Writer’s Block

Chick Lit

It’s amazing how the act of trying to think up a brilliant idea can bring on Writer’s Block. Normally I don’t suffer from anything like writer’s blankness, only writer’s fatigue. You know, when even you are a bit sick of your characters and the woes that continually befall them.

I’ve never opened my laptop on a writing day and failed to write five hundred words, even if the quality of said words means they’ll be on the cutting room floor at some point in the future. (Or not, as is too often the case. I’m a terrible editor.) Today, though, after finally locating dry wellies for the children and packing them off to nursery, grateful to finally be writing after missing Monday due to the bank holiday, I came up against the wall of the blank word document.

I was sat in a car park, waiting for someone I was due to have a meeting with, and I tried to at least freewrite about my surroundings. Describe the wind through the trees or the wall surrounding the car park. I managed a painful two hundred words before giving up in disgust.

The thing is, I know the cause. It comes from my desire to enter the Bridport prize.

Suddenly I’m back to the person I was four years ago, before I discovered freewriting with the OU, before I was introduced to Nanowrimo, before I was given permission to just write, without peering over my own shoulder critiquing every word that appears on the page. Because, of course, just writing isn’t going to be enough for a Bridport entry. It needs to be a moving or clever story with compelling characters and amazing momentum. The kind of story that lingers long after you’ve finished it, that hovers round your mind and raises new thoughts, new questions.

I don’t even know where to start.

Chick Lit, now, that’s easy. It’s genre writing; there’s always somewhere to start. But coming up with something original, something unique enough to get through round after round of vetting? I’ve as much chance learning how to fly. I’m not even sure I can write good chick lit because I’ve only sent my novel to one agent so far, and I know that my synopsis doesn’t do the novel justice.

I think it is time to focus, stop faffing, concentrate on what I can do, and put dreams of £5000 prize funds and fame and glory away for another year.

Besides I have a synopsis to write.

Life vs. Writing Update: A New Beginning

Picture of a dragon

Okay, so sometimes sleep deprivation can have its advantages. After a week of broken nights I woke up yesterday, out of a deep three-hour sleep (a miracle in itself), with a complete novel in my head.

Unfortunately, since the new carpets were fitted, I haven’t got around to putting my notebook and pen back under the bed. Plus I had smallest child asleep on me, and eldest child wriggled into our room in her sleeping bag shortly after. Needless to say, by the time I’d got my mobile fired up and tapped out some of what was in my mind, I had lost most of it.

I remember the gist though, because it couldn’t have been further from my last four novels.

This one is going to be a young adult book. In the first person. A mystery, mostly in real-time.

Oh and it has dragons in it.

Not really chick lit or romance. Though it might have some romance. I haven’t worked that bit out yet.

I’m quite daunted about the whole thing. I’ve never written in the first person; I haven’t been a teenager for almost two decades (my kids are nearer being teenagers than me, how horrific is that? They’re only 1 and 3); I don’t have any writing skills or techniques for real-time, suspense or mystery, and I know next to nothing about writing fantasy.

Still, it certainly comes under the Option 2, try something new. (See previous post).

Anyway, with it being Easter and all, my next writing day isn’t until next Thursday. In the mean time, I’m trying not to think about the ideas too much, as I know from experience I need to start writing without thinking, or I’ll kill it before it’s born (I’m a master at self-censure).

I do know the first line (for now), I wrote it down in my phone before the vision faded.

“My name is Leah, and I know the time and place of my death.”

Well, that may well change, but my first lines rarely do, as they are usually the freewrite prompt for the whole novel concept. We shall see.

Exciting though.

Throw away the excuses

Gatorade Rain bottles lined up on a supermarke...

 “I don’t have the time,”

             “I don’t know where to start,”

                     “I just can’t write,”

“My writing is boring.”

Let’s explore the common excuses (the ones I said most often to myself) and how they can be banished.

“I don’t have the time”

To produce a 100,000-word novel in a year you need to write 274 words a day. Scan this section (down to imagination). It’s 274 words. That’s not much really, is it? To put it into context, it’s 10 tweets or 9 text messages. If you touch-type at an average speed you can type 274 words in 4 minutes (learn to touch-type if you want to become a writer, particularly if your you-time is limited.)

