Radio Free Bard

Curing writer’s block

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 12, 2008

There is a line that a writer crosses when they decide that they want to be a writer, not a hobbyist. The hobbyist can leave their writing for months on end and content themselves with the drudgery of their lives, never picking up a pen and never stressing at the vacuum of inspiration. When someone crosses that line into budding author, they are doomed to feel the invisible ropes of writer’s block tug them backwards from the page or the keys. They must face the hunger of the empty page without the food of inspiration.

This post is born out of writer’s block.

There are many types of writer’s block. In this post I aim to guilt you out of having them.

Symptoms: Unable to translate plan into paragraph. Can’t think of how to start the first page. Constantly crushing the page or deleting what you’ve written.

Cause: Your standards are too high and you’re trying to be Harper Lee on your first draft. Your perfectionism is killing your creativity.

Solution: Be willing to write crap. As Hemingway put it, “The first draft of everything is shit.” If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer, so write. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write it and don’t edit it until you’ve written more than you’re willing to discard. As a writer you have to have faith in what you can do. The day I knew I could become a writer was the day I realised I was supposed to edit my first draft, not publish it.

Symptoms: Constantly distracted, always finding something to do other than writing. Real life keeps getting in the way.

Cause: You’ve forgotten how easy it is to write. You’re either building it up in your mind as something horribly difficult or tedious or even worse, you just don’t care enough to hunger for it. This is made worse by poor organisational skills or thinking that being a writer is any less demanding than any other job.

Solution: Don’t tackle a big project as the first thing you do when you sit down. If you’re writing a novel, write a diary entry or a blog post first. If you don’t feel inspired by your first scheduled task, do the second. Whatever you do, write. If you’re at the point where you aren’t hungering to put down words and you haven’t written anything that day, start thinking about a nine to five job, it’ll either scare you back to your work or be preparation for when you realise you won’t cut it as a writer.

Symptoms: Don’t know what happens next in the story. Unable to ‘feel’ the story or some part of it such as characters. There is no logical next step that you can feel immediately.

Causes: Lack of emotional involvement in your work. Your mind is overloaded.

Solution: Step away from the page or keyboard, lock yourself in a room and just imagine the setting. Don’t think logically or structurally about the work, just get into a deeply mental space and let the parts of your subconscious mind that have been dwelling on this very question speak. Your subconscious knows where to go next, it knows what it wants to write. All story tellers, all writers, all artists have a part of their subconscious that will latch onto an idea and run with it whether you realise it or not. There’s a part of your subconscious for every idea you’ve ever had. Give it a chance to speak. You won’t hear it if your thinking, you’ll drown it out. Listen to some Eckhart Tolle.

Symptoms: Can’t maintain focus on a single project until completion. Started too many projects and can’t devote enough time to them. Always starting never finishing. This is a valid and crippling form of writer’s block.

Cause: Your muse is strong but you lack understanding of your muse and you lack discipline.

Solution: Get your life sorted out. Understand yourself or you’ll never understand what you are trying to say. Understanding what you are trying to say is just as important as understanding what you want to talk about. You may think you want to talk about pirates, space ships and goblins but what you really want to express is discontent at the treatment of women in the workplace. You may think you want to write a marketing blog but what you really want to express is your wonder at the human ability to socialise.

Symptoms: You can’t think of a single thing to write about. No idea about what kind of project, format, style, universe or issue you wish to tackle. You have nothing that needs to be expressed.

Cause: You’ve shut yourself down due to stress.

Solution: You were once a child with a boundless imagination, either a boy with a cowboy hat and a plastic six-shooter or a girl with a box full of mummy’s old clothes with which you would play dress-up. There is no reason for a person to be completely devoid of wonder unless they’ve shut themselves down from stress or fear or pain or any number of grown-up reasons. Chances are you’d be better able to write something pained and dark during these kinds of moods, even if you aren’t aware of the effect stress is having on you.

Go scream at the top of your lungs in an empty field in the middle of nowhere.


Where have the pen and paper gone?

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 9, 2008

Writing with a pen and paper is an activity that has been forgotten by most of my friends. Reliance on a computer has become commonplace and simply picking up a pen and jotting has lost its appeal to many.

I’ve been assaulted with reasons as to why writing with a computer is better. Copy-paste, delete, spell-checking, all reasons given for abandoning the pen and paper heritage of writing. The ability to copy paste an article written in word into a blog hosted on wordpress is compelling I’ll admit. The predominance of electronic submission and email these days is also a good reason to exclusively write on a computer. These arguements carry great weight with a lot of people. I am not amongst those people.

I find using a computer horribly restrictive for a couple of reasons.

I’m limited as to where I can write

A computer is stationary and usually in the stuffiest room in the house. If it’s not in some backroom study, it’s in a public area or office where there are too many distractions. You can’t move it easily. Laptops are not a solution, even the smallest laptop is heavier than the heaviest notebook and keeping them charged so that you’re not relying on a powerpoint being available is not always easy or practical.

With pen and paper I can write anywhere I like, whenever I like, and with far less notice than with a computer. I often find myself scribbling some fleeting story idea into my notebook with little more than a second’s notice. Inspiration won’t wait for Windows to start up on your laptop.

I can’t scribble notes in the margin

Word Processors are overly prescriptive as to where on the page you can write. If I have a comment to make on my own work, I’d either have to slot it in to the text somewhere, breaking the flow of the writing, or keep notepad open so that I can alt-tab. Either way, keeping my notes and comments unbotrusive and close to their appropriate sections are mutually exclusive efforts with a computer.

I’ve seen pages of my own work where I’ve scribbled more in the margins than I have on the main part of the page. Stick figures are common-place fare and I’ve often used margin comments as the basis for new work. There’s just so much more flexibility with paper than with a computer.

Paper doesn’t crash while saving

It doesn’t even require saving for that matter. I’ve lost count of the number of times my housemate has lost hours or even days worth of work due to a crash, failure or overwrite. Version control is so complicated that there are dozens of needlessly complex systems out there for keeping track.

I date the paper I use to write. Problem solved.

I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on the topic, I’m pretty sure the paper posse is small and getting smaller while the computer crew is large and almost dominant.

I wonder when there’ll be a paper based wordpress?