Seated upon a camel, my arm protectively draped over my youngest son, we surveyed the arid, desolate expanse of the Sahara which stretched out in front of us. This family break had been a long time coming and I was luxuriating in the indulgence of feeling utterly relaxed among my loved ones. Then it hit me.
‘Chapter three is completely wrong,’ I gasped. ‘What was I thinking?’
In the week before our trip, I had agonised over the said chapter. If it wasn’t writer’s block in the traditional sense of not being able to write a word, it may has well have been. Yes, I had got some words down on the page, but I couldn’t escape the fact that was now as glaringly apparent as the hot afternoon sun; I had veered off on the wrong track completely. In my writing. Not my camel ride.
Writers block is a well-travelled subject (excuse the pun). Almost every well-known author has spoken about the techniques they’ve used to get through it. Dan Brown recently unveiled he hangs upside down to get the creative juices flowing. Others such as Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf swore by the power of a brisk walk. A fair few besides have relied on a drop of the good stuff to get them in the writing mood.
What I realised from my North African reflections was that my block was first and foremost down to the fact I wasn’t happy with the direction the chapter had taken. I knew it was wrong, my subconscious told me it was wrong and that’s why my writing had slowed to a glacial pace. Luckily, by taking a break from it all, I was able to see where I had strayed off course.
So, first and foremost, my tip to see off writers block is to check you are going in the right direction. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Take a cue from Dickens et al, go for a walk and reflect on the direction your story is taking.
My other tips to keep the copy flowing are:
- Keep to a schedule. I have a daily word count in mind and I always aim to get close to it. I accept fully some days are better than others and if push comes to shove, I would always sacrifice quantity for quality. As I know from experience, there is no point whatsoever flogging a dead horse to get X-number of words out if they don’t want to be written. I’ve tried that and when I do I always end up pressing and holding down the delete key the next day.
- Exercise. Similar to the walking tip of other far more esteemed authors than I, I would recommend full-heartedly the benefits of exercise. Not only does it give you all the health benefits of being fit such as feeling energetic, on the ball and generally free of coughs and colds, it gives you a whole new perspective too. I value my half hour morning workout as a great opportunity to go through in my mind what I want to write that day. Quite often, by the time I settle at my desk I will have mentally mapped out a large amount of material.
- Find your rhythm. I am not a morning person and never have been. Some days I find it hard to utter a coherent sentence before 10am, as my poor, long-suffering family will attest. Talk to me after 10 pm though and you’d find it hard to get a word in. This has an effect on my work. I find it very difficult to write decent copy before midday. Yet, sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I will sneak back into my office late in the evening and hammer out a fantastic number of words. Words I am proud of writing too. It’s not always easy to fit your schedule around your personal rhythm, particularly if you have other commitments, but if you can find some way of taking advantage of your high-energy moments, you will reap the benefits.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. As a former journalist it was drummed into me to constantly think of the person who will be reading my work. Who are they? What are they like? What do they like? The prospect of such scrutiny can put a tremendous amount of pressure on some people and there are those who buckle because they feel they are not good enough, or the reader will laugh at their literary efforts. Not surprisingly, this is a sure fire way to stop your creativity in its tracks. My advice would be; don’t stop thinking about your audience, but keep in mind your first draft is just that. You will go back and edit and probably re-edit your work several times. Get it on the page and worry about polishing it up later.
Best of all, learn to enjoy the writing process, the ups and the downs, the good days and the bad. Take breaks when you need them and keep a sense of perspective. Good writing will happen if you let it flow.