The Moving Finger

Waking up with a start from my afternoon sleep, I switch my phone on. It’s 4.30pm. Suzie will be here in three hours. If I wasn’t so severely ill with this cold, I’d pull my gym clothes back on and walk to the gym to do some weights. Haven’t managed any lifting since Friday. Tragically, I’m not up to it.
My breathing is shallow and laboured. Right, I’ll write the blog I decide.

Fifteen minutes later I crawl out of bed to the kitchen. I’ve started and then deleted a blog entry four times. The familiar sinking feeling of Writer’s Block washes over me. I-can’t-write-anything-I’ll-never-write-again-I’ve-lost-whatever-it-is-that-allows-me-to-write. Pouring a Red Bull Zero (for my exhaustion) and some yoghurt (to foil the waiting thrush), I realise that this is the first time these thoughts have surfaced for months.
Mixing Options chocolate powder into my yoghurt, already I feel better. Squeezing a slice of lime into my Red Bull, I carry my snack and drink over to the nest. It’s amazing, now I come to think about it, how completely untroubled I’ve been for months by these feelings of being unable to write.
Pages and pages have been written about Overcoming Writer’s Block. A couple of years ago I read a lot of such articles. Anyway: here’s my list.

1. Force yourself to write every day. The everyday format of a blog is excellent for this. When I was on the Creative Writing MA all those years ago, almost the first thing our tutor made us implement was “morning pages”. This involved waking up, reaching for a notepad and pen, and scribbling away for about ten minutes, before listening to the radio, reading the newspaper or indeed reading any writing by anyone else.
2. “Automatic writing”. Have always found this very helpful in creative writing courses. Sometimes there’s a prompt – the instructor will say a sentence that you have to continue into a story. Or even just a word – say “anger” or “solitude”. The important thing is to keep writing for five or ten minutes without letting your hand leave the page or crossing anything out. You can do this for yourself – I’m doing it now…
3. If you’re having trouble starting a piece of writing – start with some dialogue. Maybe a remembered snatch of telephone conversation or something you wish you’d said to an ex. It can be a good way in to a story.
4. Change the scene. If you’ve been sitting staring at a blank page, go to a coffee shop or to the gym or jump on a bus. The presence of Other People and external stimuli may well get your creative juices flowing.
5. Go to the office. It’s remarkable how one can just not be bothered to do any writing when one has time, but as soon as one is meant to be doing Other Work the writing suddenly starts flowing. Opinion is divided on this one, but it definitely helps me to have other work to kick against that isn’t my own writing.
6. Exercise. As in squeezing one’s fat self into gym clothes and going to Spin, Zumba, swimming, running or walking. Often I find it hard to settle down to write until I’ve exercised. Dickens used to go for long walks and look at how prolific he was.
7. “Write drunk, edit sober”. Have just looked this one up. It’s not Hemingway, but Peter de Vries. Anyway, sometimes if you’re having block problems, a drink can relax you and allow you to feel confident and happy enough to write something. Bear in mind that what you write in this state may well be bad so editing it whilst not drinking is crucial.
8. Meditation. Don’t start doing a Body Scan in your writing time but if you can get into the habit of meditating everyday, it will relax you and increase productivity. It has certainly made an astonishing difference to my creative output.
9. Write with a friend. When I started writing more seriously, I used to meet up with Hannah, MadFatRunner or my MA chums for writing sessions in coffee shops. We’d do automatic writing, take turns in giving the prompts and generally have a pleasant time and produce pages and pages of work.
10. Put some music on. My brother says “I can’t write whilst listening to someone else’s words” and will only listen to instrumental music. Ian Rankin listens to Mogwai whilst writing, I remember reading once. Absolute 90s seems to work for me – it’s on now. “Gangsta’s Paradise” in fact. Tune! There’s a disconnect between the music and the brain that seems to happen, creating a space that the writing can flow into.

Hope this helps…

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2 thoughts on “The Moving Finger

  1. I agree with your brother about not being able to write while someone else’s words are more or less in my ears, but these suggestions are great. I’m going to share them with my students. Also, I love “Gangster’s Paradise.” Did quite a … memorable … karaoke rendition of it recently. Best, Kathryn

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