Life Springs Ever Green

I’ve been thinking about colour(s).

There’s a surprisingly large amount of theory about colour. Colours have meanings, they create feelings and emotions in us. So much so, you can have colour therapy, where you sit in a room (white I assume, or maybe completely dark) and they bombard you with light in the colour you require to produce the effect needed. I quite like that idea. Maybe I’ll try it sometime.

Picasso had his Blue Period, then his Rose Period, where these colours dominated his work in a range of hues.

I don’t know if other artists, or writers, have times of colour. I see it in my life from time to time, a particular colour seems to draw me, or mean more, or stand out or in some way influence me. This year my colour is green.

When I was a teenager, wanting to wear teenager-black all the time, my mother nagged me out of it. She associated the colour black with depression, grief and mourning, with oppression and poverty. So I can understand why she hated to see me swathed neck to ankle in black. But it’s a colour people–especially teenagers–wear when they are still trying to find their identity, or when they are part of a crowd of others who all wear black, it ‘goes’ with that mind-set of searching earnestness.

And of course we always say black is a slimming colour, and if you are a larger lady like me, you’ll find huge chunks of a retailer’s range of clothes are only available in black. It’s also the colour of formality so you find loads of people wearing black in offices, you see everywhere the ladies in their black trousers with a shirt or jumper or a jacket and slinky top. I used ot have a ton of black ‘work’ trousers. I think it’s also a practical colour, again in clothes, seeming to show the passage of time less noticeably than other colours and going with pretty much everything, and suiting pretty much every complexion.

Red is the colour of guts and courage, of anger, of ‘Stop!’ and ‘Attention’. Red used to be associated with masculinity, no doubt due to its use in military uniforms, of blood, of bravery. For this reason (I’m talking about 120 years ago) pink was the accepted normal colour for baby boys as a kind of watered down red suitable for little men. Yep. Pink was for boys, blue was for girls.

Why? Well as we all know females are at constant risk of madness and hysteria due to their female body parts, and therefore have to be swathed in blue from earliest babyhood to calm them down. Blue is a calming colour!

I think it was a member of the royal household around the 1910s who first defied convention and clothes her daughters in pink – and thus a new convention was born. Now, as soon as we see a baby in pink, we know it’s a little girl.

I can remember when my daughter was very small, and clothed (partially at least) in pink, an elderly lady said to me ‘what a beautiful baby, what’s his name?’ And I smiled and replied, all the while thinking silently to myself, ‘mad old bat, clearly she’s a girl, look at all the pink!’

Yellow is another colour I love, but depending on the shade, doesn’t always suit me. Yellow is believed to promote higher thinking, creativity, reasoning and logic. It’s also a happy uplifting colour, as we know when we get a lift every time we catch sight of a patch of daffodils after the dreariness of winter.

For a long time, I’ve been wearing black, grey and blue (jeans mainly), with white or occasionally burgundy accents.

but for the last few weeks, I’ve been craving green. I’ve dusted off my existing green tee-shirt, and bought another one. And I’m enjoying looking at greenery in pictures. I’m not looking at beach scenes (blue & sort of sandy brown), it’s the green of leaves and grass etc that appeals ot me. I get a kind of little ‘bong’ in my chest when I see them (Remember Lovejoy and the sensation he used to get in his chest when he ‘divvied’ a true antique?)

So I’m giving in to my green period – a time of rebirth, perhaps, or of tranquil moments, rest and recovery. or a time of peace and a return to nature? Who knows? I just know that this is what is feeding my soul at the moment.

Of course green is also the colour of jealousy – the ‘green-ey’d monster’ of Shakespeare’s Othello. Or of inexperience and innocence – also Shakespeare, (Anthony and Cleopatra)  ‘My salad days. When I was green in Judgement.’

But I’m ignoring that side, I don’t think I’m particularly a jealous person. And I’m too old to be inexperienced, although I love to learn new things. So I’ll just embrace the restorative and peaceful nature of Green.  Have you found the colour that fills you with joy?

Here are a few quotations about ‘green’:

Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.

Pedro Calderon de la Barca (17th century Spanish dramatist)

 

The garden of love is green without limit and yields many fruits other than sorrow or joy. Love is beyond either condition: without spring, without autumn, it is always fresh.’

Rumi (Persian poet from 13th century)

 

‘When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy, And the dimpling stream runs laughing by; When the air does laugh with our merry wit, And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.’

