Flirting with the Muse: Overcoming Writers Block

Wow! It has been awhile…

In fact I haven’t really got into the rhythm of writing yet in 2011 and it is April already.

I have been going through a period of unprecedented busyness since the start of the year. I recognise it all as the interplay of Yin and Yang, expansion and contraction, busy and not so busy and so on, but it does mean that I have got horrendously behind with everything I have wanted and needed to get done in that time. Now I have a mad scramble to catch up (especially with my correspondence, before people start to get very annoyed with me for not getting back to them/doing what I promised/etc).

This busy time has meant I have not had the time I like available to me to write. This lack of writing has effected my creativity muscles. They seem to have atrophied a little and like returning from a physical injury, I need to undergo a spell of mental “physio”  (if that is not a contradiction in terms) before my skills return to their usual (admittedly mediocre) level.

In this “dry spell” I have got out of the habit of thinking of hooks and ideas of posts, my thoughts have started to play a game of peekaboo; popping up into my head when I have no way of recording them and then running and hiding as soon as I break out a notepad or word-processing programme.

The ancient Greeks understood all too well the vagaries and fickleness of the creative process and ascribed creativity to Muses, goddesses that had to be romanced and flirted with to give up their gifts.

How I have Flirted the Muse: Getting My Creativity Back

Well, to begin with, creativity needs time and space.

It is one of the ironies of the human psyche that we cannot force creativity through the power of will alone. In fact that kind of tension seems to be poison to creativity. It is way writer block is so insidiously evil. Writer gets a block. Writer panics and beats themselves up and stress about the block, The block gets worse…

Saying that avoidance is not the answer!

So here are a few things I have found helped me get back into the creative writing flow (it is a collection of things I have picked up along the way – I have referenced the people I learned it from where I can so you can go and explore some more if you want), I hope they help you if you go through a similar thing:

Relax

From my preamble we know that creativity hates tension, stress, haste and demands. So, first things first, relax. Give up any notion of writing anything (for now at least) and just relax, have a bath, go for a stroll, watch TV If you want a more formalised process of relaxation try my “Deep Relaxation Primer” here.

Immerse Yourself

Read. Read anything; books, blogs, articles, magazines, whatever. Read things that are relevant to what you want to write about. Keep some sort of “capture device” (see next tip) at hand and jot down any ideas that come to mind as you are reading. I wrote several interesting ideas down recently whilst reading “Status Anxiety” by Alain De Botton (for a great interview with him grab the latest copy of the “New Escapologist”).

Capture

Make sure you have some way of capturing ideas when they strike. I have recently been using the notes function my iphone, but it is very slow and when I sync it the notes tend to disappear (I am sure I am doing something really obvious wrong!). I also love moleskine notebooks and often carry one round with me. I admit, this doesn’t help if inspiration strikes in the shower…

Set a Deadline, Target or Goal

Charlie Brooker asserts that all you need to overcome your writers block (or fear of starting) is not creative writing skills but a good solid threat of a deadline.

Sebastian Faulks and Terry Pratchett refuses to leave their desk until they have written a predetermined amount of words, whether that is a single line or a chapter (depending on the goal for that day).

Set a goal (keep it very, very attainable to begin with) and stick with it.

Just Write!

You are not in the mood to write. You start writing anyway. You get in the mood to write. Simples.

The comedian Richard Herring writes something every day, Joe Vitale and Dan Kennedy advise just sitting and writing whatever is in your head, stream of consciousness style with no editing for at least 10 minutes a day.

I write snippets, cool sounding hooks and seed crystals for post entries. Then I just start piecing it all together. I write fragments of sentences to return to at a later date, slowly a post will take shape.

Put More Effort Into Editing

Apparently (according to my friend Rob Wringham and I have not reason to doubt him), Stephen King in his book “On Writing” advises as the editing process to “kill” every 10th word. I also advice trying to change every 10th adjective or adverb. Get a thesaurus.

Learn to enjoy the process, like pruning some topiary. Editing (as long standing readers may have noticed) is my least favourite part of writing, I tend to write, do a bit of a slapdash spelling and grammar check and pop it up online.

I now resolve to edit better.

All these steps (maybe not quite in the order I have written here  and I am still a bit lax on editing) were how this post got created. It took me a week, but at least I did it.

Right now to get started on my next entry and I should have it some time in, oh, June?

See you there,

Matt

PS, since this blog is a bit of ramble and a bit of a “how to”, and I couldn’t figure out where to put it, so I have put it in both the Journey and the Knowledge category.