Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Tackling writer's block

Image via charleshelfin.com

A very talented freelance feature writer that I first met back when were both trainee journalists emailed me this morning in a writer's block induced panic, asking for my advice on how to beat it. She's more than capable of getting past the block without my help and is a proper writer (I was one of those once but now I'm a web editor which mostly involves moving things other people have written around a screen, chasing contributions from bloggers and lots of scary budget meetings), but sometimes you just need a bit of reassurance from someone who understands what it's like. She said my response made her feel a bit better, so I thought I'd put it up here on the off-chance someone else might find it useful, funny or at least make them feel a bit better about themsleves because they are more organised/normal than me.

"OK, what I always do when I have writers block is faff around all day THINKING about the subject – this usually involves doing laundry, trawling blogs, walking in the park, spending hours on facebook, taking pointless bus journeys, going to the bank, etc... carry a notebook with me at all times and jot down the odd sentence (most of which I will be unable to read when I come back to them, but it will remind me what I was thinking about).
"Then when it starts to get dark I go out and buy a pack of 20 marlborough lights, a giant bag of maltesers and a couple of cartons or orange juice. Then I sit down and brain fart on my keyboard – write and write and write. "When it stops flowing I have a cigarette outside in the garden or take a juice and malteser break. At about 5am I do an edit.
"In all, during the course of a 24 hour day I will probably spend about 4-5 hours actually sitting in front of my computer attempting to write.
"Then I send it to my mum who reads it while I have a shower, tells me its fine, I look for reasons to disagree with her and then do another edit to correct all the things I found.
"Mostly, this technique is about giving yourself plenty of space away from the computer to organise your thoughts and being very close to deadline when you write so you can’t spend too much time agonising over it because you’ve just got to get it done.
"This is how I got a first at uni and how I got my first piece published in the Evening Standard. However, it is also how I failed to get onto a masters course at Cambridge.
"I have no idea if it would work for anyone else and it would probably be very risky  to try it out for the first time so close to an important deadline. Also, I strongly advise you not to do the cigarettes bit – it’s how I started smoking again. 
"The bit in bold is the important bit – you may be able to think of your own way of doing it."

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