This piece is by Tessa Thomson and tells of her love for a favourite book.
After my mother died, when I was about 3 years old, I was discharged from the hospital where I had been since contracting septicemia at 9 months. I was taken to live with my grandparents. When I was about 8, I was introduced for the first time to my two half-sisters, Margaret and Anne, who were twins and had been living up to that time in a children’s home. They had reached 16 and their time at the home had come to an end, and they were now to fend for themselves. They stayed with my grandparents for a very short time but both were quite wild and wanted to be up and away to the bright lights of London. From photographs that I have found over the years, it seems that the twins did visit my grandparents during their time at the children’s home and the group photos show me to be about 4 or 5.
I had no more contact with my sisters until I was about 12 when Margaret came to see my grandparents. Margaret, by now 20 was living and working in London although I have no idea at what. But amazingly she bought me a book. It was called Trilby and was written by George Du Maurier. My grandparents home was devoid of books unless you count my grandfather’s Zane Gray western paperbacks.
It was a substantial book for a 12-year-old and it took some years before I appreciated its dark overtones. The cover of the book was a luscious green and the pages were edged in gold. It had a few illustrations. One I remember to this day was of Svengali, the one character in the book that stirred my young imagination the most.
Trilby was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was originally published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August 1894, then in book form from 1895. It sold 200,000 copies in the United States alone.
The book is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though the book features the stories of two English artists and a Scottish artist, one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a rogue, masterful musician and hypnotist.
Trilby O’Ferrall, the novel’s heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relationship between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small, though a crucial, portion of the novel.
The novel has been adapted to the stage several times; one of these featured the lead actress wearing a distinctive short-brimmed hat with a sharp snap to the back of the brim. The hat became known as the trilby and went on to become a popular men’s clothing item in the United Kingdom throughout various parts of the 20th century.
The book became my constant companion. Every few months I would dip into its pages. When I was older Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier became another treasured book and my favourite film. Asked by my family what I wanted for my 70th birthday, I remembered seeing an advertisement for a watch called Rebecca made and styled by Ben Du Maurier, George’s great-grandson.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
This post is by Val Chapman a member of Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
I enjoy a lot of different subjects to read about, but if I had to choose, my preference is for psychological thrillers or crime novels, often the gorier the better.
Why is it then, that I have never even attempted to write one?
I know “they” say “write about what you know”, but to my knowledge, I’ve never murdered anyone, and wouldn’t know how to get away with it or solve it if I had, so how could I write a “murder mystery”?
My musings are almost exclusively in the ‘light and fluffy’ section.
I tend to write as I speak, so nothing too taxing there then!
Oh, wait, that may be a clue to the answer to my question!
I’ve never been keen on hard work….
I do admire those people who are committed enough to their craft to travel the country, if not the world, researching, checking, and researching again to make sure any writings are as plausible, and as factually correct as possible.
Maybe it’s because I just write for my own amusement, so I don’t need it to be too accurate or truthful. I just like to have a beginning, a middle, and hopefully an end. I tend to prefer my stories to make the reader say “ahh” instead of “huh?” when they’ve finished reading.
And that’s often how I tend to plan.
Start at the end.
If I have an idea where the story will end, I can plot how to get there.
And I like to be given an idea to work on. (See? Get someone else to do the thinking, -hard work-)
Left to my own devices, I’m not sure I would ever have started this very enjoyable hobby I now have.
Which is why I’m very grateful to all of the members of Whittlesey Wordsmiths. With their encouragement, I’ve really had fun exploring my imagination a bit, and have even started writing a little differently at times. Now, I don’t always have to find the ending first. Sometimes I’m even brave enough to just jump in and see where it takes me.
I even occasionally prefer to write rather than read.
Who knows, I might even ramble on enough to write a whole book!
I just need an idea……………..
Inspired by a visit to the coast, I wrote the first few sentences of my novel on the beach. Then I formed characters who would play the major roles and started a file for each, noting details that I might wish to refer to later.
I imagined conversations that would take place throughout the novel and wrote these in some detail. They have formed the skeleton on which the story will hang.
As I create the scenes which lead up to each of these conversations, I feel a sense of freedom to meander teasingly slowly or rush ahead, hopefully carrying my future readers with me.
After spending several years writing an autobiographical account of my childhood, I am savouring this opportunity to enjoy the liberation brought by writing fiction; the chance to just introduce another character, explore a location that I have just invented, or introduce a twist that neither the characters or I saw coming.
I now have a beginning, an end and a lot of loose bits to tie up in the middle, so onwards to the beach.
In 2017 the U3A hosted a one day writing course in Ramsey. Alison Bruce a talented Cambridge based crime fiction author ran the course.
I enjoyed the day immensely and was disappointed that I was unable to attend a recent talk by Alison at Whittlesey Library, hopefully I will have better luck next time.
Whilst at Ramsey I bought a copy of Alison’s first novel Cambridge Blue. As with so much in life it often takes me a while to do something, reading Cambridge Blue was a case in point, I should have read it sooner.
The story set in and around Cambridge, is gripping and convoluted crime fiction with a satisfactory conclusion, it is for me flawless. Cambridge, parts of it certainly, are more familiar to me than many places, so I was able to relate to the locations described so well in the book. Cambridge Blue introduces a young detective Gary Goodhew, tackling his first murder case. He is a likable hero who we will no doubt get to know even better in future novels. The characters are believable, well observed and well drawn.
I have bought the second in the series, Siren so am certainly game for more from this talented author.
On Monday evening some members of our Whittlesey Wordsmiths writing group attended a talk at Whittlesey library. The guest speaker was Alison Bruce, a Cambridgeshire crime fiction writer who gave a humorous and informative talk on her novels and experiences with publishing. She answered our questions and was very encouraging. Thanks to Alison !