Pondering Questions

How do questions figure in the writing process?

The answer is, they have many uses… one of which is as an Opening, just like the question above. An opening question is designed to entice the reader by creating interest, to give some information and to engage the reader’s imagination, thus drawing them in.

A reader’s attention can similarly be baited by a well-worded question at the beginning or end of the Back-cover Blurb on a book, and on Promotional Material.

Asking questions is a good way to Explore Ideas for a New Writing Project. You might ask yourself… What do I want to write about? What am I passionate about? What do I want to say to the world? What is the underlying story?

Research relies on questions. It involves investigation, exploration, examination and enquiry, all of which require the use of questions. What has already been written that relates to my project? What can I learn from these titles? Does it make my intended work redundant? Could it enhance what I’m planning? Who are specialists in this field? Who would be an appropriate person to interview to get the most useful information for my project? What do I know/can I learn about this person and their work before the interview?

Interviews are micro-worlds of questions; designed to obtain and clarify information, learn from the interviewee, hear their thoughts and opinions. There are also ice-breaking questions; designed to put the interviewee at ease, and to lead into the heart of the interview.

During Planning, writers ask questions of themselves when making decisions about the Setting, Character Development, Plot Development, Point-of-View, and so on. This is where my favourite question comes into the equation. The What if…? question is useful when you’re at an impasse and/or when you want to expand. It floods your mind with a myriad of possibilities, leaving you with choices you may otherwise not imagine. What if…  I set this story in a prison, an apartment building, an isolated community, under the sea…? What if… the main character was secretly rich, a prince, warlord, a street person in 1828 Birmingham, a miner…? What if… the antagonist was the main character’s guardian, or best friend with a dual personality…? What if… this happened, or that happened…? What if… the story was written from the point-of-view of the villain, or a dead victim…? And so on… Each of these options would bring vastly different dynamics to a story, as will others that flood to the page any time the What if…? question is asked.

As writers, we Highlight the big questions of life and the universe in one way or another. We question, hypothesise, discuss, and suggest solutions and sometimes produce answers.

As Memoirists, we question and Explore aspects of our lives… to Make Sense of them and Put them Into Perspective.

As with any topic, the list of uses of questions in the writing process gets longer the deeper we go… by asking questions of course!

More on questions and questioning in my next post…

 

This post relates to ~ Exercise # 21 Questions and Writing

 

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.

 

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will only be used for this requested notification and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Exciting Announcement

Regular visitors to my writing site will notice minor changes and some additions over the coming weeks.

When the site was set-up in August 2016, I kept its structure simple to give myself time to learn about its operation as I went. My partner, an electronics engineer, took the reins as the lead administrator and has supported and guided me along the way.

Now, the time has come to add features to make the site more interesting to those who already follow my Blog, Writing Tips and Writing Exercises… and accessible and enticing to those who are new to the site.

Categories already on the site remain, albeit with slight editing of menu-button titles and a small rearrangement of order. These adjustments have been made to allow extra buttons in the same space.

Two new menu-buttons have been added:

The first, Kathryn’s Corner, has been created to provide a space for my personal writing, as opposed to writing about all things writing which will continue to be posted in this blog. Kathryn’s Corner features a drop-down menu, dividing my work into sub-categories such as: Musings… Poetry… Prose… Posters… Other sub-categories will likely evolve, but these will suffice initially.

The second, Gallery, will feature photos of my writing journey, and my writing students and writer-friends… all of which overlap in one way or another. Some form of sub-categories will no-doubt evolve here too, and I suspect there may be some shuffling before they find their natural angle of repose.

By the time this announcement is posted, some of these new functions will be operational. The remainder will follow shortly, and new material will be added gradually. Thank you for your patience… please re-visit the site and watch these developments unfold.

I hope you enjoy the additions and what they bring to you over time. I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the top or the end of each posting.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will only be used to provide this notification and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss any new post.

 

This Blog relates to all sections of my website: www.kathryncoughran.com, particularly Kathryn’s Corner and Gallery.

Poetry Readings In The Nineties

Sue Hicks, co-founder – with Danny Gardner – of Live Poets Society at North Sydney, now lives in the UK. She recently posted on Facebook that she’d made a photo-collage for Dulcie Meddows, a brilliant poet with several books to her credit. I was saddened to learn Dulcie has dementia, but pleased she lives in a place she enjoys, surrounded by caring people – including a priest who reads her own books to her – and I’m told she is up and about, busy with movies and activities.

Dulcie Meddows at the launch of her first book Poems, December 1992

Sue’s post catapulted me on another sentimental writer’s journey – reliving the wonderful poetry scene in Sydney and the Blue Mountains in the nineties.

