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Finding it hard to write - any suggestions

I know it's only Tuesday but I'm finding it really hard to write this week. Yesterday I managed only a few hundred words, today I've tinkered, faffed and written sludge. I'm on a tight deadline, so I can't be wallowing in this mire for too long. I feel quite exhausted at the thought of all the other words I need to write! I don't normally feel like this, and I know it's due to the times we're living in. I also know it's a privilege that I get to do this and have my work published. But is anyone else struggling and what are you doing (if anything!) to dig yourself out of it? 

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Replies (34)
  • If I’m feeling blank I go swimming. I find putting my mind into a totally other place allows it to relax, and then the ideas come. Of course it doesn’t have to be swimming, some people find driving or walking helps relax the mind. 

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    • I find swimming enormously helpful too. Unfortunately it's not possible with lockdown but maybe a bath would help me later! 

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      • Yes, a bath can definitely take the weight off your feet (as Archimedes demonstrated to his neighbours' amusement).

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      • I normally go on a long walk put the headphones on listen to music and let my mind drift and then somehow the word and idea association starts to come and I have to stop every few minutes to make notes on my phone otherwise I’ll forget! 

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        • I don't listen to music, but I often record on my phone. I know of one person (Pat Easton) who attended the self-editing course last year is also here at the Festival, but I will retell how I stumbled upon one on my MCs( Laura ) in the airport lounge in Frankfurt on a day when many flights had been delayed. She had been sitting in the lounge in front of me. She alternated between reading, checking the departure screen, picking up another drink as she returned to her seat for the nth time, the young woman must have noticed that I was observing her (I actually made a voice recording on my phone as I followed her movements); she came over to me and asked what the f.. I thought I was doing. I just laughed and then we chatted. By coincidence, we were both upgraded to first-class to compensate for the delay and I had further opportunities to chat during the meal and drinks. It turned out that she was a human rights lawyer. As I started to fall off to sleep, I could hear her snivelling quite loudly; I lifted myself up from the reclining seat to check if there was anything wrong, only to discover that she had been overcome with emotion by the film she had been watching. When we arrived in Johannesburg the next morning, she returned to the go-go character I had observed the evening before.  I thought what an ideal character for a book. That's how Elena developed and her character building was helped along by attending Debi's self-editing course.

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          • 'Let my mind drift'... you know that's a talent in itself, right?

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            • Or a curse when you have to pay attention to something then your mind drifts and suddenly you have no idea what has been said in the last 5 minutes!

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            • I like to walk as well. Getting away from the desk, taking those poised fingers away from the keyboard for a while seems to be the key for me. But, not just that. I need to get away from people, distractions (even music) during that time. I use that time to pretend to live in the shoes of the character(s) that I need to write about next. It's not easy, but walking seems to help me just become my character and then I ask myself, what I would do in the situation that this character is in during the scene that I am writing next.

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              • I've been in a slump too, for the last few days. The combination of an emotional hit which has left me a bit discombobulated and hitting a block in the development of my novel has left me a bit in limbo. 'Tinkered, faffed and written sludge' is a brilliant description of that feeling! 

                Georgina's method of putting your mind somewhere completely 'other' works, I think. Just trying to forget the 'work' aspect of creation. Forgetting what you feel you have to write.

                In fact, yesterday, after I'd written the same few paragraphs over and over again, and each time fallen even more short of what I wanted them to say, I put the whole thing aside and decided to clear out some old box files in the office. One of them was full of old photos going back decades, random and unsorted. Among them was a 'Klick Photopoint' envelope (remember them?) marked 'Corfu 2006' - pictures of a holiday I went on with my best friends in the days when such a thing was possible! 

                Flicking through them, and particularly the views of Corcyra, where we'd stayed, an idea crystallised. Out of nowhere. From a vague, elusive sense memory of age and heat and sunlight. And I wrote a short, short story (less than a thousand words - just a vignette really) almost without thinking about it. Nothing to do with the novel. Nothing even close to what I should be writing or what I wanted to write. Just a dreamy stream of consciousness. It took about two hours perhaps.