William Blake (UK Poet/Artist 1700s-1800s)

 

‘All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German author/poet 1700s-1800s)

***

 

Rereading old work: the critical self

Gary Cooper in a gloomy mood ever since reading his first novel again after ten years.

I read a blog post elsewhere this week, in which a writer talked about rereading a book he had written and published years earlier, and his reaction to it. That set me thinking.

How do I react to reading my own work after a break?

I think it’s a bit like looking at baby photos of yourself, or making a special cake or a meal for a particular occasion. Or indeed whenever any of us do anything creative or out of the norm. Maybe you’re not like me, but I know a lot of people are just like me: a bit inclined to only see their faults, to see the wonky bits, the bits that had to be patched up at the last minute, the crooked hem of the new dress or the edge where the cake got stuck in the tin and you had to put a bit extra icing on there to disguise it. We tend to be overly self-critical, which is sometimes a good thing: we strive that little bit harder to improve and to do well, but on the other hand, it makes it hard to feel proud of our achievements or to accept praise from others.

When I read things I wrote years ago, I feel quite uncomfortable. I am sometimes pleasantly surprised and think, ‘ah, this isn’t as bad as I expected’, but there are definitely times when I groan to myself and wonder what on earth I was thinking. I cringe at some of the laboured metaphors, the overly descriptive passages and my almost fanatical use of The Three: I tend to group my descriptions in threes. In fact if you browse, read or peruse any of my works, writings or output, you will definitely, absolutely, surely notice, observe and see that a lot of what I write is grouped into threes! Who knew?

I’ll just quickly fix this bit. Oh, and this bit. Oh now that bit doesn’t work, oh well, I’ll just…

Well, I did for one, although not until someone pointed it out to me. I try to weed some of them out, unless I am deliberately emphasising a point, and keep them to a minimum. But years ago… No, they are there in all their triplicated glory.

As is my terrible grammar – I just never really know, what, to do with those, commas,.

I used adverbs liberally too (haha, like that!) but I’m not quite so obsessive about those. I don’t mind the odd one, whereas many authors absolutely scour their pages and destroy them without mercy. I like the odd adverb. Sometimes an active verb can be a bit too much, especially if the writer uses loads of them. I’d rather read ‘she said hastily’ than ‘she gabbled’ or ‘rattled’.

Stop authorsplaining and let me read your damn book!

What I don’t like is a ton of adjectives. You know when you read something like, ‘The old sprawling ramshackle creeper-covered house had a battered and pitted, badly-fitting oak door and four tiny grimy windows that peeped out from beneath an elderly ragged thatched roof in much need of repair.’ Just tell me it’s an old house in poor repair, I can furnish the rest from my own imagination. I just haven’t got the energy to read through tons of adjectives. the same with character descriptions or the characters’ clothes. I don’t really care if their shoes are hand-made in Italy from the finest, most supple leather and stitched by angels from their own hair. Just tell me they cost a fortune, I’ll get it.

It needs a bit of work…

The other problem with old work is that it can have you itching to reach for a pen and begin ‘improving’ or ‘correcting’ it. But is that a good idea?

One of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can tweak your books if you need to, with little disruption to the reading public, to stock availability and relatively negligible damage to your finances. Not so the trad-pubbed, of course. There a revision might cost a packet both in cash terms and in terms of reprinting, delays, supply hiccups etc, and will only be undertaken if absolutely necessary. But an Indie book is not too difficult to fix if there are issues with it that are likely to lead to poor reviews, which might have a knock-on effect on sales.

You can’t go through history deleting all the anoraks and t-bar sandals. Sadly.

So I don’t think it’s a problem if you correct an annoying typo or an inconsistency that is mentioned a few times in reviews. That’s just courtesy. But if you give into the urge to revise, it can be quite hard to stop tinkering, and then before you know it you’ve changed the book so much it could be a whole new project, or you can actually break it, leaving gaping plot holes and chapters that no longer hang together.

I think when it comes down to it, with earlier work, you just have to accept it for what and how it is, like your wonky teeth in that old photo. Acceptance is not always easy, and to leave your old book alone is sometimes the hardest decision to make.

***

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am STUCK… my ideas about Writers Block.

I am a self-doubter and a self-regulator. I am not confident in my own abilities but contrarily I do trust my own instincts. I know a good story idea when I see it, it’s just that I doubt my ability to execute it to its finest, best, most beautiful incarnation, which makes me depressed. And I constantly question myself about whether I’m doing my best, or if I am lacking some vital skill or technique, or indeed, if I actually have any skill or talent at all.