I was somewhat of a novice and quite shy when I came to this vibrant hive of literary activity. Writing had always been part of my life; I’d belonged to writers’ groups and organisations, studied writing, written articles for local newspapers in various areas I’d lived and published short stories and poems. But the only time I’d read my work publicly was in small workshops with people I knew.

A friend invited me to Live Poets, saying ‘You don’t have to read your work if you don’t want to’. But I was seduced by the energy and camaraderie, and soon found myself delivering the poem I’d tucked in my pocket ‘just in case’. On that first night, I met stalwarts like Sue and Danny, and of course Dulcie. The sense of connection and freedom I experienced with that first reading of my work, gave me such elation I travelled from the Blue Mountains to the venue one night every month to participate.

Entranced by this new world, I established Poetry Plus, a reading and performance venue in Springwood in the mountains. Several North Sydney poets attended our Sunday afternoon sessions and many poets travelled down the mountain to share their work on a regular basis.

These were joyful and expansive times for me, personally and in the development of my writing muse. Despite working full-time, managing Poetry Plus and attending Live Poets, I attended other poetry readings – Poetry In The Park, Poetry Picnic, PIE, Poetry At The Parakeet, and Trevar Langland’s venue at Blacktown. I also attended regional poetry conferences and represented the Blue Mountains at a Sydney Writers’ Festival event at the Opera House in 1995, where I read from my then new book Family Matters.

Dulcie Meddows was the first Guest Poet at Poetry Plus in June 1992 and the last in late 1997.

 

Dulcie Meddows

at

Poetry Plus

 

Dulcie and I each hosted radio programs for writers, as did Don Saunders who was a regular participant at Poetry Plus. I was guest poet on Dulcie’s Australian Made Poetry on 2NBC-FM several times and on Don’s Pictures Of Poetry twice, and two other radio programs at 2BLU-FM… where my own Poetry Plus On The Air was produced.

These programs showcased one poet and their work for half an hour each week, then Dulcie took this a step further when 2NBC produced a longer (perhaps two hours) program at the top of Centre Point Tower in the heart of Sydney, featuring several poets. I was lucky enough to be one of these poets, and you’ll spot me waiting anxiously in the background for my turn… in this snap of Dulcie doing what she loved to do best – bring poetry to the world.

Dulcie Meddows hosting Poetry In The Air at Centre Point Tower Sydney, 1993

Along the way, there were articles written about poetry venues and published in entertainment magazines, inclusions in anthologies, book launches, play readings and productions, and congregating in cafes after Live Poets or my home after Poetry Plus, where there was fine food, more poetry and much joviality.

Rex Hockey and Dulcie Meddows rehearsing Aiding Others, a play I wrote and produced in 1993

Dulcie Meddows reading her work at my home after Poetry Plus, 1992

During the nineties, I blossomed from an unseasoned writer holding my work close to my chest, to an active member of the writing community and a facilitator of the exposure of other writers’ work.

Dulcie Meddows was with me all the way, as were Sue Hicks and many others. Twenty years later, they continue to stimulate connections between writers. Sue’s love for Dulcie, her collage gift and her posts about it, led to me seeking out several people I knew back then who have moved in various directions in the meantime.

My nostalgic exploration of those years has underlined the extreme value of friendships with kindred writers and of taking our work into the public arena. It has also prompted me to share this leg of my writer’s journey with you and I hope this in turn will give you the courage to take the next step on your journey… whatever that may be.

Danny Gardner still facilitates Live Poets Society at North Sydney and there are several other reading venues around Sydney and in country areas. I would encourage any writer who has not yet read their work publicly to attend one of these venues, even if as a listener initially – but don’t forget to tuck a poem in your pocket ‘just in case’…

Dulcie Meddow’s first book Poems was published by Gavemer Publishing in St Leonards, Sydney. Several of her other books are available from Learn-em Books Pty Ltd Sydney and Kindamindi Publishing at http://www.kindamindi.com.au/ and individual poems are on www.youtube.com.

 

This Blog relates to my Blogs Reconnections and Hidden Stories Lurk In Photograph Albums, Writing Tip #16, Writing Tip #17 and Writing Tip #18 and Writing Exercise #16~ Journey Into A Photograph.

 

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Are You On Track?

Last December and January, I wrote three blogs about setting yearly writing goals. After discussing preparation, focusing on what you want to achieve, and how to construct achievable goals, I moved on to how to succeed in bringing these goals to fruition.

One suggestion I made was to review your progress monthly and/or quarterly. With September drawing to a close and three-quarters of the year behind us, I’m checking in to remind you it’s time for the all-important review that will take you into the last few months of the year.

Whether or not you’ve managed to review your goals thus far, doing so now will set you up for a rewarding finish to 2017 and lay the foundations for success in 2018.

