“The drudgery of being a professional writer comes in
trying to make good days out of bad days and in
squeezing out the words when they won’t just flow.”~Benjamin Cavell
I know how this writer feels.
Sometimes the words just flow easily and on days like that it is the most wonderful thing in the world to be a writer. It is exciting when a piece of writing just works so beautifully that little or no rewriting is needed. It is exhilarating when you read something you’ve written and you are amazed that you put those words together in just the right way. It is wonderful when you get everything just right.
It isn’t always like that.
There are days when it is sheer drudgery, when you are feeling ill, or lethargic or just plain tired. Or there might be some life issue pressing in on your thinking and sapping the creative energies. In the bad days I’ve found a few solutions that work for me. Try them – you may well find that they work for you too.
Overcoming the bad days
- Take a break – even five minutes can help.
- Stretch – your muscles will love you.
- Look at the birds – stare out the window and observe the birds.
- Go for a walk – around the garden, the block or wherever.
- Write in your journal – it doesn’t have to be great literature – just let your feelings all pour out.
- Do the crossword in the newspaper – I find that the cryptic crossword so stimulating I try to complete it daily.
- Nap – sometimes the brain needs the refreshment of a short sleep. (Take note of the word “short.”)
- Read – the mental stimulation can be very beneficial.
- Laugh out loud – read some jokes – or watch a part of a funny DVD.
- Pray – I find that prayer focuses the mind on connecting with God and this often leads to renewed inspiration. Others might find meditation to be useful in calming the mind enabling it to refocus on the writing task.
These ideas work for me. I hope that you find techniques that work for you.
I’ve had about four weeks of frustration with my writing and blogging. I feel like my wheels are spinning; lots of activity but I’ve been going nowhere.
Actually, the driving analogy is very apt. I seem to have done nothing but drive over recent weeks. I do occasional relief driving for a local courier company. I recently went back to work full time for three weeks. While the pay was good, the hours were very long and the work exhausting. Not a good time for writing. In fact, there was little time spare for writing. I’m still trying to catch up with my email.
I’ve been trying to get back to the writing this week but I have really struggled to build momentum again after such a long break. I will not call it the dreaded “writer’s block” but it was not far from it. Many writers experience dry periods where it is a struggle to get the writing moving again. There may be plenty of activity – like the engine revving and the wheels spinning – but there is little if any forward movement. Sometimes we just can’t get going.
Robert over at the Middle Zone Musings writes about this topic too. His post called “How to counter the dreaded blankpageitis.” In this post he refers to my short story starters. These posts I have written are designed to get you writing so what about it? Give it a go – it can be great fun.
Another article worth reading – with several suggestions I know help me can be found here: Life sucks – writing on the bad days.
All writers experience times when the words just do not flow. Ideas seem to fly out the window and are gone forever. You struggle to begin that new story. Some call it writer’s block, to others it may just be a temporary lack of ideas, motivation, momentum or you may just be having an off day. Whatever the cause you have to get back into the writing quickly or, if you are like me, procrastination sets in like a truck of quick drying cement. That often means the writer is stuck for any concrete ideas for the next piece of writing. (Excuse me- I just couldn’t resist that pun.)
Over the last year or so I have been posting a series of Short Story Starters on this blog. These are designed to help struggling writers with ideas. Many readers have found these to be most helpful. Today I will take a different approach. I will give you one way of developing your own story starters.
On your screen (or on a piece of paper) make an alphabetical list down the left hand side of the paper. Just write the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and so on. Ten or a dozen will do. You can start at any letter.
Now alongside each letter write the name of a person starting with that letter. For example: Alice, Ben Colin, Denise, Eric, Fiona, Gary and so on.
After each name write about that person. Quickly. Don’t stop to think. Just quickly imagine them in your mind. Write down two or three sentences about that person. No editing at this stage; just write.
Expand your ideas
When you’ve written about each person leave your list for 24 or 48 hours.
Come back to your writing with fresh eyes. Still don’t edit. Choose one that you like. Write another five to ten sentences about that person. Start asking “What happens to this character next?” Your new story is off and running. Keep on developing it.
was always scared of mice. She freely admitted it. Terrified. Alice
Ben could contain his anger no more. â€œEnough!â€ He took a deep breath and then calmly explained the process once more.
