Professional Ghost

How to write every day (even with writer’s block)

You know what you want to say. The words have been buzzing around your brain for days, but then nothing. The blank page in front of you remains stubbornly blank. A mocking testament to your inability to get your words out.

It happens to everyone, including professional writers. The big difference here is, professional writers don’t always have the luxury of being able to walk away and try again on another day. We need to write every day because that’s how we make a living. Therefore, we need some tried and tested techniques to get things back on track.

As you might expect with a creative crowd, solutions do vary. Dan Brown swears by hanging upside down to get the creative juices flowing. Others such as Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf preferred the restorative 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.

Before I get into other possible solutions, perhaps it’s useful to pause and work out what the problem is. If you know the reason behind your blank-page-syndrome, it’s a lot easier to deal with and might save you that head rush from either hanging upside down, or taking a swig of spirits.

Whenever my working day grinds to a halt, I always take it as a clear sign I am heading in the wrong direction. It’s my subconscious telling me: oi, Teena, this isn’t working. You’ve forgotten to address this issue, or build up that plot line. That’s the reason why my writing has slowed to a glacial pace. I always trust my instincts on this one. If it feels wrong, it probably is. This is the time to take a cue from Dickens et al, go for a walk and reflect on the direction your story is taking.

Another possible reason for writer’s block is fear. I can really relate to this one too, even though it is something that often blights inexperienced writers. I have always been very confident when penning books for other people, but remember very distinctly that I briefly froze I began to write my own. I became consumed by the thought that this would be the first ever book with Teena Lyons on the cover. I felt exposed. My ideas and thoughts would be out there, for other people to see and criticise. It is daft and irrational, but then these sorts of wobbles always are. You need to have confidence in your own abilities.

Another potential stumbling block, which is related to the previous one, is perfectionism. You want your book to be 100% perfect for your readers and the pressure to do so stymies your creativity completely. My advice to anyone with this tendency is: start writing. Write something, anything, but just get started. Then, when you are confident that the juices are flowing, keep writing. Later on, go back and delete the first few paragraphs. They’ll be waffle. I guarantee it. So, you won’t miss them. But get a load of what you did next. You’re off. Always bear in mind that 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.

Once you do begin writing, you need to keep the momentum. My advice is to keep to a schedule. It might not sound like the hugely creative, writer-in-a-garret, fantasy of how authors pen their books, but trust me, this is the way to get it finished. Waiting until you feel ‘inspired’ each day is pointless. I set myself a daily word count goal, which will vary depending on the complexity of the book I am writing. I fully accept that 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. Keep the words coming though and the book will rapidly begin to take shape.

The only way to achieve a regular word count is to remove distractions. I try to break my daily goal down into sections and then, when I have completed X number of words, I reward myself with a quick catch-up with the news, or respond to emails. If I don’t stick to this routine, I know from experience that every time I break off to reply to a message, or sneak a look at twitter, it can take up to half an hour to get back into the flow. It’s hard to get into that discipline, but well worth it. If I finish my word count by 3pm, I am out of my office and ready to enjoy my leisure time. Hurrah for discipline.

I am a great advocate of exercise to keep things on track. I don’t mean as per going-for-a-walk tip from other far more esteemed authors than I (although it is certainly helpful sometimes). I use exercise to prepare me for the day’s writing. I really value my half hour morning workout which is 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.

It’s important to find your own writing rhythm. I am not a morning person and never have been. I infinitely prefer writing in the afternoon and evening. Indeed, 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.

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.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of working with a ghostwriter, or would like to discuss your book with me, please get in touch at teenalyons@professionalghost.org