A long while ago I read a post on LinkedIn where someone said they had no patience with writer’s block, that it didn’t really exist, not in the case of ‘real’ writers, because ‘real’ writers ignore such collywobbles and just get on with it. Oh yes, said all their friends, absolutely, that’s so true, Writer’s block just isn’t a real thing, it’s simply a poor excuse used by wannabes for being rubbish at writing.

I say that’s poo! (Not what I really said, but I’m trying to stay calm and be polite) Of course it’s real! Maybe these so-called ‘real’ writers have simply learned techniques to help them overcome or cope with self-doubt and plough on?

But many, many very ‘real’, very talented writers–and people in other creative worlds–struggle with issues of self-doubt and have difficulty getting started, or continuing or concluding a project. They (I should say ‘I’ really) might get stuck in the middle of their book, bogged down by the weight of bringing together so many narrative strands to create a satisfactory conclusion. Or they might be stuck trying to move on to a new project after finishing something. Or they might be unsure which of several possible endings is the best one to go with. Or ideas might dissipate like a summer mist ten thousand words into a novel. There are many reasons why a story won’t progress to order, and may leave a writer stranded on the rocks.

So how do you cope? Or stay calm and get on with your work? There’s no perfect solution. Sorry. And there’s no universal fix that suits everyone.

Just know:

a) Real writers do get lost with their projects and struggle. Don’t listen to those ‘experts’ who say real writers don’t cry, I mean, get blocked.

b) It’s ok to struggle, and not see your way forward with a particular work.

c) There are ways you can learn to cope with a lack of progress.

d) You will come out of this and move on to be your wonderful creative self again.

Here are some of the things I recommend. They’ve helped me from time to time.

Take a break. Maybe you’re just mentally and emotionally exhausted? We can so often pout ourselves under so much pressure. it’s wonderful when readers say ‘Loved it, can’t wait for the next one!’ but that can’t be your driving force. Readers are voracious and though we love them, they want far more than we can give them, like baby birds. Take a week off and look after yourself. Have fun, eat well, sleep well, forget about the book. Enjoy your life.

If I’m stuck in the middle of a book, and can’t see my way forward, I put on my editing head and go back to the beginning. I start reading/tidying up until I find I have recaptured the vision, the direction I wanted to go. This can work quite well if you’re a pantser and haven’t really got much in the way of notes to lean on.

If I have a number of alternative plot choices and I’m not sure which is best, I turn to my friends who know me and my work. I discuss my problem in depth with them and see what comes out of that. Sometimes just talking ideas through will help a choice to gel in your mind and get you back on track. If you can’t do that, you can join an online forum and ask them. You might not get the answer you hoped for, but hopefully you will find someone on your wavelength you can open up to and have a proper chat with. But bide your time and get to know people first. Otherwise, I guarantee you will get your heart trampled on by jumping in too quickly and confiding in the wrong person. Or you could just wait and see. Quite often, a situation will resolve itself as the book goes on, just because your various alternatives fall away when they no longer fit with what you’ve written.

Write something else. I can guarantee that the minute I lose interest in a project and start writing something else, is the minute a fresh, new and amazing idea comes to me for my ‘stuck’ book.

In a previous blog, I’ve also put together these ‘top tips’ on how to keep going with your writing. Some of these ideas may help you.

But above all, remember, getting stuck is not a sign that you’re faking it, and yes, ‘real’ writers DO get blocked. Hang in there.

***

10 tips for getting on with your writing

I think most of us have days when we stare into space and can’t think of a single thing to write. Here are my top tips for getting on with it. There’s not anything really earth-shatteringly new here, just practical ideas to keep you—and me—writing. Some are obvious, some are simple, some are just coping mechanisms that have worked for me.

