Beating the block

“There’s no such thing as writer”s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn”t write.”-Terry Pratchett

In my last Writing Advice post, I stressed how important it is to write regularly. What do you do though if the words won’t come?

Whether or not you agree with Terry Pratchett, the concept of a “block” is probably not helpful. It externalises the problem, gives it weight and substance. Some days it”s just harder to get going than others. Below are some tips for overcoming the fear that a blank page can induce.

1. Make time and space for writing.
You can?t write if you aren?t physically sitting down with pen and paper, or at a computer. (OK, so you could dictate more or less anywhere, and most mobile phones now have voice recording. If this works for you, great- but personally I have to see the words, otherwise I’m just talking, not writing.)

2. Don?t wait till you?re in the mood.
Inspiration is usually a symptom of writing, not a cause of it. If you wait for the Muse to arrive you’ll probably never write anything. She rarely visits of her own accord, but is rather summoned by the ritual drudgery of sitting and putting words on paper, or on a screen. You sit down to write regularly, not because you feel like it, but because you?re a writer, and that?s what writers do. And those days when you feel physically sick at the very thought, when you would rather lick the toilet clean than face that blank page: those are the days when it’s most important to do it.

3. Be aware of your own delaying tactics.
Maybe you have to check your emails first, or rearrange your pens in order of size, or say a prayer, or update your Facebook status. Whatever rituals you have invented to delay the moment of writing that first word, you’re unlikely to be able to eradicate them completely. The secret is to be conscious of them, and keep them under control. So you allow yourself to look at your emails, for example, but not to reply to any until you’ve written 100 words. Give yourself a brief period for mental throat clearing, but don?t let it expand to fill the time available.

4. Write anything.
OK, now you’re staring at that blank page. Where do you start? Firstly, you should write something. Anything. Just spoil the purity of that empty space. Vandalise it. Fill it with junk, random words from your head, thoughts, feelings, memories. Eventually sense will emerge, because writing nonsense is actually harder.

5. Write what you want to read.
The easiest way into your story is to write what you want to read at that moment. Can’t concentrate because you’re simmering with rage at the way someone’s treated you? Write a revenge fantasy. Depressed? Write an escapist daydream. Feeling horny? Write a sex scene. Indulge yourself, tap into what’s strong inside, then let it get complicated. Who are these people? How did they get here? How are they feeling? What happens next?

6. Give yourself permission to write badly.
Don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is any good or not. On a first draft, the only thing that matters is to get your story down on paper. Everything else comes afterwards. In fact, you can almost guarantee that what you’re writing will be crap, because it’s a first draft. That’s fine. “Real” writers don’t produce good writing by magic; they do it by hard work. (Terry Pratchett writes a “draft zero”, which he never shows to anybody- the sole purpose is to find out what the story is.)

7. Story is everywhere.
Thomas Hardy used to get his plot ideas from his local newspaper. Inspiration is not a rare, fleeting thing; the air is thick with ideas, the trick is to be tuned into them, to be open. Stories are everywhere, on the TV, on the radio, on the street. Look out of the window. There’s a story, right there.

8. Steal!
It’s absolutely fine to copy writers you admire. Just remember that “talent borrows, genius steals”- in other words, take their ideas and make them your own. Don’t copy their words, but do update their plots, change their settings. Think about their themes, and ask yourself why those themes resonate with you- what in your own life reflects those concerns?

9. Only writing counts as writing.
Thinking is not writing. Planning is not writing. Research is not writing. Reading advice on writing is not writing. Going for a walk is not writing. All these things might be useful and important, but they don’t count as writing. If you’ve created time and space for writing, make sure that’s what you use it for- and that means putting words on paper.