                And I love it. It made me cry a little (my emotions are a bit close to the surface at the moment). It'll never be published. It'll probably never be read by more than a few people. But I love it. It makes me really happy and a bit sad at the same time. And the fact that it didn't exist until I dreamed it made me feel like a proper writer. It made me fall in love with writing again.

                I probably won't write today. Certainly not anything for the dreaded novel. But tomorrow, I'll remember that little vignette and how it made me feel, and I'll start again. 

                I hope that the exhaustion turns to excitement again soon, Holly, and you find your love for what you're writing again. It's there, waiting, on the periphery of your mind's eye, mischievously waiting for your attention to move elsewhere before showing itself.

                Good luck!

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                • Flicking through them, and particularly the views of Corcyra, where we'd stayed, an idea crystallised...

                  Yes, and often that's the way great ideas begin...


                   Out of nowhere. From a vague, elusive sense memory of age and heat and sunlight. And I wrote a short, short story (less than a thousand words - just a vignette really) almost without thinking about it. Nothing to do with the novel. Nothing even close to what I should be writing or what I wanted to write. Just a dreamy stream of consciousness.

                  And you most probably will use it, or some of it, in your future writing. When the situation arises, you'll have a character feeling exactly what you were feeling and you'll think: Ah! I know what I'm going to put here. The best bits of writing usually come from our own experiences.


                  And the fact that it didn't exist until I dreamed it made me feel like a proper writer. It made me fall in love with writing again.

                  Sir, you are a proper writer! (But only when you are writing...)

                  Thank you for sharing! 💙💛 💚  


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                  • Thank you so much for sharing that Jon. 

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                    • This is really lovely Jon, a beautiful insight. you've made me want to feel like a proper writer too.

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                    • I read something from one of my favourite writers, read lyrics of Dylan, Tom Waites, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen Listen Beatles Abbey Road, Cash American recordings. You tube. Girl From The North Country The Musical. Any of those inspire me to visit my keyboard!


                       

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                      • Good idea! Leonard Cohen heavily inspired my upcoming book - the protagonist is even called Marianne. 

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                        • Ooh, I will be reading that, I love Leonard! 


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                        • I often cook to relax and think about my book, or take a long walk along the river.

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                          • I'm very lucky in the fact that I write for pleasure and not to deadlines. I only write when I feel like it, even though I have lots of free time.

                            My advice to Holly (and anyone in same predicament) is to write in fragments, starting with the scenes / chapters that most interest you at the moment. You'll make better progress if you are writing an exciting & strong scene than if you are just plodding through the plot in a linear fashion, to get stuff on the page. Just because you haven't finished the middle, doesn't mean you are not allowed to write the end. And if you have already a few strong scenes on the page, you'll feel more excited about filling in the gaps. You'll see the story progress faster. Of course, to be able to do this well you need to know your story and your characters inside out.

                            For very busy people, who hardly have any block of time just to write, you may try writing one or two sentences at a time (micro writing) as you do other things that do not involve your brain. I often write on the back of envelopes and till receipts, LOL. I think about my characters when I have a few minutes and I ask them questions: Why have you done that? What are you going to do next? What is your problem right now? What are you trying to achieve? What is this story about? You'll be surprised with your characters' answers. Write them down in "shopping list" format or loose sentences. When you finally get down to writing, you already have a lot of material to build your story. 

                            Go on... Indulge yourself. What do you feel like writing today?

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                            • Yes! Walking and swimming does wonders for me too (oh how I miss my trips to the pool at the moment.).

                              If the problem isn't so much ideas but "ugly writing" (as I call it), I sometimes find reading a chapter or two by an author whose tone/style I really love helps a lot. Someone on twitter once referred to this as having an author as a tuning fork and I really love that idea. (Doesn't always work. Some days are just ugly word days 🙂 )

                              I hope you clear the blockage. Happy writing! x

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                              • A tuning fork! That's exactly what it is! x

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                              • I've had the same struggle since lockdown started - I don't know if it;s the information overload of all the news updates and social media funnies but it's made my mind feel very scrambled (beer o'clock each day probably doesn't help!) Like many others exercise is a great way to switch your mind off from its daily hassles and get you into another zone - running is my way of letting my mind drift into narrative places! 