  • Keep social media out of your work area. It’s so easy to ‘lose’ an hour or two just checking your emails or catching up with social media—and this is a really good one for disguising as work. But if you are a media junkie and know you spend too much time oohing and ahhing over other people’s cat pictures or searching for memes, do everything you can to keep internet availability to areas away from where you work. Keep your breaks short—just enough time to eat, drink, pee and then get back to work. (btw Eat, Drink, Pee is the little-known follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love. Less successful because it lacks the strong spiritual appeal of the original.)
  • Plan. Yes, even if like me, you are more of a pantser, when you struggle to move forward with your work, then leave yourself a couple of lines of notes that will give you a kick-start to begin your next writing session. I heard it suggested that a writer even breaks off in the middle of a crucial scene to create an easy pick-up point. However, if like me, you’re a bit forgetful, you might not find this idea too effective. Instead I prefer to scratch down a few lines in pencil, just to give myself a little push in the morning. (Not a morning person!) while it’s still fresh in my mind. I often have an idea in my head of where the story is going to go, but can forget some of this by the next day. This idea is a good one to avoid losing the plot—literally.
  • Take a notebook everywhere. Yes, I know this is an obvious one for writers, but trust me, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to either abandon a brilliant idea or rush to buy a notebook when out and about. And trust me, notes written on a napkin in ketchup or eyebrow pencil aren’t so easy to read when you get home. You don’t have to take along a huge, heavy notebook, just a teeny one that fits into a pocket will be fine, so long as you always have something with you in case inspiration strikes. For me, any time I’m left alone to stare into space can be a good time to write—on the bus, train, waiting for the bus or train, waiting for loved ones to finish work or try on a dress… or you could get a note-making app on your tablet or phone, I like Evernote. I do a lot of my best writing in a caff with a cappuccino at my elbow. So before you leave the house, make sure you have a notebook and about six pens. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Notebook…?
  • Count your words. This is really a coping mechanism for if you are going through a sticky patch. It’s really aimed at people who, like me, write longhand before they transfer work onto a device. Each morning, before you start work staring at the crack on the ceiling, count the previous day’s word total manually. Doing this will mean a) you get a quick overview of what you wrote yesterday and that will help you to get into writing mode, and b) you will feel encouraged to build on what you already have. This works for me when nothing else does, even if I end up discarding half or more of the previous day’s work.
  • Break up the blank. This continues from the one above. If you sit and stare at the white page or screen in dismay and your brain refuses to create, try this:
    • Do Step 4 as above.
    • Then start each new page with the date and running word total in the top left corner.
    • Number the pages bottom right.
    • If you are using chapter headings or titles, write that too, or simply write chapter and the number.

You could also do Step 2 for this point, again to give yourself a little push.

  • Change your routine. This is another one that works well for me. Try sitting somewhere different to your usual spot, give yourself a new viewpoint. Listen to different music—even music you hate can be useful. I used to sometimes sit in one of my children’s bedrooms when they were at school and listen to some of their music. Just changing your daily routine or habits can trick your brain into creating fresh words. Try getting up in the middle of the night, if you’re a morning person, or go out and write in the pub or the library or the park. Anything different is good and will help to lift you out of your slough of despond and help get rid of that wading-through-mud feeling.
  • Revise. If you’re really stick, go back and look at your original premise for your WIP and see if there’s any aspect of your story you’ve missed, ignored or just plain not considered. Did you go down a blind alley? If you don’t have old notes to go back to, write down a couple of paragraphs of what you remember about getting the original idea for your story. How did it work out in your mind? How does that compare to what you have actually written so far? Try to see your story as a whole unit, like a ladder with rungs moving the story forward. What needs to happen to your characters to get the story to the next rung?
  • Read. This is the easy one. I’m not advocating spending weeks and months reading hundreds of books, but just take some time out to read for half an hour or an hour. Refresh your mind, read some poetry, or a familiar favourite book. Again too, you could try something new and different that will get your creative juices flowing. If I’m writing fiction, I read a non-fiction, usually history.
  • Write something else. So often I find the minute I start work on one story, I get ideas coming through for another. Usually it’s another story where I’ve already completed the first draft and am just subconsciously mulling it over. Try your hand at a short story or a haiku.
  • Doodle. Make yourself some brain-storming cluster diagram. Put your key word—or your character name, or anything to do with your WIP, and then bring lots of lines out from the central idea and at the end of each line, write a word or phrase or idea that somehow relates to the key word. You can do this for every character, or every location or plot point etc. You can put down anything that is linked with your main character, or maybe just ideas that are only tentatively linked. You could sit and create a list of words from your title, or your character’s name. You could try Googling your character’s name and see what comes up—but don’t get side-tracked, it isn’t supposed to replace writing but to stimulate it. Try brain-storming something completely different, a colour or a sound that is relevant to your story, eg blue—then write all the things you can think of to do with ‘blue’: the colour of royalty; meaning sad or depressed; lapis lazuli used to be used to make the pigment blue for artists, and was more expensive than gold, so hence very little of it used in paintings, only for the special few key characters, which brings us back to royalty again; the Greeks had no colour for blue, and used the word for brass; the Bible says sometimes when you pray the ‘Heavens are as brass’; does that mean they are blue, or they are hard and impenetrable? Blue is a cold colour, blue is the colour for baby boys—but used to be the traditional colour for baby girls up until the early 1900s, then mysteriously it swapped, so did this result in confusion? Hopefully you see how this technique can generate ideas.