You’ll hear many suggestions on how to foster a daily writing habit. Anyone offering advice about writing will tell you that you must write every day. And of course, in an ideal child-free life, you could do that.

I don’t write every day. I get two days a week to do my writing, when my children go to nursery.

I am very lucky.

However, when I’m consumed by a new plot twist, I’ve been known to sneak in writing time on mummy days. I write when I’m walking the dog (being able to touch-text is handy), or I pull into a lay-by when the kids are asleep in the car and fire up the laptop. Or bribe the children with Peppa Pig so I can sit and tap out a few hundred words. (Did I mention this isn’t a blog about good parenting?)

I can’t tell you how to fit time into your day, as I have no idea about your schedule. All I’m saying is, if it matters to you, you can find the time. Sacrifice a tea break, an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or your twenty minutes of Facebook, and delve into the murky world of your imagination.

“I don’t know where to start,”

This is the excuse that scuppered me for the longest time. I owe it to the OU and their marvellous Creative Writing course that I ever got past it. I realise now that I fell into a very common trap: I was too self-critical. I tried to write whilst listening to the evil genius on my shoulder telling me how rubbish it all was, making me re-craft every line, every word.

Big mistake. Big. Huge.

The OU use a technique called Freewriting, the basic concept of which is that you tell your evil genius to go down the pub, and then you hurry up and get writing while he or she is gone. You can freewrite using a prompt, or just sit with a blank sheet of paper and write the first thing that comes to mind. I find working with a prompt is best. I’ll probably do a post on freewriting and prompts but, for now, I’ll suggest a couple of ideas that really got me going (my first novel came entirely from a freewrite using technique #1)

#1: characters from objects.

Get someone you know to write a list of random objects (a telescope, some tarot cards, a box of matches, an amber necklace, a seashell, it can be anything).

Now sit and think who might own some or all of the objects and why. Don’t analyse, just write for ten minutes without stopping.

#2: freewriting from prompts.

Take one of the following prompts and write for ten minutes without stopping (set an alarm. Do Not Stop until it rings.)

The sunshine makes me happy because…

When the kids leave home I want to…

He said it was all my fault…

“I just can’t write,”

Yes, you can. You do it already. Every time you tell someone about your day, relate a funny story you’ve heard or share something your children did this morning, you are writing.

When I first started thinking about this blog, I worried that I wasn’t one of those people who just had to write. You know, someone like Virginia Woolf, who wrote diaries, letters, stories because she was compelled to. Then I realised that I have always written; it’s just that much of it was in my head. I would retell my day, sometimes changing bits to make it the day I wished I’d had. I’d often write the conversation between me and my boss where he did appreciate all my hard work. Or, better still, the one where I told him to take a long walk off a short pier. I would construct amazing scenarios where the boy who had just dumped me drove across town and found me, just to tell me he’d made a terrible mistake.

Okay so maybe I lived in a self-delusional fantasy world, but it has given me amazing fodder for my fiction. Particularly when I tried to turn my hand to Mills & Boon. That’s for another time.

“My writing is boring.”

How do you know? Has anyone read it but you? If they have, if (like me) your friends or family suggested that maybe your writing wasn’t the most entertaining they’d ever read, then remember one key thing: you are writing your first draft.

I consider my first draft to be the rough pencil sketch that I will paint in with colour later. I hope, of course, that I won’t have to re-write it all, but I know for a fact I’ll have to work hard on some of it to move it from tedious bunkum to something worth reading.  Plenty of time to worry about that later. As I’ve said before, you can’t edit a blank page.

The important thing to focus on when you start writing is to just write. Go with the flow of the story, follow the twists and turns of the plot, and get to the finish line. When you’ve done that you can polish every sentence until it shines with brilliance. I guarantee your first draft will not be your last. And it won’t all be boring. Yes, bits of it will drag: those are the bits to shine or slash later. But parts of it will shine so bright you’ll wonder who drugged you and added them into your story when you weren’t looking. Those are the morsels that make writing addictive.

So, what are you waiting for. Get writing!