How to deal with Writers Block

This post is from Stephen Oliver author of “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. It gives inspiration and practical suggestions for those suffering from Writers Block. It is a long post but difficult to condense and yet retain his useful advice.

photography of brickwall
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

 

Dealing with Writers Block

A couple of years ago, I received an email in connection with a post I made on the TUT Writer’s Group on Facebook. The writer asked me about how to become a writer and how to deal with writer’s block. The following is based on my reply.

When it comes to writing, I would like to know where your writer’s block lies, so that I can give you more targeted advice. However, I can give you the following points, to begin with.

What sort of writing do you want to do?

Are you intending to write fiction or non-fiction? I do both, and each needs its own way of looking at things.

Fiction

If you want to write fiction, do you know what sort of story you want to write? Is it romance, general fiction, erotica, fantasy (science fiction, dark fantasy or horror, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, to name but a few)? Is it a novel or a short story? Whatever type you want to write, you need to do some reading in that genre, just to get a feel for what is acceptable to the reading public. I, for instance, have read all of the above-mentioned fantasy types for years. You don’t want to copy them, of course, but you do need to know the kind of stories that are available.

Sometimes, a story you read will trigger an idea of your own. You might like the story and want to know what happened next. Why don’t you write about that? This is where a lot of fanfiction comes from.

If the story took place years ago, why not rewrite it into modern times? West Side Story is really Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century New York, for instance. The Lion King is a modern take on Hamlet. One of the short stories I’m about to publish is my take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. And so on.

At other times, you might think to yourself “I don’t like the way that story turned out.” So why not write your own version, giving it the ending you would have liked?

Or you read a story and imagine something completely different, that’s still somehow connected with the original, like my story about a modern Frankenstein.

Television and movies are other good sources of ideas. Just as I mentioned above, they can trigger thoughts and ideas that lead to a story.

I’ve also had ideas that have come from dreams and daydreams. You just have to be open to your thoughts. There are stories that I have started writing with nothing more than a single phrase or concept.

To throw a couple of ideas out to you:

  • What would it feel like to be immortal? You know that everyone you love will one day be gone, while you have to carry on without them forever more. How will you live? What will you do? Is there a problem with boredom, because you’ve done it all before? If they reincarnate, will you seek them out again?
  • How about someone whose job is to protect a city, like a superhero, except he can’t remember who he is until the city is about to be destroyed? How does he react until he realises that he’s the one to save the day? How do the inhabitants treat him because he’s always so late coming to the rescue?
  • Or how about a woman who can’t find her car keys, until she remembers that she never learned to drive? Why does she think that she has keys for a car she doesn’t own? Is she suffering from amnesia? Does she have a split personality? Is she channelling someone from a parallel world? Or is a ghost trying to contact her? The possibilities are endless.
  • What is the exact meaning of a company name, like Blue Dog? Does someone have an unusual name? Why do they have it?

These are a few ideas that just popped into my head while I was writing this. Be prepared to think strange things and follow them up.

If you still can’t think of anything, google “writing prompts” with the genre name. You will find thousands of entries to get you started. Amazon also has large numbers of prompt books, often for only £0.99, or a little more.

If you do decide to write, I suggest you keep some sort of notebook to write your ideas down. Personally, I use a program called Evernote (https://evernote.com), which you can get for free. It runs on the PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad, any Android device, etc. What you do is download it on any device you use and then set up an account with them or Dropbox or iCloud, or some other cloud service. Once all devices and their versions of Evernote are synchronised to the same account, if you write something down on one of them, it will be available on all of them within seconds. You need never lose an idea again. Except in the shower; I still have no idea how I can do it there.

If electronic devices are not your thing, and I know people who still prefer old-fashions methods, buy yourself a small reporter’s notebook with an attached pen or pencil. Keep it with you at all times and jot down any ideas you get. Every so often, say once a week, write them up in a bigger notebook or school book. Give it a title like “My Great Ideas Book.” Cherish the ideas as they come, accept them as the gifts from whomever or whatever you think of as a higher power, and they will keep coming. They will increase, and you will soon wonder why you never had any ideas.

