Tag Archives: writers’ block

Finding the Muse

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I haven’t written about writing here for quite a while, now. There’s a reason for that.

I’ve been having an extended period of drought. It’s like my brain is spread too thinly, or perhaps it’s as a result of having a lot of things, some of them unexpected, to think about and deal with. Then there’s the fear – you know the one I mean. The fear that everything I write is nonsense anyway, so why bother creating more of it.

Maybe I should just invest in a bigger one of these... Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

Maybe I should just invest in a bigger one of these…
Photo Credit: quinn.anya via Compfight cc

I have half-created so many drafts over the past four months, novels which began reasonably, and which I felt had arcs and characters and a story to tell, but which still sputtered out. This happens to everyone at some point or other; I know that, of course. But when it happens over and over again, in succession, it’s bound to have a bit of a dampening effect, both on confidence and productivity levels.

It’s not that I’m not having ideas, as such. I get them, fleetingly, every once in a while. My Notes function on my phone is full of half-cooked flashes that might, one day, become stories, and I’m hopeful that’s a sign my brain hasn’t given up the fight just yet. In fact, one of these ideas has, over the past few weeks, taken on a life of its own inside my imagination – I can see a finished book, full of beautiful line-drawings, and the layout of the text on the pages, and I have a character with a heart-shiveringly lovely name, and I have an Enemy with a complex motive, and I have high hopes for this story.

But I haven’t written it, or even really pushed myself to think about it or plan it out. If the images float into my mind of their own accord, I let them come, but I don’t force them.

I also have another idea which is, at the moment, not ready for committing to paper, but I have managed to complete one important aspect of it, and that is this: a cracking first line. I also have a character name, which seems to be something I really need to get a story to hang together. Then, there’s another story which exists in scraps inside my mind. I also have a cool character name for this one, but I’m not sure yet who it belongs to. Maybe when I decide that, I can move forward with this idea. Maybe.

And maybe nothing will ever come of any of them. That’s something which haunts my thoughts.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve taken a step back and I’ve started going through some of my other manuscripts, and my older ideas. I had entirely rewritten one book, based on the bones of a previous draft, and it’s far from perfect – but I’d forgotten that it’s actually okay, and there’s usable material here, and I did a lot of work on it before putting it aside which makes me less inclined to want to waste it. However, there’s loads more work still to do. About three-quarters of the way through, there’s a giant ugly weld-mark where the story changes pitch and direction completely, for instance, but I’m currently trying to smooth that out. The end is all wrong. But there are bits in the middle which are actually rather good. Now, of course, nobody has seen this book but me, and it might stay that way, but even if I do whip up a new draft from these old bones and it goes precisely nowhere, I’ll still have proved to myself that I can write another book.

I can write another book. There is hope.

I haven’t felt like much of a writer lately, despite everything. But until that feeling comes back, I’ll just have to fake it. Turn up on my writing days, face the desk, don’t shy away from the work, get the job done. Plough through.

Show up, and the muse will too. It might take her a while, but she’ll come.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It must be because I am, essentially, built for life in a fjord that I just can’t cope with hot weather. At the same time, I hate complaining about it, because it’s so rare in these parts. For the past couple of days we’ve been having a mini-heatwave (blue skies from horizon to horizon, barely a cloud, still and heavy air, baking in temperatures of 24 – 28 degrees Celsius, on average), and it completely threw my circuitry for a loop. Today it’s still dry, and warm, and heavy, but the sky is more like a huge greyish-white duvet and there’s a bit of a breeze.

So, I might actually be able to think today, and get stuff done.

I really do enjoy sitting in the shade with a book while my garden gently sizzles all around me, and it’s amazing to look up into an Irish sky and see it blue as cobalt. But at the same time it’s terrible to sit at your computer willing the blinking cursor to turn into words. I tried so hard to write a piece of flash fiction yesterday and no matter what I did, it just wouldn’t work. I tried prompts, of all kinds. I tried re-reading some of my old work to see if anything struck me, or if there was a half-finished idea anywhere which I could complete. I tried flipping a book to a random page and taking the first four words I saw as a sentence seed. I’d get about 200 words in, with no idea where the story was going, and then it would just fizzle out – pfft – like that.

So, basically, what I’m saying is: sorry for the lack of a blog post here yesterday. Be assured I fought a heroic battle. However, I lost – it’s bound to happen once in a while – and I was crushed flat by my own writer’s block.

Image: chicagonow.com

Image: chicagonow.com

I did manage to get some work done on ‘Web’, though, which was the day’s only saving grace. On that topic: you might remember me bleating on about wanting to change the narrative voice from third- to first-person a few days ago; well. As happens sometimes when you revisit something with a brain unaffected by heatstroke, you realise you were talking utter rubbish. I’ve decided to stick with the third-person for the time being; when I re-read what I’d done, it didn’t seem as bad as I’d remembered. I did try rewriting the first chapter in first-person, and somehow it made my protagonist seem much older and far more cynical than I want her to be. Maybe I was channelling myself (because I sure as heck felt old and cynical while I was writing it), but for whatever reason, it didn’t work as well as I’d imagined.

