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

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

 

I Love Writing Because…

Writing 2This piece is by Val Fish one of our talented Wordsmiths.

I’ve had a love of words and stories since my school days; my primary school report said ‘Valerie has a good imagination’, and a fantastic English teacher at grammar school was a great inspiration to me. English Language was one of only two subjects I was any good at (the other being French).

I was a big Blue Peter fan in my youth, every year I would get the annual as a Christmas present and was lucky enough to win two Blue Peter badges in their competitions.

As I grew older, I entered the world of consumer competitions, having to complete slogans that usually started something like ‘I shop at XYZ because’, in 12 words or less.

I won hundreds of prizes over the years, little and large, among them a few holidays; my biggest successes were the much sought after prize car; a Mini Metro, and a conservatory worth a massive ten thousand pounds.   One of my prizes of least value, but providing much amusement, was a frozen chicken, worth a measly £1.50 at the time. The winners had to go to the store to collect their prize, and we were photographed all holding our chickens aloft.  I did feel rather silly and particularly self-conscious as I was eight months pregnant at the time.

I could go on and on about the wondrous things that I won, but that’s another story to be told.

Although of course, the prizes were great, for me it was more the composing of the slogans that brought me pleasure. Trying to be witty in so few words and to stand out from the hundreds of others was a challenge I’d always relish. Maybe that’s why these days my forte is flash fiction.

As this type of competition began to die out, it seemed a natural progression to turn to creative writing.

So these days my words are somewhat longer, no big prizes to be won; in most cases, it’s simply seeing my efforts posted online, which gives me just as much pleasure

 

I couldn’t imagine not writing; it’s good therapy for me, all my cares and woes are temporarily forgotten. And an added bonus, it keeps those grey cells ticking over, much needed at my age. I like to think I’ll l be writing as long as I’ve still got my faculties, however long that may be.

 

Writing

writing
Putting pen to paper

 

This post is from one of our writing group members. We have all been asked to give our thoughts on writing. We all approach writing in different ways and we are publishing these pieces ad hoc over time.

These are Teresa’s thoughts on the subject.

Writing has never come easily to me. However, possessing a vivid imagination and a peculiar sense of humour ensures a diverse source of subject material is readily available.

Being given a topic to write about focuses my mind and channels my enthusiasm. The Whittlesey Wordsmiths have encouraged and  supported my return to writing.

They could do the same for you.

Teresa Gilbertson

 

 

Whittlesey Wordsmiths will be at the EnGage in the Morning February meeting at the library Monday February 18th at 10.30am free tickets available at the desk

Tribute to Edward Storey, a Fenland Hero

Portait of Edward Storey
Edward Storey 28 February 1930 – Sunday 18 November 2018

I would like to pay tribute to Edward Storey, a fellow Whittlesey resident and writer. I am sure many of our followers will be familiar with his books which brought recognition to our Fenland area, capturing the very essence of our history and culture.

I first contacted Edward over ten years ago when I started to write my own autobiography and continued to correspond regularly with him until this September when his health was beginning to fail. During those years he gave me so much support and guidance, encouraging me to develop and expand my writing. This gave me the confidence to set up the Whittlesey U3A Creative Writing Group which has evolved into the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Last month we published our first book and I had signed and wrapped a copy for Edward before I heard news of his death.

I would like to express gratitude for his inspiration; to Edward, A Fenland legend, who made our dreams a possibility and then a reality.

Wendy Fletcher

 

This is a link to Edward Storey’s Biography on Wikipedia

Edward Storey Biography Wikipedia

The Photograph was copied from a post on the  Poetry in Presteigne website.

http://www.poetryinpresteigne.org/?m=201608

 

 

Switching on the imagination

Sunrise in the fens with windturbines
A spectacular Fenland Sunrise One of the most beautiful sunrises I have witnessed

 

Reading is a means of switching on the imagination. The pictures drawn in the mind, the voices heard and the drama that unfolds can be as real to a reader as anything encountered in life. In many ways it is a better reality, one that is acceptable on the reader’s terms, limited by what they want to take out of it or see within it.

As writers we grope around for the switch that lights the imagination of our readers. The words though must first paint pictures in our own minds, we are after all the first reader. Hopefully these pictures will be seen in  the mind’s eye of our readers. We know they  will see different pictures to ours, pictures on their terms. The voices too they hear will have different accents to the ones in our hearing, although the words are the same. As long as it paints that picture, produces that voice and above all else entertains we will have thrown that switch.

Phil

Summer, the sun screens and writing

We have two posts on this subject:

Cathy wrote about screens and sunshine Wendy followed up with her thoughts on the same subject.

Off-Screen Editing

I’ve read advice never to start a story by describing the weather, but it’s what I notice first when I get up. Perhaps it’s because of where I live, in the UK: we can’t rely on the sun waiting around till we’re free to enjoy it. Before retirement I mourned for every sunny day when I had to work. The weather was certain to deteriorate for the weekends.

Retired, I have the freedom to spend every sunny day outside, but my laptop isn’t garden-friendly.

It’s the screen that won’t co-operate. Sitting in shade, adjusting screen brightness, giving the cursor a trail and making it bigger… nothing makes computing alfresco easy. My solution this year has been to edit off-screen. There are advantages to taking my red pen outside.

Most notably, I’ve taken more time over it, in order to spend as long as possible in the fresh air without feeling guilty. I’m not rushing through the final scenes because I’m fed up with editing this story for the fourth (fifth, sixth, seventh…) time.

I print on single-sided scrap to save trees, and manage with single spaced printouts, but to save even more paper, you can send your work to your Kindle, if you have one, by emailing the file to your Kindle email address with convert as your email title. It is possible to make editing notes on your Kindle version, but I still prefer editing onto paper.

Nevertheless, reading from the Kindle seems to throw up different errors compared to reading from a printout, or a word processor. I also read aloud sometimes, if there’s no-one within hearing range, to listen how the writing sounds. (When reading my story to the writing group, I’ve found that making notes on the fly tends to interrupt

the flow.)

Typing up my hard-copy edits only seems like half a job – the thinking’s already been done. Sometimes I’ll change my mind again and revert to the original, but that happens anyway, and it’s quicker when ‘reverting’ means ‘not changing’.

I plan to continue the off-screen edits when the sun finally flies south for the winter.

 

How do other writers cope with the lure of the sun in the few weeks Britain calls summer?

Cathy Cade.

Summer and Technology

The incompatibility of summer and technology is an ongoing issue for all us would-be authors.

My solution is to be creative with my pen and paper at this time of year and save the typing for dark, winter nights.

I can wander along the beach, feet cooled by the surf, a notebook in my rucksack. There is always a handy rock where I can sit for a few minutes to jot down odd words that spring to mind or dally for longer if inspiration takes hold.

Come winter, I can stoke up the fire, huddle over the lap top and type from the notes, with the added advantage that I see it all now with fresh eyes. The ideas have had time to mature, making revision much less challenging and the whole experience more rewarding.

Wendy Fletcher