Saturday, 13 December 2008

Writer's Block

Two friends have complained about writer’s block within the space of one week. They wanted to know how I get around this problem.

Well, the truth is that writer’s block is not something I have a problem with, so it could be fairly argued that I’m not the best person to seek advice from. On the other hand, as it isn’t an issue for me, perhaps I’m doing something right--or, more accurately, something which works.

Writer’s block does not exist outside a person’s own mind.

If you’re bored with your story, how do think a reader might feel? Set aside the piece you’re working on and write something else. You can always come back to the original piece another time.

To get into the creative flow, try a writing exercise such as the monthly projects we set at Riverside Writers. Members are asked to create a poem or short story (of any length or genre) on a theme such as a location, a phrase or object, an opening sentence, or we might use an unusual photograph as a starting point. Those who have participated in these projects have found their writing ability has improved steadily, they’ve written things they might not have otherwise even thought of, and some have gone on to be published.

Writing flows much more easily if a routine is established. Pick a convenient time to write and make a habit of it. You might choose to set a time limit on writing (for example, one hour a day) or you may prefer to set yourself a minimum a words per day. I set mine at 1,000 words per day, five days a week. The important thing is that you stick to it.

A writer friend of mine tells an amusing story about a lady he met through writing classes, who has been researching her novel for nearly two decades. There is a standing joke about writers’ circles which declares many members talk about writing but don’t actually write anything--which is another reason for Riverside Writers’ monthly projects.

Writers write. If you’d sooner do something else, that’s fine. Many creative people experiment with different mediums before they find the one which works for them. This exploratory process is almost mandatory. If writing feels too much like drudgery, try another outlet for your creativity. This isn’t failure; it’s part of your journey of self-discovery.

People often ask me where I get my ideas from, a question I find bewildering as I never seem short of ideas. Firstly, I’d advise switching off the TV and reach for a book instead. Read constantly and widely. I read an average of forty-five books a year. Not all of them stay in my collection, but even those which don’t have me avidly page-turning can be useful in identifying techniques and approaches which I don’t like. Also, regularly reading recent material is the main way a working knowledge of the publishing industry can be acquired.

Learn to look. Every time you leave your home, even for a mundane trip to post a letter or to buy a sandwich, you are surrounded by little events which you can turn to your use in a story.

Exercise: Write a poem or short story about a paper bag blowing along the road.

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