Blockhead: My Top Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block

I have previously tried to analyse what writer’s block actually is:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lay-your-head-on-the-writers-block/

and now it’s time to share some of my top tips for dealing with it.  No matter whether it lasts for an afternoon or a year (or longer) writer’s block is painful, debilitating, numbing and horribly frustrating.  Where does it come from?  Where does it go?  It seems to arrive like the wind, out of nowhere, and to disappear equally mysteriously.  Whatever your particular brand of writer’s block, some of these may help:

  1.  Set an alarm and write for 10 minutes without thinking, revising or stopping.  Any old junk that comes into your head is fine.  Don’t even worry about sentences.
  2. Sign up to writing prompts such as writerswrite.co.za
  3. Describe what you can see from your window.  I can see a quiet street with several vehicles parked, one of which has ‘Integrated Building Solutions’ on the side.  I might choose to write about what the hell that means and why everything is a ‘solution’ nowadays instead of saying exactly what it is ie ‘builders.’
  4. Go through old notebooks for any ideas you can harvest.  If you haven’t got any notebooks go out and buy one; there’s nothing like a new notebook for stimulating ideas.
  5. Take one item on your desk and write about its history.  At this moment apart from a laptop, I have two digestive biscuits on my desk.  I could, if I chose, write one of those stories they used to give us at school – The Life-Cycle of the Chocolate Digestive (‘I was made in a factory from flour and sugar…)
  6. Do something else.  Dig the garden, go for a walk, do the washing-up.  The unconscious mind will keep working while the conscious mind is occupied with something else
  7. If all these ideas bore you to tears, recognise that sometimes boredom is necessary and, like land lying fallow, can prove fertile ground for new seeds.

Kirk out

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How to be Awesome

IMG_0779[1]

Now as you guys all know I’m a sucker for a new notebook.  I try not to get one just for the hell of it otherwise it languishes without a real purpose but it’s a joy when purpose and notebook come together, as they did today.  I’ve just about reached the end of Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’, a whistle-stop tour through English poetic forms, and one of his suggestions at the end is to keep a poetry journal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ode_Less_Travelled

I only take up other people’s ideas if there’s a thunk of recognition in the breast; an ‘aha!’ sounding in the brain which tells me this is a Good Thing For Me To Do – and with that there was a sort of thunk and a sort of think which led to a sort of thankyou and off I went to The Works to see just how cheaply I could buy another notebook.

This exercise is not unaccompanied by guilt, as I wonder whether most paper nowadays is recycled and if not why not and whether I should be devastating the tree population in this way for my own amusement.  Of course it isn’t mere amusement, it’s work; and if I could find a way to make it happen digitally I would but there’s something so organic about the conjunction of pen and paper which seems directly to connect the brain with the page as though the pen were joined to the bloodstream.  We shouldn’t take this image too far though, else we’ll end up like Harry Potter in detention:

Aaanyway, as usual in The Works they had a range of exciting notebooks in just the right size for my poetry journal and so the choice came down to what was on the cover.  As you know (and can see from this blog’s motif in the top left) I like a notebook with a motivational message, so I chose the one which told me to be more awesome.  What’s not to like?  I now have a total of nine notebooks:

One is for daily thoughts and ideas (I’ve kept this sort of ‘diary’ for 34 years now)

Two is for short story ideas and writing prompts (https://writerswrite.co.za)

Three is for current poems

Four, five and six contain older poems which I still perform

Seven has ideas for the novel and eight, a squared notebook, contains designs associated with it i.e. spiral patterns and outlines of the tapestries which accompany each chapter.

And finally, nine is a tiny notebook which records things I’ve sent to publishers.

Kirk out

 

A Curater’s Egg

As many people have observed, language swerves around a lot.  It slithers and slides; it oozes and leaks.  It migrates and sometimes comes back again with a tan so deep it’s hardly unrecognisable.  This is part of the deal and unstoppable: anyone like, for example, the Academie Francaise, who tries to hold back the tides of change, is doomed to failure: every year the Academie publishes a dictionary of new words, usually French versions of phrases like buzz, fashionista or deadline:

https://theculturetrip.com/europe/france/articles/20-english-words-rejected-by-the-academie-francaise/

Its efforts are of course doomed to failure because the English words are so much snappier, not to mention more international, than their French replacements.  Who wants to say fin de semaine when you could just talk about le weekend?

But not all of these migrations are equal.  To be blunt, some of them suck: and whilst I appreciate snappy phrases like 24/7 (who could believe we ever said twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?) there’s an equal and opposite tendency to use grandiose words for things which in themselves are not very much at all.  I guess you could call it reification except it’s more verbification; making a – well, a ‘to-do’ – out of not very much.  Hence the verb ‘curate,’ which seems to pop up everywhere lending gravitas to the insignificant.  Put a bunch of things together and voila, you’ve ‘curated’ something.

