or making cups of coffee.

  5. Clustering.
    Or mind maps or spider diagrams or whatever you want to call them. They are one of the easiest ways to order ideas or even to generate new ones. If you’re getting stuck on what it is that you’re writing about, or want to write something but don’t know what – then this technique will help. Just take a piece of paper, write a word in the centre, circle it, then write any words or ideas that come to you in association with the word, linking them up with lines.

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Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Motivation, Writing


At last – and I feel a bit too weekend-ified to really get into writing today. I’ve worked on the book for about an hour and I think that I deserve to have a bit of time off for the rest of evening.

Josh is with his dad tonight – which is why I’ve been able to eat, watch a dvd and get a bit of writing done. And it’s still not even 10:00!

I’ve got a dinner party to prepare for tomorrow night, so probably not as much writing in as I’d like. I suppose it will depend whether or not it rains: if it rains then I can’t get on with much in the garden and I’ll be able to write without feeling guilty about not doing something else.

How’s the novel going? Still slowly, but the pieces are beginning to fit together. I just wish that I could write it faster – handwriting it seems to be motivating me to get on with it (it’s not easy to spend all evening in front of the computer when that’s what you’ve done all day) but it’s taking so long. If only I could write quickly and have something legible at the end of it.

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Filed under Children, Motivation, Time, Writing

Chipping away still

I got another half an hour’s writing done tonight. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but I suppose it will all add up. My main problem now is going to be my handwriting. I’ve started to handwrite the first draft because it’s a change from being stuck in front of the screen like I am all day, but it’s getting harder to write legibly. I was hoping that writing more would make my writing better, not worse!

I suppose I should do some handwriting exercises – but when? Maybe I could add that to my list of exciting hobbies…

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Boring (and old?)

Am I getting boring, or do I just expect too much from myself and life? Driving to Wellingborough with my boss, we’re chatting away, and he asks me what I do when I’m not at work.

My mind went blank. What do I do? Obviously I told him that I was writing a book, but that really doesn’t sound very exciting. ‘Going to the cinema with friends’ is enjoyable, but again, hardly amazing. Gardening? DIY? Like, wow!

I suppose it’s a fact of life. I work full time, I have a little boy to look after in the evenings (hmm – I forgot to mention Lego-building as an after-work activity) and lack time and money to have an exciting hobby to talk about. Of course I think that writing a novel is exciting – I wouldn’t be struggling on with it if I wasn’t excited about it, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it as hang-gliding or kick-boxing.

I did try rock climbing as something to get me out and about a bit more. But I soon found out that working all day, cooking dinner, getting Josh ready for bed before my mum arrived to baby sit, then driving off to the climbing wall for a couple of hours of climbing wasn’t really going to work as a social activity, as I was totally shattered!

But, on a good note, I got a good half hour’s writing in tonight. The story seems to flow more easily now that I’ve re-structured the first few sections. I’ve still not set chapters as such – I’m working on ‘scenes’; much smaller chunks that move the story forward. I worked out that chapters were too big to concentrate on, and I found myself trying to get through them by ‘telling’ the story, rather than showing what is happening. I can usually finish a scene in a night or two.

It’s never going to find me a boyfriend (much to my mum’s dismay) but maybe the book is one of the best things I can do with my ‘spare’ time right now.

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Filed under Children, Getting old, Time, Writing

The dangerous book for boys (and mums)

I broke my promise to myself. (The one not to buy any more books.)

I went into town early today and just happened to be passing a shop that sold books, and I just happened to go in and look – and saw The Dangerous Book for Boys and realised that I had to get it. For Josh, obviously. Why would I want to know how to tie knots, build a tree-house or make the best paper aeroplane? Or find out how famous battles were won (or lost) or get hints on how to find fossils?

Actually, the book reminded me of a series of magazines that my dad collected back in the sixties called Finding Out. They each had a cover picture that showed the contents of the magazine as a still life painting – even before I could read, I liked looking at those cover pictures. And the topics they’d cover would include famous people (like Captain Cook) as well as life in different countries, volcanoes and the plays of Shakespeare. It was a complete mix, and when I began to read them in the late seventies through to the eighties, they were already hopelessly out of date, but still brilliant – and surprisingly useful. Little did I know how useful ‘Tales from the Greek myths’ would be until I began my English degree!