If you’ve met all the writing goals you set for January-September, you’ve done brilliantly and deserve accolades. You will be ready for the challenge of the next three months. However, it is still a good idea to consider your goals for the remainder of the year and whether they are still appropriate for your overall writing ambitions.

Don’t despair if, like me, you didn’t quite make your end-of-September target. There are many reasons this can happen, from over-ambition and under-estimation to influences that are out of your control. Writer’s block may have stalked you for one or more reasons. Or, perhaps you’ve been ill, or your family has been in crisis. These are not excuses, but real-life events that take time, effort and energy away from life in general, and writing and other creative pursuits in particular.

Regardless of how you performed during the last nine months, a review can be helpful ~

>  Begin by checking off your achievements and placing them on your Achievements List, if you have one. If you haven’t, use your successes so far this year to begin one.

>  Check if the remaining goals are still relevant and re-write any that need alteration.

>  Prioritise all goals that are left on your 2017 list.

>  Make sure they remain achievable by the end of the year, taking your other commitments into consideration.

>  Move any goals that cannot be achieved by the end of the year to your Reserve List if you have one. Otherwise, create one now to serve as the basis for planning your writing for 2018.

>  The goals that remain on your 2017 list are the framework for your writing over the next three months.

>  Run these goals through the SMART goals test – check that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/relevant and Time-bound – and make any necessary adjustments.

A review such as this is like picking yourself up, turning yourself around and plonking yourself down facing in the right direction for what you plan to achieve.

Some of you will land in the same spot as you were before the review, and will continue your journey having confirmed you’re on the right track. Others will be in a different position with more clarity than before, and will move forward with renewed confidence.

Either way, this will enrich your writing experience and enhance your achievements over the next three months.

 

This Blog relates to Blogs ~ Prepare To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed, Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed and Turn The Opportunity To Succeed Into Success.                                                                                  

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…

Reconnecting…

This writer’s recent journey has been flooded with reconnections.

There were the contacts I had with family members and friends as a result of events that surrounded us in recent months. While these were traumatic circumstances, the connections were heart-warming, full of stories and the sharing of photographs. Many shared memories, rekindled links with cousins not seen for decades, and friendships from the past were blessings among the sadness… and are definitely teasing my writing muse.

Writing Friends.

The next leg of my journey was time spent with writing friends on the Central Coast. First, I spent an afternoon with the talented members of Wyong Writers, many of whom are old friends from when I lived in that area and facilitated workshops for them for more than a decade. Our discussion on my recent visit centred around writer’s block… what it is, possible causes, personal experiences, writing-associated activities to do while blocked and to rejuvenate the writer within… and all things necessary for reconnecting with writing. I came away inspired, as I always do when I meet with these writers.

Then there was a day with some of my long-term students, discussing their current writing projects and having a good old catch-up. We were all reconnecting with each other and the progress of our work. Another inspiring day, and for me a rewarding experience to see ideas that were once dreams and possible story-lines taking shape into manuscripts, and in some cases published books.

Brunch with the lovely Sarah Barrie was next. Sarah has had huge success in the Rural and Contemporary Romance/Suspense genres, being one of the top ten breakthrough authors in 2014 with Secrets of Whitewater Creek and with her latest book Promise of Hunters Ridge currently one of the top ten best-selling romance category books in Australia. Two of her books have reached the finals of The Ruby Australian Romance of the Year Awards and three have made it to the finals of the Australian Romance Readers Association Awards for Favourite Romantic Suspense.  Our morning was filled with great food and stimulating conversation about all things writing and getting published, in relaxing surrounds at Norah Head, followed by a gift of the most stunning orchid I’ve ever seen.

A few days later, it was coffee at The Entrance with Mei-ling Venning, president of Wyong Writers, where we discussed the use of photographs to enrich writing… among other writing-related topics. Mei-Ling has won writing competitions, had her plays performed, and her book Pelican Bay was published last year.

On the return journey, I visited writing friends from my Blue Mountains days. The elderly gentleman who gave me feedback on my writing in earlier years, enjoyed a day out from his nursing home… lunch and shopping, followed by maintenance on his computer so he can edit his son’s manuscripts. My friend may be eighty-nine, but the writer in him is still alive and well!

Then I visited my long-time friend, Bea, in the picturesque locale of Isabella, where we discussed several topics – too many for the short time we had – and she read parts of my manuscript and gave me encouraging feedback.

It was fitting that this was my last stop before home and my return to serious work. Within hours of settling back in after the unhappy events in my family and the sentimental journey of reconnections, I was back at my computer. Connecting again with all these wonderful people was the impetus for my readiness to reconnect with my memoir and I have now finished the significant re-write I began earlier in the year.

The manuscript is getting close to being fully cooked and I am excited at the prospect of the next stage.