Non-Fiction

Although all that I’ve written about above is as true for non-fiction as it is for fiction, non-fiction has a few extra points you need to keep in mind.

First of all, how much do you know about the subject? If it’s something you work with every day, and you know all about it, then you’re set. You just need to work out how to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

If you know a bit, or even nothing at all, then you are going to have to research. There are books available on just about every subject under the sun, many of them cheap or even free, if you know where to look. Try Amazon’s free books, for example, or check out Project Gutenberg for books that are out of copyright. Google the subject and follow any leads you find. Just be aware that there is a lot of useless or even false information out there. As Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, once said: “90% of everything is crud.”

As you’re doing your research, keep making notes of ideas and concepts that you want to include in your book. As I noted earlier, a notebook or some electronic aid such as Evernote, is an excellent way of keeping everything together. You can even cut and paste whole web pages into it. It doesn’t matter whether everything is neat and tidy, or just a bunch of scribbles and phrases, as long as they make sense to you when you come back to them later.

Once you start writing, you will have to find your personal style. When I’m working on a non-fiction book, I always write as if I’m actually talking to the person. If I’m teaching someone how to use a computer program (and I have written a user manual), it’s as if we’re sitting down together in front the machine and I’m telling them what to type and where to click. This is my style, and I know that there are people who prefer other styles, such as impersonal teacher dishing out commands.

My fiction style varies, depending on the needs of the story.

Whatever you found during your research, don’t write it exactly as you noted it down in the first place because you may find that you are plagiarising someone else’s words. Instead, write it down in your own words, as if you are trying to explain to someone else what it is that you’ve read. Don’t worry if you think you have nothing new to say, it may be that someone else needs to hear it put the way that you can uniquely do it. Say it your own way, and it will be new to someone.

Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.

Dr Joe Vitale

Problems

Now, let’s look at one or two problems more carefully.

Ideas are blocked

If you think that your problem lies with writer’s block, try this little trick. If you prefer to work by hand, get a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and write the subject you want to write about at the top of the page. Underline it or draw a box around it, whatever makes you feel that it’s important.

Now, let’s establish a couple of simple rules. First of all, when you start writing, don’t stop! Secondly, you are only allowed to write from left to right and top to bottom. You can’t go back and correct something at the moment; that comes later.

Now, just keep writing whatever goes through your head on the subject. If you find that nothing relevant to the subject comes out, just write whatever you are thinking about, even if it’s about the problem you’re having writing anything down. The idea is to disconnect your creative process from the critical process of editing, silencing your Inner Critic. Once you’ve been writing for five or ten minutes, or whatever feels comfortable, take a break or stop completely

Now is the time to go back and look at what you’ve written. Don’t change anything yet, just read it from beginning to end to see what exactly you have created. If you find something you would like to alter or even delete, make a mental note to come back to it later. If you prefer, mark where the change should be, but don’t actually make the correction yet.

Once you’ve reread it, you can go back and make the changes you thought about earlier. When you’ve finished, use that as a basis for your writing. You can repeat this as many times as you like, until you’re satisfied.

If you’re a computer user and can type fast enough, create a new blank document and start with that. I’ve even used dictation software to get ideas down as quickly as possible.

This is a combination of two different methods that I personally use. The first is Free Writing, where you just allow words to come out of you without censoring them in any way. The second method includes the first as its first stage. This method is called the Disney Strategy and is named after Walt Disney. It’s the way that he and his team of creators brainstormed new ideas for films and features.

If you want to find out more about this and other methods of achieving your goals, I suggest you look at my book “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. You can find it on Amazon as both a Kindle eBook (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EX4FVUI) and paperback (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992744113), or as an iBook.