I think the book still needs a touch of first-person somewhere, though. I’m considering writing some sections in my antagonist’s voice, in first-person, and seeing if interspersing those with the rest of the narration would help.

Or maybe I should just finish the first draft and then see what the story needs.

Image: giphy.com

Image: giphy.com

All right, all right. Jeesh!

Anyway, I made a sketch (keeping things deliberately rough) of the rest of the book the other day – my desk is covered with Post-It notes, which seems to be my default way of working – and so I know I can finish this story. I know where I want it to go, in broad terms. I have Themes to cover and Important Things to say about sacrifice and friendship and love. I have (I think) the bones of an interesting tale with a striking protagonist and I’m writing in a genre that I’m not used to, which means it’s always interesting (if a little bit like walking a tightrope).

But one thing never changes: the work. It’s not easy getting a writhing story from your brain (where it seems like awesome squared) to paper, where it can sometimes feel flat and boring. I’ve got to give it my best shot, and there’s only one way to do that.

Quit complainin’, get my butt in the hot-seat (or, today, the pleasantly warm if a little overcast-seat), and write!

Catch y’all later. Good luck with whatever you’re working on, and may all your words be good ones.


Recalibrating the Focusing Apparatus

You may have noticed, astute reader, that I haven’t been talking about writing very much on the blog lately. Instead, I’ve been waxing lyrical about body image and issues of ableism and feminism and doing the odd book review, all of which is well and good of course but not exactly what one might expect from the blog of a person who claims to be a writer.

This is, naturally, a dreadful situation, for which I apologise.

It’s not because I’ve been going through a period of ‘block’ – a phenomenon I’ve been reading about on a lot of blogs lately, with some people deciding it exists and others saying it’s nothing but fear/laziness/lack of ambition, which I don’t believe to be true – or that I haven’t been actually doing any writing. I have been writing, and it has been flowing; sometimes more in a trickle than a gush, but it’s been there in one form or another. The problem is this: I’ve been going through a period of ‘The Fear’ again. My brain’s been rushing around like a mayfly, trying to do everything possible in a very short space of time, resting nowhere, focusing on nothing, giving everything a scant flicker of attention instead of doing its best to focus on one thing at a time. I have had a head full of ideas and plans for the past few weeks, and I’ve been trying to think about my life long-term and what I want it to be. All of this, without question, has diverted my focus from what I should be doing, which is putting words on paper.

Image: bepositivemom.com

Image: bepositivemom.com

I started back into ‘Tider’ with a vengeance yesterday, forcing myself to sit down and calm my oscillating mind long enough to get back into the story. It wasn’t easy to do this, and I don’t think I fully succeeded with it, but I know I did the best I could. I did manage to get some words out, and I’ve moved the story on a little, and things are – on the surface, at least – perfectly calm and under control.

My brain, however, is still twitchy.

This morning, before I started writing this blog post, I wrote out some ideas for ‘Tider’, and where I’d like to bring the story. I’m not used to writing without an exhaustive plot, which I’ve spent months working out, sitting beside my computer keyboard, and as freeing as it is to work the plot out as you go, I’m wondering if this is part of my attack of The Fear. It seems silly to admit that, but I do think it’s true. Who would have thought the style of plotting for a book – such a small little thing! – could be so terrifying? I keep reminding myself that what I’m writing at the moment counts as a first draft, with all the freedoms that go with it – I have permission to turn out a piece of work that is less than perfect. That’s what first drafts are for. But perhaps because I’ve had ‘Tider’ in my head for so long, in various forms, and I’ve written it before, it’s hard to remember that this is a first draft. I’m treating it, on one level, like a piece of work for which I have a looming deadline and which absolutely has to be perfect before that date.

I'm wondering if taking this up would be a good idea... Image: anthonybasich.com

I’m wondering if taking this up would be a good idea…
Image: anthonybasich.com

A rational examination of my life yields the following results: the book is working fine, I am still writing, everything is okay. I am on track.

I still feel afraid, though. Also, yes, I do realise how out of whack all this sounds.

It’s probably a result of a lot of factors – preparing for a future career and trying to plan for it, dealing with the rejections that are still coming in and about which I do not talk (stiff upper lip and all that), trying not to lose faith in myself and really doing my best to maintain my belief that this writing thing – in whatever form I can manage it – is where I need to be, and where my life is going.

It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, even though I’m used to working alone, and keeping myself focused toward an end goal. It’s so tough to quieten your inner voice, the one that wants to bring you down and make you fail just so it can say ‘I told you so!’ It’s difficult to keep shoring up the foundations of your confidence when the world erodes away just another little piece of it. So far, I’m managing, but I have a lot of support, and I know that’s the only reason I’m still here.

So, I’m taking a few deep breaths and facing into a new day. I’m opening my computer file like it’s taking a step into a playground, where I’m allowed to have fun, and I’m going to try to keep reminding myself of that all day long. Hopefully, before too long, my brain will remember how to settle and focus, and we’ll get through this thing.