Colin knew it was going to be a rough day. The wind was already picking up and it wasnâ€™t even eight oâ€™clock.
Denise stopped. Unsure of where she was she looked around for help.
Eric started whistling as he left the building. This was so startling that he stood still, listened to the sparrows chirping nearby, smiled, and started whistling again as he headed for the railway station.
Fiona smiled shyly. She was not accustomed to being praised like this. She felt her face turning red.
spluttered. Had he heard correctly? His obnoxious boss was moving to another company? His attention was now riveted on the speaker at the front of the room. Gary
Developing the idea
I’m going to choose one of the above to expand further:
Colin knew it was going to be a rough day. The wind was already picking up and it wasnâ€™t even eight oâ€™clock. As he rounded to corner of the shed the hot air blasted his face. Already he was sweating and he felt his pulse quicken a little. The sun, already high in the sky, was a glaring orb of fire that seemed to reach right down and touch his face. He entered the Country Fire Service building with a sense of terrible foreboding.
Okay – so that is not brilliant writing and is full of cliches. I can fix that in the editing stage. All I’m interested in at this point is to get the storyline moving, to develop the plot and to flesh out the characters. Time to introduce some other characters and some action.
Now over to you.
Make your list of names, set the scene and off you go.
Our local daily newspaper has always had a full page of cartoons. I enjoy reading these cartoons whenever we get the paper. Some of them are very witty, others are clever and many of them reflect life’s struggles.
One cartoon earlier this week showed one of the characters sitting at an old fashioned typewriter. The caption read:
“Nothing’s more terrifying to a writer than facing a blank piece of paper – except reading back what you wrote yesterday!”
Facing the blank piece of paper is bad enough, but going back over yesterday’s writing and finding it less brilliant than you thought possible at the time is rather embarrassing at best and downright infuriating at worst.
What to do?
Writers have no option but to rewrite. Sometimes it is wise just to scrap the whole piece and start over again. Wait a moment though – don’t totally throw it away or hit the delete key. Even the worst piece of writing can potentially be reworked and used in the future.
The real key is knowing when to give up on a piece of writing and when to slave for hours trying to whip a poor passage into something acceptable. That discernment takes years of experience. Experienced writers know the difference between time that is spent reworking a passage and time taken to totally start again.
I’m not happy with how this article has come out. Maybe I should leave it until tomorrow before I rework it.
Or delete it.
Dealing with writer’s block can be a real hassle for some writers. You know you should be writing (or blogging) but the ideas just will not come. The words seem to be stuck somewhere and just can’t get out.
I guess it’s a bit like a hen who is egg bound. The egg is there – but it just cannot get out, no matter what the hen tries to do. This serious condition can result in death, and I’d imagine it would be a rather painful way to go. What we do not want is the death of our writing.
Try Free Writing:
How about trying free writing.
- Bring up a blank screen on your monitor or take a blank piece of paper.
- Set a timer for five or ten minutes – you choose.
- Now write.
- Just random words.
- Meaningless drivel.
- Make it a list.
- List the things you can see.
- Write down what you can hear, smell, feel.
- Make a list of your favourite foods, songs, movies, books or whatever.
- Forget about grammar, punctuation and spelling: just write.
- Cover the page.
- Fill the monitor screen.
This activity tricks the brain into thinking that you are actually writing, and before long the ideas will start flowing, the words will come and you will be off and writing again.
Warm up the brain
Some writers use this technique as a warm up exercise for the day. They do this like an athlete warms up for the main event. When their brains are ready, they then launch into the real writing they have in front of them for the day.
Stretch your writing muscles
I sometimes use this technique in a modified way; I write in my journal. My journal has an audience of one: me. It is not perfect – far from it. It records my thoughts, my feelings, the recent events in my life and my reactions to them. When I have written for ten or fifteen minutes I am often ready and warmed up to get on with other writing tasks. My writing muscles have been stretched and are ready for action.
- Writing hints – another 27 writing hints to help you.