Another suggestion I can make is to have multiple projects going on at the same time. For instance, right now I am doing the final clean-up on a collection of science fiction short stories, another one in multiple genres looking for a publisher, two more of the same that are awaiting editing, a fourth collection of stories being written on the same theme, and one other collection as a work in progress. I also have a fantasy novel I’m working on, and a follow-up book to the one that I just mentioned above. If I run out of ideas, or find myself blocked on one of these projects, I simply switch to another one and continue working there. I do this because I’ve come to realise that it’s not really a block, as such. It really means that what I’m working on at the moment isn’t quite ready to be written down yet.

No ideas at all

You said that you have no idea where to start? Is this because you have no ideas? Or is it because you have no idea what tools to use?

If the first one is your problem, please look earlier in this post, where I’ve given you a few pointers on how to start.

If the second one is where you’re stuck, any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, will do perfectly well. I wrote my first book using Word, and it did the job fairly well.

These days, I use a product called Scrivener, which is specially designed with the writer in mind, allowing you to structure your work any which way you like, moving stuff around if it makes more sense that way. You can download a free trial at http://www.literatureandlatte.com, which will run for 30 days of use; if you use it only once a week, it will work for months. If you decide you like it, it only costs about $45 to buy the full licence. There are versions for the PC, Mac, and iPhone and iPad. It even comes with video tutorials available straight from the programme.

Other problems

If your problems lie more in the realm of the actual publication of your writing, we can talk about this on another occasion.

I hope this helps you in your quest to become a writer.

I wish you lots of luck in the future and look forward to hearing from you soon and reading your writing

Warm Regards,

Stephen

Diana

Diana Flowers Maxwell Hamilton Creative Commons
The sea of flowers outside Buckingham Palace (Picture Credit Maxwell Hamilton Creative Commons)

 

This piece is Written by Val Fish another of our very talented prize-winning authors.

 

This was written for a challenge to imagine yourself at a famous event in history.

In my case, I didn’t need to imagine, I was there… 

Diana

I woke up around six am, after for the first time in my life sleeping on the pavement.

It was the 6th September 2007, the day etched in history when the whole world said a sad goodbye to Princess Diana.

A friend and I had come down the night before and as we walked down the Mall that evening I remember the sweet fragrance permeating from the thousands of flowers laid along the route.

We’d managed to nab a prime spot right in front of the railings. As the clock ticked on that morning, the mood amongst the crowd began to change, I think we were all still in disbelief as to what we were about to witness.

The realisation hit us when we heard the sound of approaching horses’ hooves, that’s when the wailing started.

The sight of that cortege will stay with me forever, the bouquet of lilies on the coffin, the boys with their heads bowed. I remember thinking ‘We shouldn’t be there, this should be private, that’s their mother.’

It was impossible not to cry…

diana_funeral_02 Dave Chancellor
The coffin carried in (Picture credit Dave Chancellor)

The service was relayed on a loud speaker; the crying now was more subdued, and as the choir began to sing ‘Libera Me’ from Verdi’s Requiem, I thought it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

And then it was over and once again the cortege passed us, this time the coffin in a car, and everybody was throwing flowers.

And then she was gone…

I felt almost honoured to have been there that day; I was one in a million.

I was part of history.

Diana memorial Christs Pieces Cambridge
Diana memorial Christs Pieces Cambridge

The Railway Carriage Child

Later this year Wendy will be sharing her long-awaited autobiography with the world. The publication is planned for September and work on the nuts and bolts of getting the book ready to face its readers, on time, is well underway.

The book is beautifully written, evocative of a time now past and Whittlesey a place much changed. Those of us who travelled along different paths but during the same time will recognise and remember the many experiences we all shared.

Unfortunately, her mentor and friend Edward Storey died as Wendy was finishing her book, he did, however, comment on it earlier, “we share Wendy’s journeys and experiences, her descriptions are so vivid we are there with her, sitting by her side.”

This is a first glimpse of the book’s cover, it may change a little before publication but this is it at the moment. There will be further posts once we have a price and firm publication date.

The Railway Carriage Child
The Railway Carriage Child

The Misspending of youth

Our dances weren’t quite this hectic

 

In this post, Val Chapman is sharing her thoughts on the changing world of school and aspects of life the young encounter now. Things that passed us by when we were of that age. A lovely thoughtful piece thank you, Val.