How far can this go?  I have curated a salad?  I went to the library and curated some books to read in bed?  I curated my wardrobe last week?

There are a few situations where ‘curate’ is appropriate: it comes from the Latin ‘curare’, meaning ‘to look after or care for,’ though its meaning has been extended to ‘assemble objects into some kind of unified whole for the purposes of exhibition.’  So if you’ve spent months or years bringing together an art exhibition, that’s curating.  If you’ve assembled garments and models for a fashion show you will, in spite of my indifference to your activity, be justified in using the word ‘curate’ as a verb.  But if not?

If not, it’s silly.  Just stop it.

Kirk out

PS  And here, just for fun and to commemorate Anthea Bell the translator of Asterix into English, is Asterix in Britain:

Image result for Asterix in Britain

images removed on request

I Am a Proud Snowflake

One of the more unpleasant responses to the Labour Party conference (perhaps showing a little desperation?) was journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s tweet about the Safe Space.  Now there’s a little bit of confusion about the term ‘Safe Space’ so let me elucidate, because safe spaces can mean one of two things.  An organisation such as a university or political party can have a ‘safe spaces’ policy which means, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, ‘a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.’  As many people have pointed out, this can result in so-called ‘no-platforming’ of people, such as Germaine Greer whose recent comments on transgender men caused her to be ‘no-platformed’ in a number of universities.  I disagree with this: whilst I accept that people can be hurt and upset by the things speakers say, so long as they do not constitute hate speech we have to allow them to say it.  This is fundamental to our democracy; that, as Voltaire said, whilst I disagree with what they say I will defend to the death their right to say it.

Of course you can argue about what constitutes hate speech but we have laws about these things; and to ‘no-platform’ somebody like Greer is not at all the same as denying a platform to far-right xenophobes such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

So much for that.  However the ‘safe space’ at conference was an actual room: in fact there were several rooms tucked away from the often frenetic activity of conference; a safe space, a faith room and a rest room.  One day I went into the faith room and prayed; and on my first day I made use of the rest room as I was completely exhausted.  It was wonderful to have a safe and quiet space where I could rest undisturbed and I can quite imagine how others might need it too; autistic people who struggle with too much information, parents with small children (there were at least two babes-in-arms at the conference) the overwhelmed and the just plain exhausted.  It was a very valuable thing to provide.

Unfortunately the aforementioned journalist thought it good to sneer at this.  I’m not going to reproduce her tweet here as I don’t think it merits it, but here’s the thing: I dislike and deplore her words but I defend her right to say them.  Of course, just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should – and as others pointed out, there was no kindness or compassion in her tweet.  Everyone needs time out at some point or other; everyone needs rest and safety, everyone needs space.  In our homes we can (or most of us can) lock the door and keep the world at bay, but at a busy and crowded conference there’s nowhere to go.  So I needed this safe space and I was very glad the Conference Arrangements Committee had thought to provide it.  It’s easy to say we should all toughen up, to label people ‘snowflakes’: it’s much harder to put yourself in the position of another person who may be suffering.  So I’ll just say this: I’m a snowflake and I’m proud.  I’m a proud snowflake.  Why?  Because every snowflake is unique; every snowflake is a world – and together we make an impenetrable drift which won’t shift until the weather changes.

#proudsnowflake

Kirk out

 

My Seven Tips for Better Blogging

One of my recent followers is The Art of Blogging:

https://artofblogging.net

where you can find tips on how to make your blog better; all of which set me thinking, what are my tips on blogging?  Do I even have any?  Is the way I blog personal to me and not relevant to anyone else?  Well, let’s find out.

I began blogging because as a writer I wanted readers – and blogging is an instant way to get them.  In theory.  In theory, you just hit ‘publish’ and your words are out there in the world for all to read.  But blogging is like a miniature version of self-publishing; the publishing’s the easy part: in order to get readers you have to do the marketing.  Which presents me with a problem: I’ve always eschewed self-publishing because frankly the thought of doing all that self-promotion makes me feel a bit faint and then I have to go and have a lie-down.  Nowadays we’re all supposed to be self-promoting, self-starting, self-aggrandising little market forces, and that’s just not me.  And what’s the point of writing if you have to be someone else in order to succeed?  So I guess my first tip is this:

Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself. 

If you don’t know what that is, you’ll find out in the process of doing this stuff, but don’t assume you have to be like others in order to succeed.  You are unique and you have unique and individual things to say.  So whilst you can learn from others, don’t try to be them.  Be you.

Tip No. 2 – Communicate. 