So those are my top tips. Hopefully if you do get stuck with your writing, or you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, one of these might help you to get back on track and find fresh and exciting ideas. Above all if you’re struggling with a particular idea or a specific part of your WIP, don’t panic. Do something else for a little while or try one of these ideas. You’ll soon get your mojo back.

***

Write on, as Gerry and the Pacemakers never said…

This is how I was feeling a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully I now have that wonderful ‘almost-there’ feeling. 

 

The dreaded middle-of-the-book slump. The urge to give up and get a proper job strikes yet again. Why am I doing this to myself, I ask. I sit in front of the keyboard and think. I can’t even remember the names of all these characters, let alone what they look like. My plot feels simplistic and obvious, my prose isn’t wowing me.

Staying focused is the hard part now. Two-thirds of the way into the book, and I am into self-doubt territory. The desire to write something new, something easier is strong. But I have to press on. This is not the time to listen to voices telling me to stop, telling me what I’m writing is rubbish. This is not the time to be concerned with quality or to agonise over the aptness of a phrase.

There are ways of coping – mechanisms for dealing with the tough parts of the experience. I could try Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die, set it on Kamikaze and write, write, write, furiously, for the allotted time before the programme deletes my words and they are gone forever. I may not churn out Proust or Shakespeare, but at least I AM still churning. Anything – even ten words – is better than writing nothing.

I could go for a walk, take some time off, watch TV or read a book, do some chores around the house, I could do ‘research’ – ie sit looking at stuff on the Internet. Just taking a break will renew my energy and strengthen my sense of purpose, so long as I don’t allow myself too much time away.

But then, sooner rather than later, I’d have to sit back down, take up my pen or put my fingers on the keys, and carry on with my story. I have to believe in my ability to tell my story and believe that it is a story only I can tell. Mary Wibberley, a British writer of romance novels, wrote a book many years ago which changed my life. It was the first how-to-be-a-writer book I ever read, and it taught me to believe, hope and above all, to write. It was called To Writers With Love, and in it she likened the writing process to that of mountain climbing. Her best advice?  “Don’t look down.”

Don’t look down means not stepping back from the ‘problem’ and seeing too big a picture, allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by fear and a sense of something too large to be scaled. It means not getting dizzy but staying focused. It means keep battling forward, one step at a time, until you gradually reach your goal. Don’t allow yourself to become paralysed by the enormity of your undertaking, but move forward slowly but steadily, overcoming difficulties one at a time. Don’t get discouraged by looking around you at the achievements of others, or by listening to negativity or malice.

So, as Gerry and the Pacemakers didn’t say, but no doubt would have, had they been the cheerleaders of an Indie author: Write on!

I will battle on, through this Slough Of Despond, until I write those wonderful words that bring me such joy and a sense of accomplishment: ‘The End’.

***

Blocked?

Blocked?

I think most of us have days when we stare into space and can’t think of a single thing to write. Here are my top tips for getting on with it. There’s not anything really new here, just practical ideas to keep you – and me – writing. Some tips are obvious, some are simple, some are just coping mechanisms that have worked for me.

