Reacquainting Yourself with Your Inner Writer

Sunday 8 March 2015 by

Writing, Index, Creativity

There are a lot of resources out there for writers offering tips, and while some are useful I often find that many don’t work for me (the suggestion that you do a Q&A with your characters being the biggest one). I’m sure I can’t be the only writer out there who feels this way so I thought I’d share what works for me. They may not work for you but you never know, even if they don’t work they may help you find what does.

1. Ban the Block

Cut the phrase “writer’s block” clean out of your vocabulary. Never say it, and do your best not to even think it. I’ll be frank here and say that I never used to believe in writer’s block, I thought it was just laziness, but more on that in a bit. Personally, I think that it’s our own fear of it that gives it power. I feel it almost becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy; we have that momentary fear that we may have it and then, before we know it, we can’t think of anything to write.

There was a time a few years back during which I briefly thought that I may have the dreaded ‘block’ because I couldn’t think of anything to write for the piece I was working on, no matter how much I pushed myself. Then I had a moment in which I realised that while I couldn’t think of anything for that specific piece, I could think of something. What I thought of was this: “There was a cat, who chased a balloon that . . .” (you get the idea). By no means anything good, but something. And that’s my point, you can always think of something. From then on, I haven’t believed in ‘writer’s block’, just creative types putting so much pressure on ourselves that we buckle, become overwhelmed and therefore unable to get things going. We drown in our fear of it.

2. Don’t Push It

When I read writing tips I often find ones recommending that you set aside specific time to write every day and basically force yourself to do it. This may work for some, and hey, that’s great if it does, but it absolutely does not work for me. And I’m sure I can’t be the only one who finds this to be the case. I have to be in the mood to write. For me, pushing it can lead to the pressure/fear that causes the thoughts of ‘block’. Of course it’s hard when we have that realisation that we haven’t written anything in however long when we used to write every day, but just let that stress and worry go. I, personally, feel all that pushing things does is clutter my mind and lead to me writing poor quality pieces that I wish I hadn’t bothered with.

When it happens, it happens and it will be worth it. Think of it this way, would you rather rush it for the sake of saying you wrote something today and have a so-so piece? Or take your time with your creativity and end up with something you’re really proud of? I know what I would rather, so put the stress, pressure and worry aside and take it as it comes.

3. Find the Environment that Works for You

I grew up in the Scottish countryside where my bedroom window looked out over fields, woods and mountains. It was really tranquil which always allowed me to clear my head, let my mind wander and find inspiration. When I moved away to start university I suddenly found myself in a city surrounded by houses and buildings on all sides, which made me feel rather penned in and had a real impact on my ability to just write. As I was studying for a degree in creative writing this obviously wasn’t any good, so I had to find ways of mimicking my inspiration. If trees were visible from my window, I’d angle myself in such a way that they would take up as much of my view as possible. I used landscape photos I’d taken at home as my desktop background to help draw me back and bring out my inspiration. I also took the time to explore which led to me finding a really lovely tree lined path that was a little rugged and felt like escaping the city. Regular walks along that path really helped me to keep my creativity flowing.

Something I really noticed while studying at university was that there were two definite groups, those who could/needed to work in silence, and those of us who just can’t. Working in silence has never worked for me, I just cannot concentrate. In my working life when I’ve worked in an office there have been people that much preferred it when things were quiet as they could focus. The opposite was true for me, if things were really quiet I’d get bored, start looking for distractions, and not be very productive. The same is true when it comes to my writing. I need to have background noise in order to keep me focussed. Sometimes it’s a film playing in the background but usually it’s music, which leads me to my next point.

4. Music

Music plays a big role in my writing process. What started as simple background noise became so much more. It became a way of getting into the characters, atmosphere and setting. For instance, I mostly write young adult fiction so listening to music that I listened to a lot in my teens really helps transport me back and remember what it was like to be that age. It also helps with atmosphere – when writing a scene at a house party listening to certain music brought back memories, smells, and all sorts of things that aided me in bringing things to life on the page. With regards to character, I think about what kind of music that person would like and listen to those bands/genres while writing their narratives. Just think about how emotive music can be, and how you may be able to put those emotions it gives you on to the page. It really is a great tool. It may not work for you but give it a go and see where it takes you.