                                In terms of getting out of my own slump - that's why I signed up for this festival. And already attending its fab events and being in a community of like-minded people is getting me back to where I need to be to write. Started to feel excited again! I've been reworking my synposis to remind myself of where I'm at and am hoping by the time the festival is over that I'll be in the flow again. Good luck to you and all fellow writers struggling with (b)lockdown!

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                                • This is a guess but as a practitioner of NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming, one of the things that we have learnt is that people process life's experiences via sounds pictures and feelings and that some are more visual than others ,some more auditory, some more kinaesthetic. It appears that by the language you used to describe your current stuck state that you may well be highly kinaesthetic, that is you need to touch things, feel things both physically and emotionally and therefore action and engagement of some kind would be how your blockage would be released? So maybe taking elements of your writing and putting them into physical form like beer mats, Post-it s, cardboard boxes and writing on them so that you can then move them around, join them up, reorganise them, walk away from them, sit amongst them? Label items of furniture as characters or places and sit on them and see what happens?

                                  who knows?

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                                  • I've read a book titled NLP for Writers, can't remember the author but still remember some of the content. Mostly that each one of us lives in their very own world. Good stuff. Glad you reminded me of it today. Thanks.

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                                  • Ah I feel your pain Holly! But did I read somewhere you'd written 21,000 words last week? That might explain it! After such a deluge you might need to let the well fill up a bit (mixed metaphor - so what, ha!)...unfortunately, if you need to hit this deadline then my tip is to do what I do...stress, mull, sigh endlessly, delete a sentence, reinsert two lines later, get up from the chair and take my body away but leave my head there, decide I'm nowhere near good enough and wasting my time, consider a life delivering pizzas, return to the chair, delete that same sentence and put it back where it was in the first place, repeat process...(until, suddenly, a breakthrough, and I'm the king of the word again hahaha!!) 

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                                    • Good God, you've just described my entire process! I am not alone. thank you Alan.

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                                    • My writing has picked up during these sad and turbulent times, but I believe this is because writing is my outlet. Whenever real life gets too much for me to deal with, I escape to my imagined places and let my characters do the talking. I am finding they are much more emotional (and swear far more) right now, particularly in those sections that deal with difficult human interaction. I might have a lot of editing to do later.

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                                      • Initially when I found the keyboard locking I would begin another story, quite often from some insignificant item in the one that has caused the problem in the first place. These stories, or sagas, are still awaiting their endings. I know what they are just haven't finished them yet. Saving them for a rainy day. Then I decided to write police procedurals. Now I tend either to go for a good, brisk walk or disappear into the garden, more specifically the greenhouse. Yesterday whilst Harry was developing his crime novel I found my mind wandering and on the page in front of me appeared the elevator pitch for the manuscript currently being constructed. Nil illegitami carborundum. 


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                                        • Personally, if I have anything to do, and that includes chores or remembering to order something for a birthday present, or to achieve a writing task then I do this first thing. That way I will be fresh and it will be harder to get distracted. What I found was that if I could all the stuff done in the day that needed to be done, then it was easier to concentrate on writing later in the day.

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                                          • Thanks so much to everyone who shared their advice and experiences! I hope it helps others a lot too. I am pleased to say that I managed to drag 1,000 words out over the course of the day. God it's a slog sometimes isn't it! 