  1. Keep social media out of your work area! It’s so easy to lose an hour or two just ‘checking your emails’ – which we often disguise as ‘work’! So if you are a media junkie and know deep down you spend too much time oohing and ahhing over other people’s cat pictures, do everything you can to keep Internet availability to areas away from where you work. Also, try to keep your breaks short – just enough time to eat, drink, pee and then get back to work. (btw Eat, Drink, Pee is the little-known follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love. Less successful because it lacks the strong spiritual appeal of the original…not.)
  2. Plan. Yes, even if like me, you are a pantser, if you struggle to move forward with your work, then leave yourself a couple of lines of notes that will give you a kick-start the next day. You could even (but this is a gamble) break off in the middle of a crucial scene to give yourself something to come back to the following day, an ‘in media res’ kind of situation. I often have an idea in my head of where the story is going to go, but can forget some of this by the next day, so while it’s fresh, I scratch down a few lines in pencil, just to give myself a little push in the morning. (Not a morning person, I need lots of help!)
  3. Take a notebook everywhere! Yes, I know this is an obvious one for writers, but trust me, on numerous occasions I have had to either abandon a brilliant idea or quickly buy a notebook (oh no, not stationery shopping, how awful!) when out and about! And trust me, notes written on a napkin in ketchup aren’t so easy to read when you get home. The notebook doesn’t have to be a huge heavy one, just a teeny one that fits into a pocket will be fine – so long as you always have something. Any time when you’re just left alone to stare into space can be a good time to write – on the bus, train, waiting for the bus, train, waiting for loved ones to finish work or try on a dress…or you could get a note-making app on your tablet or phone. I do a lot of my best writing in a cafe with a cappuccino. So before you leave the house, make sure you have a notebook and about six pens. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Notebook and pen? Double check, good to go.
  4. Count Up. This is really a coping mechanism. If you are going through a sticky patch, write longhand rather than on your device of choice. Then each morning, before you start work staring at the crack on the ceiling, count the previous day’s word total manually. Doing this will mean a) you get a quick overview of what you wrote yesterday and you will get into writing mode, and b) you will feel encouraged to build on what you already have. This works for me when nothing else does, even if I end up discarding half or more of the previous day’s work.
  5. Break up the blank. This continues from the one above. If you sit and stare at the white page or screen in dismay and your brain refuses to create, try this:
  6. do #4. Above;
  7. then, start each new page with the date and running word total in the top left corner;
  8. next, number the pages bottom right;
  9. if you are using chapter headings or titles, write that too, or simple write ‘chapter’ followed by the number; Hey presto – the page is no longer blank!!! You could also do #2. for this point, again to give yourself a little push.
  1. Change your routine. This is another one that works well for me. Try sitting somewhere different to your usual spot, get a new viewpoint. Listen to different music – even music you hate will help to produce an emotion or response of some kind! I used to sit in one of my children’s bedrooms when they were at school, and listen to some of their music. Just changing your daily rhythm can trick your brain into creating fresh words or a new viewpoint, especially useful if you’re trying to break out of a writing rut. Try getting up in the middle of the night, if you’re a morning person, or go out and write in the pub or the library or the park if your usual creating space is your desk at home. Anything different is good.
  2. Revise. If you’re really stuck, go back and look at the original premise for your WIP and see if there’s any aspect of your story you’ve missed, ignored or just plain not considered. Did you go down a blind alley? If you don’t have old notes to go back to, write down a couple of paragraphs of what you remember about when the idea for the story first came to you. How did it work out in your mind? How does that compare to what you have actually written so far? Try to see your story as a whole, like a ladder with rungs moving the story onward and upward. What needs to happen to your characters to get the story to the next rung?
  3. Read. This is the easy one. I’m not advocating spending weeks and months reading hundreds of books, but just take some time out to read for half an hour or an hour. Refresh your mind, read some poetry, or a familiar favourite book. Again too, you could try something new and different that will get your creative juices flowing. If I’m writing fiction, I read a non-fiction book, usually history.
  4. Write something else. So often I find the minute I start work on one story, I get ideas coming through for another! Usually it’s another story where I’ve already completed the first draft and am just subconsciously mulling it over. Try your hand a a few flash fiction stories or write a haiku. Just don’t forget to make notes!
  5. Doodle. Make yourself some brain-storming spider-web diagrams. Put your key word – character name, anything to do with your WIP – in the centre, and then bring lots of lines out from that central idea and at the end of each line, write a word or phrase or idea related in some way to the key word. You can put down anything that is linked with your main character, for example, or it could just be ideas that are tentatively linked to the main plot. Or you could just create a list of words from your title, or your character’s name. You could try googling your character’s name and see what comes up – but don’t get side-tracked, this is not an excuse to dally on the Internet! Alternatively, you could brainstorm with something completely different, say a colour or a sound that is in your story, eg blue – then write all the things you can think of to do with blue: the colour of royalty; means sad or depressed; lapis lazuli used to be used to make the pigment blue for artists, and was more expensive than gold, so hence very little of it used in paintings, only for the special few, which brings us back to royalty again; the Greeks had no word for the colour blue, and used the word for brass; the Bible says sometimes when you pray the ‘heavens are as brass’; does that mean they are blue, or they are hard and impenetrable? Blue is a cold colour, blue is the colour for baby boys – but used to be the colour for baby girls up until the early 1900s and it was pink for boys not girls, but then they swapped, did this result in confusion? Hopefully you can see how this technique can generate ideas.