5. Read

Reading is of course one of the most important thing writers can do, but stick to what interests you. Life is too short to waste your time on something you don’t enjoy because you feel you ‘should’. Personally, reading something because I have to, or because I think I ‘should’ completely takes the joy out of it for me and kills my desire to write. Perhaps people are raving to you about the latest big release and telling you that you simply have to read it but it doesn’t actually appeal to you, that’s fine. Maybe you feel inferior because you haven’t read the classics. Don’t force yourself into reading something that you aren’t actually interested in because of some preconceived idea that writers should be well rehearsed in classics, old and new. So you can’t quote Chaucer or Dickens? So what? You’re still a worthy writer. Just read.

6. Remember Why You Write

I think this is really important. Do you write because you’ve got something you need to say? Do you want to inspire others? Is it purely therapeutic? A hobby? Do you write to share or just for yourself? Do you want to be the next big thing? Leave your mark on the literary world? Or do you just want to have pieces to hand down through the generations of your family? Think about what your reasons are and hold on to them, you have to do it for the reasons that are important to you. I feel that if you lose track of your reasons why, you may lose your voice and what makes your writing yours. I really think it’s important to write what you want to, and not to fit into a particular fad or market (unless of course that is what interests you) as you need to be true to your voice and the reasons you are writing. On that note, don’t censor yourself. If you do that you may well be detracting from the reason you wrote your piece in the first place. I was given that advice by a tutor in my final year of university, and I think it may be the best advice I ever got about the writing process.

7. Re-visit What First Inspired You

I recently did this when I, on a whim, decided to re-read some Roald Dahl. Instantly, I was transported back to childhood, the wonder of getting wrapped up in a story (boy, did I forget how wonderful Matilda is), and that first flash of inspiration to write my own stories. Whether it’s your favourite book, discovered later in life, your favourite book from childhood, or even your favourite film or TV series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a huge impact on me, Joss Whedon being the first screenwriter to make me really take notice of scripts and those who write them), re-visit it and re-ignite that creative spark.

8. Write as it Suits You

If writing in a linear fashion works for you, go for it. Do you need chapter by chapter plans and character bios? If that’s what you need, stick with it. However, if you’ve tried those things and they don’t work for you, don’t feel that that’s how it should be or that you’re doing anything wrong. I’ve felt this way before as I’ve read so many tips suggesting things like interviewing your characters, but I had to just shake it off as it just wasn’t working for me, and that’s okay. There is no correct way to write, it’s just about what works for you.

Personally, I have never written in a linear fashion. I always tend to have a beginning, know my ending and have a few key plot points in mind, and the rest is working out how to tie it all together. This is reflected in what is first put to the page. Whichever scene enters my head, fully, first gets written first. Why? Because I like to write things while they are fresh in my mind. Sometimes, I have an idea of how a scene will go such as what characters will say and do, and I can just sit down, type and see where it goes. Other times, full paragraphs will enter my head as I want them, in first draft form at least, and I have to write them down right then otherwise they’ll slip from my mind and trying to remember them later will lead to me being dissatisfied. Something I often do is write what I have in my mind, where it needs to go in the text, and leave a large gap or place some sort of marker on the page so that I know I intend to add something there. Eventually it gets put in there, whether it’s twenty minutes or twenty months later, and the whole thing comes together as it should.

9. Find the Line Between Good and Bad

The writing process can be a long one, especially when it comes to a novel, and during that process we may end up developing a love/hate relationship with our manuscript. One moment we may be really pleased with what we’ve written, the next we may think it’s the worst thing anyone has ever written in the history of the world. The latter happened to me once, leading to me deleting 150 pages of work and throwing away all my drafts and notes. I told a friend, who had read it, who then looked at me like I was insane. The look on her face let me know that this had been a mistake, and that the piece was worth saving. After a brief moment of panic, I decided that rather than see it as a disaster I would take it as an opportunity to improve the piece, which I hopefully achieved (I was lucky enough to remember a lot of it having spent the best part of a year working on it). While I was at university, the head of the department told us all that if we develop a love/hate relationship with a piece it probably means it’s pretty decent. You may hate it right now but if you loved it at some point that means there’s something good there. So if you’re feeling the hate just set it all aside for a while, whether it be weeks or months, and come back to it later with a refreshed perspective.

10. Remember This

Except when it comes to grammar, there is no correct way to write. It’s a personal process, so find the methods that work for you and stick with them. Also, don’t forget that every published author was once just a budding enthusiast like you, so don’t give up or assume that they have some magic formula. Find your own formula and enjoy it.

Nerissa is a writer, mummy and rather proud geek living in the countryside. In between playtime, cuddles and fun times she loves to read, knit, bake and write Young Adult and children’s fiction.

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