But that was just a fleeting distraction today. Josh went to see the Chinese State circus with his dad, so I had a bit of time to myself and got a whole hour of writing in. I was hoping to do some more tonight, but once again Josh has only just gone off to sleep and to be honest I feel too tired to write now.

(And anyway, I’ve got a burning desire to find out how to win at playing conkers. I’m sure it will come in handy one day.)

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Filed under Children, Sleep, Writing

No novel, but lots of other writing

Josh is really getting into the warm, bright evenings and just doesn’t want to sleep. I don’t blame him, but all the late nights are making him grumpy. It also means that I get little time to myself – which sounds selfish, but it is nice to have a shower without someone bursting in on you demanding something!

It was after 10:00 when he’d gone to sleep and by the time I’d finished the washing up, I didn’t really feel in the right frame of mind for writing anything. I spent about half an hour re-reading parts of Rebecca just to unwind a bit.

But it’s not been a completely wasted day as far as writing is concerned. I’ve almost got the company brochure drafted.

That’s been a bit of a nightmare project. Although I work for the company, getting consistent information out of anyone is practically impossible. No one can even agree on what products we make or sell!

But it was especially hard to write it because I’d put myself under pressure to get it perfect – and that is impossible. It could always be better, and someone will always be able to pick fault with whatever is finally printed. And after nearly ten years of writing marketing bumpf, I really should know this and be a bit more thick skinned – but I suppose I lost my guard.

I’d called up a design agency that had been working with the company before I joined, and said that I was re-drafting the brochure, would they be interested?

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’ they said.

‘How do you mean?’ I asked.

‘You should really get someone who knows what they’re doing to write it. It’s not the sort of thing that just anyone can do,’ they said.

Indignation and self doubt immediately followed. My rational mind told me that of course they didn’t want me to write it – they would get a lot more money if they manage the whole project. ‘Huh, I told myself. Don’t know what I’m doing, eh? I’ll show them!’

A fair enough thought, but not very helpful when you’re just trying to get words on the page and order your ideas. So I kind of froze in the writing. I had a week booked off work, and when I came back I had to catch up on emails, tidy my desk, help people sort out their computers – all sorts of things other than writing. I suppose I got writer’s block – I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write the perfect brochure.

Then I realised that I was being pathetic and the rational side of my mind kicked in again. I decided that I wouldn’t use that agency any more – it’s petty, but it made me feel so much better.

And then I just made myself write. I found an empty office with no computer or phone, and just wrote by hand. I wrote tons and tons of rubbish – but in the end I’ve nearly got a complete brochure, and I’m not blocked any more.

I’ve still not written any more of my novel, though. And after this stupidly long post, I’ve not got an early night in either!

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Filed under Anxiety, Children, copywriting, Housework, Self sabotage, Writing

Feeling poorly

And no writing done today either. I feel lousy and I spent all morning at work without being able to concentrate. I gave up at 2:00 and came home. I’m not sure if I’m coming down with a really bad cold or an ear infection – of if I’m just being a wimp and I’ll be fine by tomorrow.

Josh was really sweet. When he came home from school, he came in and gave me a cuddle (only jumping up and down on the bed a little bit) and even carried in a cup of tea for me. He’s a sweetheart!

He made me jump earlier. I thought he was asleep, so I had a bath and was just thinking of getting out, when I heard a knock. With my ears blocked, I thought it  was coming from the outside – and I’d left the towel in the living room! Luckily it was Josh just come down stairs to tell me that he couldn’t sleep, so I was spared the embarrassment of having to open the door to someone dripping wet and wearing whatever I could find in the laundry basket.

He’s only  just gone off to sleep now, so I’ve decided to give novel-writing a miss tonight and get some more sleep.

When I had a sleep earlier this afternoon, after coming back from work, I woke up with an idea for a romance story already fully formed in my mind. I don’t read the genre, but maybe I ought to give it a go?  Is it a gift from the ‘Great Creator’ that Julia Cameron tells us about, or myself just trying to sabotage the novel I’m writing at the moment?

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Filed under Children, Self sabotage, Sleep, Writing