 

This Blog relates to my Blogs Hidden Stories Lurk In Photograph Albums and A Telling Example, Writing Tip #16 and Writing Tip #17, and Writing Exercise #16~ Journey Into A Photograph and Writing Exercise #17 ~ Take Five Words                                                                                   

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…

Hidden Stories Lurk In Photograph Albums

Photographs are an abundant resource for writers, but their value is easy to overlook.

We’ve all experienced the memory flash that hits us when we flick through a photo album and our eyes rest on a particular photograph. We might pause, and perhaps even show the snap to someone else, before moving on.

If we slow down and look at each photo as we go, we take a virtual stroll through our lives – an emotional journey of one kind or another, depending on the content of the photos. All these stirred memories are good fodder for any writing muse, regardless of the preferred genre.

Then there is another level of experience when we go deeper. I remember how surprised I was some years ago when I scanned my father’s photos and found I made connections about his life, our upbringing and other unexpected discoveries. These insights came to me as a result of working so closely with each photograph.

I’d already experienced the benefits of going deeper into individual photos, both personally and as a writer, but scanning and making sense of hundreds of images was like the difference between looking down on a country and painstakingly trekking it.

I was forced to take in every detail, traverse the landscape of each subject and make decisions about how to get the best out of every snapshot. In some cases, I had to put names to faces I didn’t recognise from prior knowledge… calling on information embedded in, or written on the back of, other photos. Approximate dates and locations were deduced by comparison with snaps that had clear details on them or within their content; and also by using fashion, hairstyles, spectacles and the like as guidelines for deciding the likely time-frame.

Through this process, I learned the contours of peoples’ faces, recognised my father’s features in a cameo of my great-great-grandmother, saw characters develop over the decades and emerge from the pages of the albums. Stories I’d heard from years gone by came alive and made more sense in the context of the images that related to them.

The same experience is created when we put together a slide-show as a tribute to someone who has passed away. I’ve had this experience before, but most recently when my sister died. When selecting photographs of her from our childhood collection, I came across an old black and white snap of her and a cousin as small children sitting in the edge of the water at the beach. I’d seen that photo hundreds of times when I flicked through the family albums, and had always seen it as a picture of the two of them playing in the wet sand. This time, however, I realised there were three children. Another of my sisters was tucked in close and in the grey tones of the old snap has always been mistaken for a shadow. Other family members have since told me they experienced this photograph in the same way… completely missing the little girl in the background.

Once identified, the third child is clear to the observer and her presence adds layers to the scene. It quickly changes from two cousins playing at the water’s edge to two sisters and their cousin on the beach. Three children, not two. The little sister positioned next to her older sibling for protection… but facing the cousin who is about her age… The big sister smiling from the fresh open face that defined her throughout her life, the younger sister and cousin both serious and concentrating on something. The previously assumed dynamics have changed and this one small picture could tell many stories.

This is a clear example of how we see what we expect to see unless we pay closer attention to detail… and how a deeper awareness can open the door to an abundance of writing ideas. Imagine what could happen if you were to pay close attention to each of your photographs, one by one, taking in every detail, exploring previously unnoticed aspects of each image and asking questions this process inevitably raises.

Sometimes there is a need to go past what’s going on in the photograph and explore what’s really going on behind the scene. In other words, what’s the real story this image is camouflaging?

Questions of yourself will make you look further for answers. Questions of others can uncover pertinent information and sometimes untold family secrets.

There is a snap in my album, which appears to be a posed family shot. I’m holding my daughter and my then husband is holding our little boy’s hand, and between us are three older boys. A family of seven? No, a family of four, with three city boys who stayed with us as part of Legacy’s program to provide country holidays for the children of Australians who died as the result of war.

This photo stirs many memories for me… of all the years those boys and others stayed with us… the places we took them… the fun we had together… the challenges of having three teenage boys suddenly added to our little family, when I was only twenty-three… the stories they told us… meeting some of their mothers and not being able to meet others.

Many stories and poems beg to be written when I look at this and other photos taken at that time, as they do when I consider any of the photographs in my albums and on my computer.

Photos are treasures, memories are gold, and the emotions and interest they stir are the impetus that feeds the writing muse.

Photographs = memories = emotions/interest = writing opportunities.

Let us not ignore the gift of abundance between the pages of our albums.

 

This Blog relates to Writing Tip #16 and Writing Exercise #16~ Journey Into A Photograph.                                                                              

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…

A Telling Example

My last four Blogs were on the subject of Writer’s Block. Then I moved on to the use of photographs as inspiration for writing, beginning with Writing Tip #16 and Writing Exercise #16, both posted on 2nd June and the latter promising a Blog to follow soon on the relationship between photography and writing.