Happy Tuesday to you; I wish you peace, fulfilment and joy, happiness in whatever you’re doing today, and the success of a satisfied mind.



Classic Inspiration

If only I could show you the fabulous blue sky outside at the moment. If only. But I have no camera, and even if I had a camera I’ve no idea how to hook it up to this computer-thingie (I’d probably accidentally create a black hole, or something). Let’s just say, it’s a gorgeous morning here, blue from edge to edge, and my garden is sparkling in the sunlight.

I’m in love with this day.

“i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is Yes…” (E.E. Cummings)

It’s incredible how much difference a bit of sunshine can make to the nation’s mood. On the radio as I write, the DJ is asking for people to do a shout-out for the sunshine, to share their joy at the beauty of the world with everyone they see. To be fair, I can see how that might backfire, depending on the grumpiness level of the person with whom you’re sharing your joy, but I also think it’s a wonderful image – a whole country full of people yahoo-ing and high-fiving one another just because the sun decided to shine.

Get up the yard! Image: setdancingnews.net

Get up the yard!
Image: setdancingnews.net

It’s also helping my mojo, in a major way. It’s probably no secret to you, if you’re a regular reader, that I’ve been feeling a bit (read ‘a lot’) uninspired for the last while; I’ve been having the whole ‘palpitations and heartburn’ thing going on, elevated stress levels, the whole lot. Since yesterday, though, I’ve been starting to feel better. On this beautiful hazy blue day, I can appreciate that part of my anxiety may have been connected with the weather, but it was mostly due to the fact that I felt like I was looking down into a big black pit of nothing, listening to it whisper ‘your ideas are all gone! You might as well give up, right now!’

Well, take that, big black pit of nothing. Are you ready for a revelation? Take a deep breath, now…

Yesterday, I wrote a story.

Yes! I sat down, an idea in mind, and wrote a story that seemed to just appear on the page. I printed it and read it over once I’d finished it, and then I left it sitting for a while as I busied myself with other things; finally, I revisited it, pen in hand. I did make some changes, mainly with descriptions and paragraph breaks, but it remained largely the same from draft 1 to draft 3.

Image: beefymuchacho.blogspot.com

Image: beefymuchacho.blogspot.com

Yes, captain. I, too, was flabbergasted.

This is a cause for celebration because yesterday morning, as I tried to get the writing ball rolling, I ended up doing the classic ‘staring at the flashing cursor’ thing. My brain felt like a slab of ice, and I realised I was starting to get the shakes, such was my terror that I’d never find so much as a single letter to place on the white page in front of me. After a while, I couldn’t take it any more and so I got out for a walk, I did the dishes, I pootled around for a bit, all the while tossing ideas around in my head. Everything seemed pointless.

Then, my beleaguered brain remembered something. It was sort of like throwing a rope to a person hanging by their fingernails – the last straw, of sorts. The whole day was going to go to waste unless I got things under control, and so I did the only sensible thing I could – I listened to myself.

Here’s what my brain was whispering: Shirley Jackson! Read some Shirley Jackson!

I have a tiny Penguin Popular Classics edition of five Shirley Jackson short stories (entitled ‘The Tooth’ – recommended) among my books; however, I hadn’t seen it in months before yesterday morning. Within seconds of my brain’s SOS call, though, I had the book in my sweaty fist, and I did what I’d been told. I sat down. I read the book, start to finish, all five stories in a lump. As I read, my mind started to slow its whirring, and my heart thumped a bit more gently, and eventually my shakes came to a stop. Reading these stories was the best thing I could’ve done.

In case you’ve never heard of her, Shirley Jackson‘s work was amazing. Another author who died far too young, she was a master of the short story form, and one thing she did really well was suspense and gently creeping horror. She wrote stories which seem somehow weird as you read, but you don’t really know why until you get to the end, when your jaw is left hanging at the words on the page before you. Her story ‘The Lottery’ is one of my favourite pieces of short fiction, ever, and I couldn’t believe it had been so long since I’d read it.

And so, once I’d finished reading, I sat down and wrote my own story, straight through without stopping; my story is, of course, nothing like a Shirley Jackson story, but the important thing is this: it came to me after I’d filled my brain up with all the lessons her stories teach. Suspense, hinted-at horror, excellent dialogue, descriptive touches, deft flicks of colour and detail, sensations, unease rooted in the body, making the everyday seem somehow strange and different – all these things soaked into my dried-up brain yesterday, and resulted in me breaking through a block I’d had for nearly a week. Reading her stories made me realise what a short story should be, how it should work, and the power it can have. As well as that, it gave me back my conviction that writing stories is important, meaningful and worthwhile.

So. If you’re having a hard time with your words, perhaps try taking inspiration from the classics. Of course I recommend Shirley Jackson, but there’s also Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Ray Bradbury, Maeve Brennan, Emma Donoghue (not sure she qualifies as ‘classic’, since she’s still alive!), and so many others.

Go outside into the sunshine, and bring a book, and read it. And then add your voice to the chorus, and never listen to that black pit. The ideas will always be there, if you’re quiet enough to hear them calling.

Have a lovely Thursday!