It sounds obvious, but make sure others can understand what you’re saying.  If you’re blogging on a specialist topic don’t use words a lay person wouldn’t know: people have very limited tolerance for looking up words.  As I’m continually telling OH whose main blog can be found at:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com

try to look at it from the reader’s point of view.  Are you being too technical?  Too abstruse?  Too long-winded?  This brings us on to:

Tip No. 3 – Don’t Go On And On.

OH maintains that a post of 2000 words is ‘not too long’: I disagree and aim for around 500.  There’s no set limit but I tend to think that more than 1500 words puts a strain on the reader’s time and attention span.  Remember, you’re competing with 1001 other things on the internet, all demanding time and attention.  Which brings me to:

Tip No. 4 – Make It Worth Their While.

Just because you’re interested in something, doesn’t mean your readers will be.  If you’re describing an experience, make them feel it; if you’re giving instructions make them clear and doable, so they’ve really learnt something.  Nothing is more frustrating than a ‘how-to’ blog which skips important sections or assumes knowledge you don’t have: nothing is more dull than a description of someone else’s holiday which doesn’t take you there.

Tip No. 5  How Often?

When I started blogging I made it a rule to blog every day.  My posts were a lot shorter then; but the every day rule was a daily discipline for me, so that I’d get into the habit.  Nowadays I’m more relaxed and several days can go by without a post.  There’s no hard and fast rule but I think that too much content can weary the reader: you don’t want your followers to be getting too many emails.  On the other hand, if I’ve been absent for more than a week, I tend to find my readers drifting away, so I post something to let them know I’m still here.  There’s no point in posting just for the sake of it, but you don’t want people to forget you – so find a balance which works for you.

Tip No. 6 – Don’t Be Ordinary.

Avoid cliches and everyday phrases; without being contrived, try to think of different ways to describe things.  Depending on the topic, use humour; and if you’re writing about something serious like death or depression or suicide, be helpful.  Don’t leave your reader on a total downer – nobody likes that.

Tip No. 7 – Edit.  Then Edit.  Then Edit.

Don’t just write, finish and hit ‘publish’.  Your readers deserve better; hit the ‘preview’ button and check it through.  Then click on ‘edit’ (I usually bring this up in a new tab so I can check back and forth) and look for errors: it’s amazing how many typos slip past even in a few hundred words.  Then look at how you’ve expressed yourself.  Is it clear?  Does it flow?  Could you substitute a colon or semi-colon for that full-stop?  Are your sentences too long, too short, just right?  Could the vocab be sharpened up?  Does the title hook you in?  What about the first sentence?  Think of it like a newspaper article – you need an attention-grabbing headline and then a really good first paragraph (though as with tags, make it relevant to the article).  None of this means the rest of it doesn’t matter, but hooking people in is half the battle.

Tip No. 8 – Categories, Tags and Sharing

These are the kinds of things you usually get tips on and I’m not an expert on these so I’ll just say this: categories are a means for you and others to understand the areas the blog covers and search it accordingly so think about how to divide up your content in the best way.  As for tags, don’t misrepresent the post.  If there’s nothing about Johnny Depp, don’t put him in a tag just to get more readers: if people want Johnny Depp they can go to other blogs.  Make your tags short, punchy and above all relevant.  For example, when I’ve finished this post I’ll probably put tags like ‘top tips for blogging’ or ‘how to perfect your blog’.  Tags are picked up by search engines and are a really good way of getting accidental readers, so make them count.  As for sharing, social media is a great way to reach more people; I connected my blog to Facebook years ago and got a sharp spike in views.  I’m not on Twitter but if you are, use it: I recommend connecting to any social media platforms you’re on.  You may find readers comment on those sites rather than on the blog itself, which some find annoying; but I tend to think all comments are worthwhile and a basis for engagement.  Which brings us to:

Tip No. 9 – Respond!

When readers take the time and trouble to comment, respond.  If you’re in the fortunate position of having too many comments to reply to, make some general response.  Always thank people for commenting: not every time as that becomes a bit wearisome, but make sure commenters feel listened to and appreciated.  One of the most enjoyable aspects for me is engaging in conversation with readers.

So, turns out I do have some tips for blogging – so please comment below and let me know what you think.  If you like the blog, please click the ‘follow’ button on the bottom right, so you’ll get an email whenever I post.  I cherish my followers – and I will ALWAYS look at your blog when you follow me.

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

Can I Be Novel?

From time to time I have what you might call a prosaic crisis, where I wonder if I’m actually cut out to write prose or whether I should stick to poetry.  Yes, I know that these blog posts are in prose, but writing an engaging post is a very different thing from constructing a novel; something which seems utterly to defeat me.