Six weeks later and I’m lining up to post this Blog, which precedes the promised one about photos and writing. What went wrong? you may ask… Did I fall foul to that terrible fiend Writer’s Block? Have I lost interest in my website? Given up writing? Gone crazy? Lost my creative muse? Gone overseas and left my computer behind?

None of these possibilities neatly fits what has happened. I am not blocked, nor disinterested. I haven’t given up or gone crazy. My muse still hovers, pushing me to get words on the page, and my computer has gone everywhere I’ve ventured.

What then?

The truth is that my family has been rocked by seven deaths since the end of last September, five within the past two months. Five family members and two friends are gone and we are shattered. Of these deaths, two were suicides, one was murder and another was an aggressive illness that took my sister within weeks.

The impact on the family, the grief, input into proceedings, travelling to funerals and time away from home, have all been distracting. They were also time-consuming and exhausting.

Have I wanted to write during this time? Yes…

Have I written anything at all in the last six weeks? Yes… Tributes to my sister for her funeral and on social media, Family History research summaries, Letters, Emails and a little re-writing on my manuscript.

Have I kept up with my writing commitments? No… I’ve fallen behind in the major re-write of my memoir and will not meet my desired deadline, my Blogs have been delayed, and planned updates and additions to my website have been put on hold, as has the production of my poetry discs.

And now? I’ve lost some time, but am eager to get back to work… post this Blog, followed by the next one and new Writing Tips and Exercises, and ultimately add to my website and finish the poetry recordings. The draft of my memoir is on the desk, where I will return to working on it tomorrow.

What I have been through is a perfect example of the situation I wrote about in my Blog Writer’s Block – Part C. There I spoke of the difference between making excuses not to write by saying conditions were not right to create, and having to face the reality of life’s challenges.

The terrible events that descended on my family have been out of our control, they had a devastating impact and have ripped us from our usual routines – both personally and professionally.

When this happens, there is no choice but to take the time to deal with the circumstances that surround us. The time I haven’t spent writing is akin to the compassionate leave I would have taken had I worked in some other industry.

What is important is that I didn’t totally disappear, and I am back with my muse intact and waiting for me.

 

My next Blog will explore the relationship between photographs and writing.                                                                               

Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below…

Traversing The Void

My last three blogs have focused on Writer’s Block, what it is, some of its causes, how it manifests in different ways at different times and also for each of us, and some suggestions of how it may be overcome.

Now it is time to consider how to get through the void that exists when Writer’s Block is sitting firmly on your muse. During this period it is most difficult, and yet imperative, that you keep writing on your agenda no matter what. If you don’t, there is a chance you will slip away from writing altogether. So the question isn’t whether or not to stick with it, but rather how you can.

Fortunately, there is a lot more to writing and being a writer than the act of writing. These other activities form the fabric of our lives that enables us to produce written work.

> It makes sense then, to pursue some of these writers’ activities during the hours you would spend actually writing if you weren’t negotiating the void…

Begin with word-related activities you enjoy Read (especially the genre you write), do word-puzzles (nine-letter word puzzles, crosswords, word search, and so on), do word quizzes and play word games (scrabble, up-word, and similar). Check the internet for possibilities and concentrate on those that most attract you. The following link is a good place to start… https://www.merriam-webster.com/word-games

Learn new words Perhaps set a goal of one word a day and keep a record for future reference. When I was a child, my grandmother suggested I read my little pocket dictionary at bedtime. ‘Just learn one word and its meaning each night and you’ll soon know a lot more words’, she said. This felt a lot like school work to me, but I did it anyway – not every night, but from time to time – and it was helpful. Try this link for an interesting and sometimes chuckle-worthy way to learn new words… https://www.facebook.com/GrandiloquentWords/

Stroll around bookshops This will keep you up to date with new publications, give you insight into current trends and which publishers are publishing what, and a bevy of reading options. It may also have the same effect on you as it does on me – it’s not unusual for me to find myself in a bookshop reading the cover of a book and asking myself, Why am I not at my computer writing one of these? Then I rush home and work on my manuscript.

Spend time at the library… Here you will find a treasure trove that represents something of the history of our reading and writing culture across the decades.  Browse the covers or sit in the corner to read, and take in the unmistakable odour of old books as they speak to you from the shelves.

Socialise with other writers Stay in touch with your writing friends, go to book launches and public readings.

Read quotes from writers Take notice of what these may stimulate in you and make notes for future reference.

Read writers’ blogs Writers’ blogs are as varied as the writers themselves, so type any writer’s name into Google and see what you find.

Listen to writers’ podcasts about writing The Better Reading website features podcast interviews with Australian and international authors…(http://www.betterreading.com.au/news/introducing-the-better-reading-podcast/). Jeff Goins (https://goinswriter.com/) also has some good podcasts, and he mentions other writers who you can also seek out…  I don’t know Jeff, but I do enjoy his blogs and podcasts about writing and his journey as a writer.