 

I was looking at a photograph of my neighbours’ grandson dressed up ready to go to his ‘School Prom’.

When did this become a ‘thing’?

We were lucky to get the occasional disco. It was always in the school hall though, no fancy hotel or stately home for us. I dare say the idea was the same, dressing ‘up to the nines’, one or two of us having a sneaky drink or cigarette before the teachers found out. Not me obviously, I was a real goody goody. Well, mostly…….

It felt quite anarchic, dancing in the school hall without it being ‘The Gay Gordons’, or ‘Dashing White Sergeant’!

I was born in 1957, so by the time my school discos came along, platform shoes and miniskirts were the order of the day.

That suited me fine though, I was a size 10-12, about 5’8″, and most of my height was in my legs!

Oh, how the mighty have fallen……….., and no, I’m not just talking about boobs here, my bum is definitely nearer the ground than it used to be.

See, that’s the thing though, isn’t it? ‘You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,’ to quote Joni Mitchel, a favourite from back in the day. I was a bit of a hippy, so she was right up my street.

Then again, my musical tastes varied hugely. I would happily dance around to Mott the Hoople, Cream, Bread, T. Rex, Free, Stevie Wonder. Diversity doesn’t come close. Maybe I was just trying to find “my” band, but the truth is I just enjoyed being with my friends and didn’t have any particular favourite.

Anyway, back to the Prom.

It seems to me, that this idea has spread here from ‘over the pond’. It appears that we do pick up on more than a few American ideas.

Take Halloween for example.

Have you seen the stuff in the shops for Halloween from about August?

It will be taking over from Christmas soon! And as for the ‘trick or treat’ idea.

To my mind, it’s just getting money, or sweets by extortion. ‘Give me the goodies, or else’. I may be a killjoy, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren thinking this is a respectable way to behave.

Oh dear, I’m sounding more and more like my parents.

If you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, doing ‘the funky chicken’ to something ridiculous.

 

Another way of seeing things

Writing
Dedicated writing

Wendy’s interesting perspective, it really is another way of seeing things.

Val’s piece about Plagiarism probably touched a nerve with most of us. We do not write in isolation, somehow screened from the real world and its influence.

When I first learned to write, aged about four, I traced the shape of letters that had been designed by someone else; A, B, C and D were not my invention.

Within a year or so, I was putting those shapes together to write my first words: C-A-T and D-O-G. Again, there was nothing original here.

It is just a myth that we writers produce anything original. We are not the proverbial chimps sitting at a keyboard and likely to produce a masterpiece if we are given enough time.

The secret of good writing and, perhaps more importantly, staying out of trouble, is to be inspired, influenced, led by others, but to build our own framework on which to hang these snippets.

An analogy might be that we see leaves blowing in the wind and scoop them up, then drape them on a branch where they form an interesting and unique pattern. We don’t uproot whole trees.

With this in mind, I would like to tell you about my latest collection of leaves.

I have been unable to drive for the last three months and have relied on public transport. The conversations that I have overheard have been an eye-opener of some magnitude. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in the Fens.

So, if you have been travelling in East Anglia, over the last few weeks, you might want to see if you can spot a few words from that lengthy discussion you were having on the bus.

“Well, it was only this morning I was saying to my ‘usband………’

Wendy Fletcher

 

The Mother I Never Knew

We are a diverse group of writers shaped by our experiences, this is another autobiographical piece from one of our U3A writing group members. Tessa writes about her mother, the mother she never had a chance to know.

Tessa's Mum
Tessa’s mother

My mother died at the age of 31. She had been a young bride, an abused wife, a mother of four, a WAAF, a lover of some, a prisoner, and at the end, a consumptive. I never knew my mother; I was three and a half when she died but her life had an enormous impact on her four surviving children. The consequences for us all were huge. The expression most used about my mother when I was growing up was “spirited”.