10. Break it into manageable chunks.
All you have to write is 100 words. That’s all. Just a couple of paragraphs. Then give yourself a little reward: a cup of tea, a game of Solitaire, whatever floats your boat. How do you feel now? You could do another hundred easily, couldn’t you? That’s not too scary. Maybe that first bit is rubbish, but you’ve got a better idea now. Maybe you could do 200 before your next break. Repeat, and repeat again. Before you know it, you’ve finished your first draft. Give yourself a big reward, you’ve earned it. Then the real hard work starts.

Helpful things to think:
Every word you write is better than every word you don’t write.
Nobody’s first draft is any good.
That’ll do for now, I’ll fix it in editing.
What happens next?
Time spent writing is never wasted.

Unhelpful things to think:
This is rubbish.
Nobody would want to read this.
I’m wasting my time, I’ll leave it till tomorrow.

Write Time day retreats

Our first ever guest post comes from Karen Miller, founder of Write Time: Write Time Retreats: Come and write! Are you writing? In his last writing advice post, The most important thing you need to know Andy declared: To be a writer, you have to write. So are you writing? I?m not. I?m a very busy person (honest!) and champion procrastinator. If you are writing, how?s that going? Are you struggling to find the time / space / peace and quiet to really get going on your latest project? If so, maybe I can help. Write Time Retreats I?m setting up one-day writing retreats in Birmingham, under the catchy name of Write Time, to facilitate writers, including myself, to actually sit down and write. Here?s how it works: Monthly-ish on either a Saturday or a Sunday I?ll be at the Moseley Exchange in Birmingham writing. The idea is that you bring your laptop, you bring your ideas and you join me. There are no writing lessons and I won?t be asking you to read your work out to the group. For ?30.00 you?ll get hot drinks, lunch, cake and 6 hours of peace and quiet to write in and by the end of the day you?ll leave tired but chuffed because you will have written ? a lot! If you are already thinking Write Time is for you that?s brilliant! The first two retreats are being held between 10am and 5pm on Saturday 23rd March and Sunday 21st April 2013 and you can book your place on my website A bit more information: One-day retreats started in London.… One-day writing retreats are the brainchild of Charlie who runs Urban Writers? Retreats in London and you can find out much more about the philosophy behind the retreats on her blog. I never got around to attending one of Charlie?s London retreats mainly because they are in London…..Charlie did hold a retreat in a library in Nottingham however, which I did go to and it was wonderful! I wrote all day. I left feeling amazing because I hadn?t written anything creative for too long but on that day in September I had actually done some writing! The writing itch, the guilt, the fear was silenced. Who are the retreats aimed at? – Procrastinators ? those who want to write but never seem to get around to it! – Very busy people with work or family commitments that prevent them from writing – Writers who have been writing, just not at the moment….. – Writers who are fitting in short daily writing sessions but you could do with a day to get a few thousands down to give a project a boost What will you get out of a Write Time Retreat? – peace and quiet, no distractions – a whole day dedicated solely to writing – small group support – the sound of others tapping away beside you and some lovely people to chat with over lunch – lunch, hot drinks all day and cake or biscuits to keep you going – freedom to work on whatever you need (nobody is going check!) – access to books, creative writing exercises and prompts if you get stuck Book now! For more information and to book your place on the retreats on Saturday 23rd March and / or Sunday 21st April 2013 visit: You can also follow me on twitter @writetimebham. Thank you for reading this! I hope to meet you soon……

Workshop leaders wanted

We”re looking for people to run writing workshops and small group sessions at the first day of our annual festival, Pow-Wow Litfest. We will provide the venue, publicity and admin in exchange for a percentage of the fee income; all you need to do is put together a brilliant workshop, then turn up and deliver it.

The workshops will run on Saturday 14th September 2013. We”ll sort out precise timings when we have the full line-up. Please email your proposal to info [at] pow [hyphen] wow [dot] org [dot] uk. Make sure you include:

  • Title and outline of your workshop
  • How many people it is for
  • How much you propose to charge
  • How long you need
  • What facilities you need
  • Some brief notes about your experience and credentials

Be creative and original- we”re looking forward to hearing from you!