Take every opportunity to enhance your knowledge about writing… Read literary magazines and books about writing, and listen to radio programs and watch television documentaries about writers and writing.

> When you’re ready to be a little more active in relation to writing, you might…

Re-vamp your writing space… Have a clean-up, re-organise your desk/writing room, indulge yourself with new writing tools or inspirational paraphernalia.

Watch for, and collect, ideas for when you’re able to write again… Ideas are everywhere; you just have to be alert to them.

Research something that you want to write… Break complex subjects into smaller bites and prioritise them.

Re-work earlier writing… As we grow as writers so does our writing style and writing ability, hence we can often improve earlier drafts. Anything we have written – poetry, short stories, essays, articles – may benefit from some rewriting.

Bring some of your writing into the public arena… Share what you’ve written with others; start close in with friends and move further afield as confidence grows. Positive feedback may even get you enthusiastic about writing again. You may also enter competitions and submit previously completed work for publication.

> When you’re ready to start putting words together again, ease in gently…

Write in small steps… Just one word or phrase at a time, a moment captured in a paragraph or poem (like in Anne’s story in my Writer’s Block blog series).

Do writing exercises… Start by re-doing writing exercises you’ve previously done, then move on to new exercises.

Try writing a different genre… If you’re a poet and poems seem far from your mind, try writing a short story instead. If you’re stuck in the middle of a novel or memoir, try writing a poem, short story or essay. Approaching your story a different way, may entice your muse to return to active duty.

Immerse yourself in deep journal work… Journal work is written without judgement and no one else will see it unless you show them. Here you can re-visit why you want to write and the kind of writer you are, explore self-talk messages and the possible reasons for your blockage and what the payoff might be from indulging procrastination. You may also record your dreams as a private way of practicing writing… and so on…

Re-visit your stated writing goals… Were you achieving what you had hoped up until you found yourself in the void? If now, why not? Are your goals putting unnecessary pressure on you? Do you need to dumb them down to suit a changing situation?

Re-orient to your current writing project… Read what you’ve written, look for flaws that may be the cause of your impasse, edit the last chapter you’ve written, make a list of the next scenes or points to be made… and see where this leads you…

> The shift from ‘I’m stuck and can’t write anything’ to ‘I can use this time to do some things that will enhance my work when I’m ready to write again’, will prevent you from wallowing in self-pity and get you back to writing without slipping into an even larger void. At some point, you will likely begin to write again… tentatively at first and then with the old confidence…

Not all of the above suggestions will suit every writer, but doing any of these activities while you’re in the space between writing and getting back to writing will help move you through the void. You will remain oriented to writing, without putting pressure on youself to produce.

This process will enable you to do something towards your writing every day, no matter how small. Writing will be on your agenda and in your headspace, and will ultimately lead to the ability to act on the inspiration and ideas you accumulate along the way.

Caution… Don’t fall into the trap of allowing these or any other writing-related activities to become alternatives to writing. It is easy to make excuses not to write, especially when you have been abandoned by your muse.

The goal is to stay with the written word in any way you can… until you’re able to move forward. Movement is critical, because it generates momentum and without momentum there is no progress. In reality, a writer hasn’t beaten Writer’s Block until they are putting words on paper again… even if, just one word or phrase at a time.

You never know where these morsels of writing will lead. They may never be used for anything besides a vehicle to propel you closer to producing written work again. Or they could end up as a line of poetry or the essence of a story. It is also possible that any of your jottings could become a piece of flash fiction, perhaps even a story on par with the famous… ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’, of Hemmingway fame and controversy.

This Blog relates to my Blogs ~ Writer’s Block – Part A, Writer’s Block – Part B, Writer’s Block – Part C and Writing Tips #2, #5, #13, as well as the Writing Exercises on this site.                                                                                         

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Writer’s Block – Part C

In Writer’s Block – Part B we considered the concepts of having no ideas for writing, having too many ideas, feeling that we have not enough information and the notion that too much information can also be creatively debilitating. You met Anne (not her real name), an avid writer who undertook a commitment that became so large and involved that she couldn’t find a manageable way to progress, which would also fulfill her brief… both from the person who asked her to write his story and from her own expectations.

Anne agonised for a long time about how to move forward and her other writing came to a halt. Eventually she found her way out of this impasse by setting aside the offending project, spending some time fine-tuning work she’d previously written and then gradually beginning to write again in small steps… a word at a time, then moments captured in poetry. Testimony to her skills and commitment to writing is her involvement with the four year project to honour our returned service personnel http://www.artstudioscooperative.org/australian-spirit.html. She was a contributing poet to this worthwhile venture in 2016 and is again in 2017.