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                                            • Hooray!! 😎 

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                                            • You may have already gotten what you need from the others, but I find that it really helps me to gain forward momentum by plotting out specific events on a calendar or timeline. It provides a visual reference that I can use to put pen(cil) to paper. ☺

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                                              • Oh, Holly, I so wish I could write! I mean I'm stuck in the horrible structural revision phase and I absolutely hate it. I know what's wrong (someone told me!) but I can't for the life of me put it right. There are so many things to bring forward, cut, pad out, seed in, etc. that it's a puzzling nightmare for me. Some people love this (so I've heard) but I just want to get back to the writing bit. It's the words I love. I've done all manner of structural exercises to try and get my head in the right place to see the light, I've tried to fit my story into Save the Cat, the Hero structure, the Plot Embryo, Truby's plot beats, a combination of all of them, but it won't behave and doesn't nicely slot into any of them. I feel like chucking the laptop off the balcony and forgetting Olivia (the protag) forever <sigh>

                                                So, today's a new day and it's back to the many charts, flow diagrams, slips of paper, cards and random notes to try and fix it. I'm not sure how to get there either, past that block (writing/revising/structuring), but I keep feeling that something, sometime will click. Failing that, i might try wine and a late night ;-)

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                                                • my experiences in writing are microscopic when compared to so many contributors here, but i feel it could be worthwhile sharing some things i became aware of, when completing a recent project. i may have mentioned one them earlier, not sure.

                                                  1. every project needs to be planned in some way, to some degree, that enables you feel, you have a path of progress. the finer the detail, the easier it is is to produce, and as i often do, jump around within the story. completing different bits here and there. things can change organically as each and all are inspired and affected by the growth of other elements within the whole.

                                                  this freeform approach to detailed planning was a bugger to tie down at first.

                                                  i get fed up with books and notepads sometimes. i've done whiteboards and their  equivalents, post it notes and post cards ... then i did something different.

                                                  i used a spreadsheet in numbers (mac). excel or anything else would prove equally effective. (on an aside, i have just downloaded "LibreOffice" to replace apple and microsoft flavours and become completelty indpentdant. excellent software. free! i will donate to the developer instead of paying the others. ( yes macs free, but not as good).

                                                  SO, why the spreadsheet.

                                                  well, the timeline to events in your story run across the top. here you can allocate a 3 row block to locations. more blocks to characters running down the left hand edge or anything you like. then as your characters and locations etcetera come into play, it will be visible across the timeline. this will also provide you with info on 'hooks' for different format considerations, should their be hope of transfer to tv or film? or just a great way to plan out everything for the production of your story. just keep the timeline across the top. while i struggled on a single verse for 2 days at times, i also had a ten day production streak of 1000 words a day on average. based on 2 text messages to my son. i put that down to the detailed planning, and ability to jump about with confidence, maintaining that freshness in requirement. within the cells of the spreadsheet you can adjust their size and add notes specific to each cell. you can also run your own 'writing' production timeline, across the top, based on the storyline planning. these neatly packages blocks of performance and the tasks are managed by you 🙃 not sure if this makes any sense or helps, but the heart is in the rigth place ... yep, just went blop-blop!



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                                                  • sorry #2 😁. writing blocks. our minds deliver as we expect. as we believe, so shall it be. anyone that 'poopoo's' this ... you just shot yourself in the foot. to qualify my observations, i am a qualified in clinical hypnotherapy, and master nlp practitioner amongst other things. i feel i understand the mind, generally speaking. so would offer the following with confidence. beliefs are thoughts. i have a block ... and so you do 👍. to embrace the concept and possibility of a block, is to sow the seeds of your own viscous circle of self deceit. i offer a quote - "thought is everything. we must be, before we can do, and we can only do, to the extent that we are, and what we are, depends on what we think." i think, i have bursts of creativity, based on my expectations. these, i can visualise, or even easier, just expect 🙃. and herein lies the secret of all things 😂. 1. discover self, 2. accept self 3. become the creator. while this is possibly beyond expected, it is relevant. i choose to avoid frustration, by releasing my mind through choice. this means doing something else to completely distract & absorb me, and CLEAR my mind. confident in the knowledge, i am right back at it, as successfully as ever, at this time. and then, i shall do this and this and this. so will, it be 🙃. if you've read this far, and you think, what tripe 😂, i hope it has entertained at least 😁. else ... be creative 👍

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                                                    • I have been quite depressed in this lockdown, so I have been trying new music and giving myself a headache with it.

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