My home is situated on five acres (2 hectares) on the outskirts of a country town in South Australia. We have a small orchard, about two acres of bushland scrub and the remainder is open grassland. Many years ago it was used for grazing sheep.
We used to have five sheep, but they had an accident and ended up in the freezer. The sheep did a good job in keeping the grass down and mowing was unnecessary. It’s a different story now. In spring and early summer the grass and weeds grow quickly, sometimes up to waist high, depending on the winter rains. Of necessity I bought a ride-on mower a few years ago. It was a good move.
What has this to do with writing?
I learned a great deal about writing from mowing the grass.
Get a spark of an idea
Last spring the grass needed mowing. It was becoming a fire hazard as it dried in the warm sun. I went to start the mower – nothing.
Not a spark. The battery was flat. It wasn’t going anywhere.
Our writing can be like that. It seems to be going nowhere; in fact, some days it just won’t even start. Sometimes it needs a jump start to get it going. Take a break. Make a cup of tea or coffee. Go for a walk. Read a book for ten minutes. Then come back refreshed and ready to get it going again.
Get some outside help
Even though I charged the battery of my ride on mower, it still wouldn’t start. I tried everything I know about mowers and motors and batteries (which isn’t much – more of a short, short story actually). It needed professional help. I loaded it up on the trailer and took it to the dealer, a specialist in mower maintenance. That did the trick. He knew exactly how to solve the problem, giving me a few maintenance hints as well. Get some professional help with your writing. This is where networking and writers’ groups can be so beneficial. If necessary you may even need to pay to have your manuscript professionally assessed.
Eliminate the rubbish
When the mower was home again I got busy. There was plenty of grass that needed mowing before the summer fire danger season. Round and round I went mowing happily until… until the mower stopped mowing efficiently. What the… ? I stopped and looked down: the cutting area was clogged up with matted dry grass. The blades couldn’t do their job properly.
Is your writing clogged with rubbish? Words that don’t fit, or redundant sentences. Paragraphs that are really run-on sentences going nowhere. Wordy descriptions that “tell and don’t show.” Spelling and grammatical errors that readers – not to mention editors – will trip over and curse you for their sore knees.
Shed some light on your work
Sometimes I was enjoying the mowing so much the sun set on me and it started getting dark. The mower has two headlights but they don’t shed much light on the path ahead. I had to shut down, put the mower away and start again the next day.
Sometimes with our writing we get eyes that are dimmed through tiredness or trying too hard for too long. Put it away over night, or for a few days, and come back in the light of a new day. Instantly you will see where you were having troubles with a piece of writing and be able to correct it and move on.
Be sure to top up the fuel tank
My mower sometimes runs out of fuel. The gauge is on the side of the tank where I can’t see it from where I sit. It leaves me in no doubt about what is happening. It splutters to a stop with no warning. Sometimes it is a long walk back to the shed to get fuel.
Has your writing ever sputtered to a sudden stop, going nowhere? It is then time to refuel. Take a short holiday completely away from the work that is bogging you down. Go for a long walk every day. Set aside a day or two just for reading a novel. Stop and refuel by listening to music. Walk on the beach. Let the wind blow through your hair. See a movie or two or three. Visit a friend and have a good yarn about anything except your writing. Then come back fully refueled and ready to go on with your writing.
I’ve just read an interesting article on blogging. The author on the blog called The Qwertyrash Blogs has written a piece on Blogger’s Block. This is just a blogosphere term for the old fashioned “writer’s block.” (Update November 2013: The Qwertyrash Blogs no longer exist.)
He suggests that there are two distinct types of writer’s block.
1. Writer’s Block where you are “bereft of ideas.” He includes some useful hints on helping to overcome this malady, including carrying a notebook to jot down ideas.
I don’t so much suffer from writer’s block, but rather “writer’s forgettery” – so I have a pad of recycled paper (used stuff printed on one side only) and I immediately jot down ideas as they occur to me. That way I always have a list of topics to write about in my three blogs (see the Links section for my other blogs). I also have a file on my computer listing all the topics I could write about in the future. This is a long list. I don’t think I’ll run out of writing ideas for a few decades yet.
That reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon I have somewhere in my files. Calvin looks extremely frazzled and the caption says, “God put me on Earth to achieve a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I am going to live forever!”
2. Writer’s Glug is the lesser known form of writer’s block. I love that term. So descriptive! He says that writer’s glug is “where you have the ideas but writing feels like walking through deep mud – quite laborious.”
Yeah – like none of us know what that is like!
The article goes on to give some very useful hints on overcoming this particular problem. My solution is often to get out and go for a walk. It clears out the cobwebs. I also take my binoculars and go birdwatching. This will invariably give me something to write about in my birding blog!
What works for you?
I’d like to read the ideas of my readers. How do you overcome writer’s block?
Updated November 2013.