Anne identified what held her back, decided to set aside the project that was causing her so much angst – at least for the time being – and was then able to move on with her writing.

If you have attempted my Writing Exercise #12 ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? you will have some idea of what holds you back and can start to think about how you might overcome these obstructions.

Perhaps you have a similar problem to Anne’s, or one of the other obstacles I’ve mentioned. You may also have a little voice in your head that leads you astray. We all have self-talk messages silently chattering to us as we go about our daily business. Positive self-talk messages engender and reinforce confidence, the ability to achieve what we want, to create, to be successful. Negative self-talk messages create low self-esteem, fear of failure, despair and the inability to move forward.

Whether positive or negative, the self-talk process goes like this…

Subconscious beliefs (our conditioning) >>> thought >>> feeling >>> thought >>> action.

An Example Of The Positive Self-Talk Process…
Belief in self >>> I am capable >>> confidence >>> I can write a publishable story >>> applies self with assurance.

An Example Of The Negative Self-Talk Process…
Self-doubt >>> I’m dumb >>> despair/fear >>> I’ll never be published >>> sets self up to fail.

Think about your own obstacles in this context and it may help you win the ‘Battle of the Block’. For example, do you have a fear of failing? A fear of success? Are you afraid that once your work is public, others will know what you think… may be critical of your work, and you… challenge you to write more before you’re ready? Perhaps you fear public speaking, and abhor the thought of promoting your work. Or, maybe your self-talk messages are telling you your work must be perfect and definitive before anyone sees it… when in reality, in an evolving world nothing can be perfect or definitive.

Do you have a time management problem? If so, why? The inability to say ‘No’? Do you need to prioritise? Plan more efficiently? Do you put things off? Procrastinate?

We all have unique self-talk messages that have an effect on how we live our lives. The trick is to identify which of our own inhibit our writing, and then take steps to overcome the particular attitudes that we use to block ourselves. Some will be easier to conquer and may disappear once named and put into perspective. Others may present bigger challenges, but these are not insurmountable.

The truth is that we all have the ability to hold ourselves back in relation to our achievements. We often call this ‘limiting ourselves’ or ‘making excuses’ not to do something.

The German-born American Poet, Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) contends in his poem Air and Light and Time and Space (https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/air-and-light-and-time-and-space/) that when we say conditions are not right to create, we are making excuses. He suggests that if you are serious ‘you will create no matter what is going on’.

I partially agree with Bukowski, however I think Writer’s Block is more complex than his extreme view recognises. There are, in fact, some situations that impede a person’s creativity at various times in their life, which are not merely excuses… but reality. People have all kinds of horrific events in their lives that shatter their ability to function as they usually do… in many ways. Incidents outside our control can drop on us at any time, sometimes one after the other, and just as a person with a regular job can take compassionate leave, it is reasonable for a writer to do the same when necessary.

Having said this, I want to be clear that I am in no way diminishing Writer’s Block. It is real. It is debilitating. It is shocking… and heart-breaking. It is a very complex demon that can ruin a writing career, sometimes before it even begins, or even lurk in the background to strike in small ways from time to time.

Our task as writers is to recognise this fiend for what it is and how it infiltrates our writing life, and then do our best to disarm it by utilising our knowledge of ourselves and the writer within. Writing Exercises ~ Finding The Writer In You, What Kind Of Writer Are You? and How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? will assist you in this quest.

A final word for now; whatever the reason you’re stuck in your writing, the longer you’re away from it the harder it will be to start to write again. While not denying you may not be able to write anything at the moment, I suggest that you begin as soon as you can to write even just a few words. This may have nothing to do with your current project or your writing goals, and may just be a phrase in your diary or notebook about anything at all… ‘I love my daughter’, ‘I hate the colour orange’, ‘We went to the airport today’, ‘Devastation everywhere’, or whatever it is for you in the moment. You may even have an idea for something you would write if you weren’t blocked… if so, jot it down for future reference. A word, a phrase or a sentence will do.

Don’t feel pressured by this suggestion, but keep it in mind for when you’re ready to wrestle that beast out of your creative channel.

If all else fails, stay with the written word in any way you can – reading, emails, notes, fine-tuning previously written work – until your muse returns.

This Blog relates to my Blogs ~ Writer’s Block – Part A, Writer’s Block – Part B, and also Writing Tips #3, #9 and #13                                                                                                

 

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Writer’s Block – Part B

In Writer’s Block – Part A we established that there are multiple reasons for Writer’s Block, many of which are unique to individual people and situations. We also identified that Writer’s Block is an obstruction, or state of being obstructed, resistance to understanding, learning etc, set up by existing habits of thought and action.

The next step in the ‘Battle of the Block’ as I like to call it, is to get personal and consider our own particular obstructions. Writing Exercise ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? is designed to assist you with this challenge.