 

My mother was born on October 6th 1917 in Limerick, southern Ireland. She was christened Teresa although when it suited her she could and did, change her name. She was the eldest child of six children. A seventh child died in infancy. My grandfather was with the Royal Engineers based in Ireland at the time of my mother’s birth. My grandmother helped her mother at a guest house near the camp. My grandparents had a long and happy marriage mainly because my grandfather agreed on everything with my grandmother. There was one exception to this however, my mother. Despite her many failings, and indiscretions, my mother was without doubt my grandfather’s favourite child, something that would be tested many times.

 

My mother enjoyed the freedom of the large encampment and in particular the dances. She loved the dances. Actually my grandfather forbade her to go to them and her younger sister was supposed to ensure she was at home on the dance nights. But my mother always managed to sneak out and stand by the door of the dance hall. She was rarely caught and frequently managed a dance.

 

My mother and the family moved to England and to Welwyn Garden City sometime around 1932. She would have been about 15. In 1938 aged just twenty, and three months pregnant she married. She gave birth that year to twin girls. I cannot say if this was an unhappy marriage from the start. I do know from things I have learned as an adult that her husband was a violent man whose drinking would frequently result in abuse, both verbal and physical towards my mother. In 1940 she gave birth to a boy. With her husband away in the army I think my mother; young as she was must have found life very tough and lonely. She must have yearned for the freedom her sisters enjoyed, as they were yet to marry.

 

That freedom came with the soldiers on leave, looking for relief from the fighting. In Welwyn Garden City at that time was a large pub with an even larger ballroom. Dances were held several times a week. My mother would frequently leave the children in their cots, with glass bottle feeders and a roaring fire in the grate, and go dancing. It was reckless but it’s hard for me to condemn her. I have some sympathy for a young woman in uncertain times wanting to have some fun. It was usually left to my grandmother to respond when the neighbours heard the children crying in the house.

 

Sometime in 1942 my mother left her three children in the care of her husband’s sister and joined the WAAF band as a girl drummer based in Chivenham in Devon.  How she was able to do this, with a family left at home I don’t know but I imagine during war time anything is possible. My mother’s life must have changed dramatically. She was in uniform; she had many friends, though most seemed to be men. She came home on leave with stories of the great time she was having. My grandmother kept in touch with the children but at some point, and I am unclear as to when, my mother’s husband placed the twins in to an orphanage, and the boy he gave to friends who later adopted him. During this time my mother changed her forename and linked it with her married surname, gave her status as single and dropped her age by five years. She had a number of affairs judging by the number of young Americans in particular, who came to my grandmother’s house asking for her.

 

In July 1944 at The Parish church of Emmanuel, Compton Gifford near Plymouth she married a 22 year old Leading Airman in the RAF.  He was one of triplets, and was known to my family. Of course my mother was still married. On the front page of the Western Evening Herald dated Monday July 24th is a picture of the happy couple with a guard of honour of airmen and women. Had my mother lost her mind? The wedding certificate states that she was a spinster, aged 22 and single. She had to alter her father’s name to bring it in line with her own and gave his employment as a Company Sergeant Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. I’m sure my grandfather would have been tickled pink by that.

 

Whatever happiness she may have felt at this time, was soon dispelled. Her real husband was told of the marriage and informed the police. On leave, and visiting home she realised the game was up and went on the run. She appears to have been AWOL for at least 8 or 9 months during which time she must have had a relationship with someone as I was born in December 1945.  Whether my mother gave herself up or was caught I don’t know. Where she was during that time is also unknown. But at sometime during the summer of 1945 she faced trial for bigamy at the Old Bailey. My grandparents both attended the trial which, with the journey alone must have been quite a trial for them as well. She was sentenced to nine months imprisonment deferred until after I was born. By the beginning of January 1946 my mother’s sentence began at Holloway Prison. My mother never saw me again.

 

She left prison sometime in late 1946. I’m not sure exactly when or whether she had time off for good behaviour. But whilst in prison she contracted tuberculosis. Meanwhile I was in hospital suffering from septicaemia. Because of my mother’s illness I had an extended stay in hospital and didn’t leave until she died in May 1949.