So that’s my top tips. If you get stuck with your writing, or you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, one of these might help you to get back on track and find fresh and exciting ideas. Above all, if you are struggling with a particular idea or a specific part of your WIP, don’t panic, we all struggle sometimes. Just go and do something else for a little while or try a fresh approach.

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Top Tips To Kickstart Your Muse

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If, like me, you sometimes sit and stare at a blank page for an hour or more without writing a thing then give up and go off to do something else, you might want to give some of these tips a try. I’ve tried them all and found them useful at one time or another. Some are fairly conventional ideas for productivity, others are just things I came up with that helped me.

  1. Listen to music

You might listen to your usual favourites, or I sometimes like to try something new that I haven’t listened to before or even play something I’m not too keen on to get the creativity flowing. Or maybe go for something you haven’t listened to for a very long time – songs that were out when you were a kid!

  1. Go for a walk

I know this is a commonly prescribed antidote to lack of creativity, but it does work. Go out in the pouring rain and release your inner savage, or go out and enjoy the wonders of nature, or walk along the city streets and visualise your gumshoe on the trail of a bad guy. Physical activity wakes up the body and gets the blood flowing to the brain. Even if you don’t come back from your walk full of ideas, at least you got away from your desk for a while and got some fresh air.

  1. Eavesdrop on other peoples’ conversations

This is a great way to pick up ideas and hear dialogue in action. It’s also a great way to get punched on the nose if you’re too obvious. Snatches of conversation half-heard and half-remembered can provide great what-if moments.

  1. Visit a gallery or museum

I once attended a workshop at a museum and we were encouraged to write short pieces about some of the exhibits. These included Neolithic artefacts and a Victorian christening gown. It was not only a great idea but a memorable experience. Go to an art gallery or a museum or country house with your trusty notebook. Take a look at what lies behind the glass and imagine the person who touched, created, discovered, used or found a particular item. People those empty halls with characters – what do they say to one another? Make sketches. Write descriptions. Take photos, or if that’s not allowed, buy a post card from the gift shop.

  1. Look through the images on Morguefile or Shutterstock or other image sites

See if anything intrigues you or inspires you to write a short story, a poem, a simple description or analyse your own feelings when you look at a picture. What does it make you think of and why? How do you feel?

  1. Do you collect anything? If not you, does someone close to you have a collection?

Spend some time writing about the first item in the collection and how it was acquired or obtained. What was the last item to join the collection? What would happen if someone stole your collection? How would that make you feel? How would you get it back? What would you do?

  1. Sit somewhere different to your usual writing spot

I usually write at my desk, but sometimes I like to go out to a café or pub and write, or I could write in a library. I could write outside if the weather is fine. In the past I have even sat in my son’s bedroom at his desk and written for hours. A change is as good as a rest we are told, and a new ‘venue’ can help to get things flowing. You could also try using a different notebook or computer, a different pen or write at a different time of day.

  1. Pick a story from your local newspaper

Write it in your own words; be an investigative journalist and try to think of a new outcome or a way of finding out more, or imagine you are interviewing someone featured in the newspaper, whether a sports’ personality or a victim of a crime.

  1. Go to the library

And have a rummage through the reference section or any section that interests you; poke through the periodicals and nosy at the noticeboard.

  1. Visit a graveyard

Wander around and read a few headstones. Look at the style of the gravestones. Try to imagine the people buried there, the lives they lived and how they died, picture their families and their homes and workplaces. Sit in the church or graveyard for a while and try to imagine who might have sat there before you. How did they feel?

  1. Meditate

A little relaxing meditation could release some stress and pent-up anxiety and enable you to refresh yourself mentally. Sit comfortably on the floor, with a notepad and pen in front of you, turned to a fresh page. Close your eyes. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply and slowly until you feel you could almost doze off to sleep. Then without thinking about what you are doing, take up your pen and begin writing – something, anything, just don’t try to analyse or make sense of any thoughts, but let the words pour out of your pen as if there was nothing between your brain and your notebook. Music or candles and incense sometimes help with this process.

Most of us have times when we can’t seem to write the way we want to, or maybe not at all. Don’t worry about it too much and allow yourself the freedom to know when you need to rest and when you need to try to help things along.