I don’t know where exactly the blockage lies; but maybe help is available, so when a special offer from Mslexia plonked into my inbox; a guide to novel-writing for only three quid, I felt a twinge of that old excitement.  I clicked on the link and read the blurb:

‘Starting with the early sifting of ideas, helping you decide what exactly your book will be about, it goes on to help you create engaging characters, to devise a plot and narrative voice that will keep your reader turning the pages, to work on description and dialogue (and the balance between them), on to editing your work: page by page, but also from a structural perspective.’

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  It’s perfectly standard stuff – and yet it somehow filled my insides with lead, because once again I felt ‘this isn’t where I’m at.’  I don’t mean I’m above all that, nor that I don’t need to structure a novel or have interesting characters or whatever, just that…

I don’t even know how to explain it.  I don’t know what I want, I just know what I don’t want.  And that is it.

When I write poetry I feel I’m on the edge of a cliff.  Not always, but often: there’s a sense of pleasurable vertigo, of the wind whipping through your brain and flinging your hair in bundles this way and that.  To be engaged – fully engaged – in the writing of poetry is to be on the high peak of living, a place where words flow through you and are shaped and ordered by your hand.  I experience an amazing thrill in working with words, chopping them up and exploring their sound and their sense.

So why can’t I do this with prose?  Well, when it comes to turning a phrase, I can – but there’s more to writing a story than having an instinctive feel for phrases.  And this is where my heart begins to sink, when I think about things like plot and character and action.  Whenever I consider plot, I begin to die inside.  I bimble along with my writing and then a little voice perks up and says, ‘Surely something ought to happen round about now?’ and then I cry ‘Must something happen?  Can’t I just carry on like this?’

I’m not so bad at dialogue; I’m pretty good at description and I think I can convey character and internal thought.  But plot?  Dear god – kill me.  Kill me now.

My prose bores me at the moment: I need something to get the pulse racing; like when I was writing my first novel about a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker and wanted the novel to go right back to the beginnings of life on earth, 300 million years ago.  I was really excited about this, but the novel took years to complete and came out at barely the length of a novella; a form that’s increasingly difficult to publish.  What excited me, though, was to try to get some idea of what three hundred million years is like, to which end I began this doomed exercise:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/three-hundred-million-years/

Sometimes I think I’d give my eye teeth to have a normal sort of idea; to be able to say to people ‘I’m writing a novel about a Bulgarian taxi-driver who … ‘ see?  I can’t even take that idea any further.  Instead of which, I’m writing a novel based on a series of Tapestries and the Fibonnaci series.  See what I mean?

‘Doomed exercise’ pretty much sums up my life right now…

Kirk out

 

Whose Lion is it Anyway?

I always forget about Radio 4xtra (I think that’s how you spell it, though that looks as if it ought to be pronounced ‘fourkstra’) when I’m thinking about stuff to listen to.  I find myself longing for radio shows of yesterweek and forgetting that they are probably all there on Radio 4’s sister station.  Radio 4, for all its faults, is the best of speech radio and on long wave it has the best-loved programme of all, the shipping forecast (this makes it into one of my ‘Brexit Quartet’ of poems which I’ve written this week):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qfvv

That’s a link to the shipping forecast, not to my poems – but I have to say, writing four poems in two days takes some beating.  Anyway, back to the title which came to me in the middle of the night.  I’ve learned from repeated experience that it’s important to write these things down when they come otherwise a) they will repeat in your mind for ages and b) you won’t remember them in the morning – which is the worst of both worlds.  So, whose lion is it anyway?

Of course I am in the same position as whoever-it-was who, when asked about a comment they’d written, said ‘when I wrote that only two people knew what it meant – God and me.  Now, only God knows.’ 

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7245194-when-i-wrote-this-only-god-and-i-understood-what

Well, perhaps god knows what the lion meant, because I sure as hell don’t: all I have are some associated thoughts.  Let’s see where they take us:

First, some bright yellow chevrons outside a primary school in Leicester with lots of signs saying ‘Don’t park on the yellow lions.’  I think this is a great idea and much more likely to succeed as seeming to come from the children rather than a remote and ineffectual authority.  A similar idea can be seen by the crossing outside Avenue School in a different part of the city where life-sized models of children are standing by the road, and it brings you up short – every time.  Because adults are guilty of forgetting what it’s like to be child-sized; and as Dumbledore said, ‘Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels, but old men are guilty if they forget what it is to be young.’  We have all been children, yet how easily we forget and park on the yellow lions!  So I think it’s clear – the lions belong to the children.

There!  That did take us somewhere.  I shall call it ‘taking a lion for a walk’:

Image result for paul klee taking a line for a walk ks2

Oh!  and, duh! the thing that started it all off was thinking about the show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Whose_Line_Is_It_Anyway%3F_(radio_series)&_%28radio_series%29=

Kirk out