 

The twins stayed in an orphanage until they were 16. Their lives were severely blighted by that experience and neither of them lived happily. The boy was adopted by people who were unkind and at times cruel. I met him for the first time a few years ago and we keep in touch. As for me, well my life has had many tragic moments and times I would rather forget. Most of my childhood is blocked from my memory, and that which I can remember I would rather not. As to my father, who knows? My mother did of course and asked my grandmother if she wanted to know. But she said no.

Tessa Thomson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting Penfriends

Gwen Bunting is a recent recruit to the Wordsmiths. This is her fascinating account of her sixty odd year friendship with a friend in Holland.

Gwen and Lilian
Gwen seated Lilian on the sun lounger

I have been writing to Lilian Boogaard in Holland since we were thirteen-year-old schoolgirls it wasn’t until we were both aged twenty that we first met, this was in 1963.

 

I flew from Heathrow whilst waiting to board a KLM flight to Schipol Amsterdam thinking back to when I was younger. Standing then in the Queens Building as a young child with my mother, watching the aircraft land and take off. I made up my mind whilst watching the planes that one day I would fly from Heathrow myself.

 

It took me all year to save up for the trip. The flight was about £16 but hard to come by when you only earned a third of that amount weekly and had to pay your board at home.

 

The day duly arrived and my dear brothers drove me to Heathrow overnight. Having my passport and Guilders for my big adventure. They left me at the departure gate and I was on my own. A big step for me, but I moved on to the correct area and boarded the flight which lasted about an hour.

 

Landing in Schipol I followed the signs making my way through passport control answering their questions. We were not in the common market then. I was duly stamped and moved through, collecting my case from the carousel.  Walking through into the open area looking for Lilian. No one was there. I cannot remember how long I sat waiting. She had been given all the flight details but she was nowhere to be seen.  Eventually, they arrived and we drove off to Loenen a small village about 30min drive from Amsterdam. Their English was stilted and my knowledge of Dutch much the same.

 

We went into Lilian’s mother’s house a tobacconists shop with the most wonderful smell of cigars, the Dutch are big cigar smokers. When we sat down to have a cup of tea they were surprised when I put milk into mine. This is called baby-tea they drink theirs weak and black. The other comment was that I did not speak like the Queen, I said very few of us do.

 

I stayed a week with my friend we lived with her brother and sister in law, who was pregnant. The things I remember and hold dear are my first taste of plain yoghurt which I still do not like; the delicious cakes I bought at the baker’s next door and visiting a windmill in the village.

Gwen and Marijke
Marijke seated and Gwen

 

I was able to help make a dress for Marijke my friends sister-in-law. Her baby was to be named Michael and they wanted the English spelling.

Michael
Michael Lilian’s nephew

 

Other reminisces are eating chips with mayonnaise instead of vinegar.  My friend’s father was in the Dutch Resistance, but he never spoke about the war. The family stuffed four gold Dutch gilders inside a toy dog belonging to my friend’s brother. He was told never to let anyone have his toy. The dog was to go everywhere with him. These gilders were later retrieved and made into pendants. I was so envious of these necklaces, knowing the history attached to them.

Lilian’s father worked on farms inseminating cows, this was hard to explain in English. We accompanied him on several visits, him donning long plastic gloves. He jokingly asked me if I would like to shake hands.  This was my first chance to wear clogs, they used them on the farm. Happy memories.

I visited again the following year and taught Michael to walk I am told.

Henk and Lilian
Henk, Lilian and chips with mayonaise

Sadly my friend suffers from severe arthritis, causing her to retire from work early. She had been a physiotherapist with the largest clinic in Amsterdam. Lilian lives with Henk who is a doctor. They have no children, but I am pleased that after all these years we are still in touch.

Lilian and Gwen
Lilian with Gwen more recently

 

In the last two years, I have visited again, being taken out on the boat along with the family and Michael who was there to steer the boat. more than fifty years later, happy memories.

Michael and Marijke
Michael and Marijke

 

Gwen Bunting