Once you have identified and explored your own experience, it will be clear which existing thought patterns lead you into the dark tunnel that produces no words.

Among the most commonly stated reasons for Writer’s Block are the concepts of having no ideas, having too many ideas or information… and feeling overwhelmed, perfectionism and fear. However, as I dissect and expand these one by one, it will become evident that each one is a complex system of possible pitfalls.

No Ideas…

‘I have no idea what to write’, ‘I can never find ideas’, ‘But, what am I going to write about?’ are all comments that pass the lips of writers… especially new writers trying to find their way; but also at times from seasoned writers who have finished a project they’re passionate about and have a sense that nothing will ever grab them with the same force.

In reality, ideas are all around us and we pick them up if we’re attuned to them. When we tell ourselves there are no ideas, we block a myriad of possibilities.

There are many exercises to help you get and expand ideas. Watch my Writing Exercises page on this website for new posts of some of the ideas exercises I have developed for my courses over the years.

Too Many Ideas…

The floodgates can open and swamp writers with ideas. You might say, ‘Lucky them!’ if you’re someone with the No Ideas problem, but having too many ideas can be just as debilitating. In this case, writers can drown in possibilities to the extent that they can’t focus on any individual idea, so the abundance blocks their creative passage.

Listing the ideas is a good way to start solving this problem, because it creates many advantages ~

  • Once you put the ideas on paper, they are less dominant in your mind and clarity begins.
  • Being able to see the ideas laid out allows you to assess how they stack up against each other and which ones have most promise.
  • You may notice there are some overlapping ideas, which can be fused together.
  • You are able to gauge your reaction to each idea and identify where your passion lies.

Once you have decided which ideas you are likely to pursue over time, set up a folder on your computer for each one. Choose the one you will develop first and make it your Work in Progress.

The remainder of the ideas will be waiting for you when you’re ready to work with them. In the meantime, these folders will give you a place to file bits ’n’ pieces that come up in relation to the ideas within them. You can set up more folders as new ideas present themselves.

By taking this approach, your extra ideas are not clogging your mind, are organised and ready for future exploration and are not cutting across your current work in progress.

Not Enough Information…

If you are stuck in your writing as a result of lack of information on a subject, research is the first step. Your local library and the internet are obvious places to begin your search. Explore related existing literature to gain knowledge of facts and to gauge your interest level.

If multiple books and articles exist, think about a new approach and a different angle that may add to the topic and grab readers’ attention. Don’t be tempted to put too much work into pursuing an idea that has been fully exhausted – there are enough ideas out there for everyone.

Avoid getting stuck on an idea just because you think it’s a good one. There has to be a drawcard to hold readers’ attention… and some ideas, while good ones, don’t have enough substance to carry the story or article to a satisfactory conclusion.

Too Much Information…

Like a flood of ideas, too much available information on the subject of your current work can cause a blockage of major proportions.

A student of many years has given permission for me to use her situation as an example. Anne (not her real name) writes almost continually. She records things she hears, takes notes, writes about her experiences, keeps a journal, turns life’s events into poems… Writing is a major part of her life, coming in closely behind her family and friends, her love for them and their collective life experiences.

A fellow-traveller on an overseas tour asked Anne to write about an horrendous experience from his life. She gladly committed to the task with great gusto, as she approaches anything that may benefit another person. In this case, she saw an opportunity for healing for the man who owned this particular story and also for many others who had survived similar experiences.

But alas… the subject was huge and the more research Anne did, the bigger the story grew and the more overwhelmed she became. The more diligent she was, the greater the hole she buried herself in… She was engulfed by the world stage and, not only was she lost but so was the individual story she was to write.

Anne struggled for months, unable to find her way out of the overload and into the project. For the first time since I’d met her, she wasn’t able to settle to write anything. She still attended workshops, but either didn’t bring along any of her writing or brought work that had already been processed in earlier workshops. She was stuck… stalled… paralysed… and unable to get a handle on how to move forward.

I don’t remember how long Anne stayed in that tunnel, but I think she would tell you the months turned into at least a couple of years. Then we began one-to-one mentoring sessions to develop a plan that might help her rise above the impasse.

Anne turned up to these sessions with a full arch file of notes, tales, quotes, facts, themes, and ideas that had come from her research. There was also a folder of communications and notes on contacts she’d had with the man whose story was buried amongst the words she’d managed to get on paper before the obstruction took hold. Then there were other folders and books she was reading… and this from that… and that from this… one corroborating the other or enhancing it… ‘And I can’t leave this out’, she’d say, pulling more information from a notebook.

It soon became clear that Anne had set herself an impossible task. There was a need for her to pull back and rein in only the information that was pertinent to telling her new friend’s story. The remainder of the information was related, but not necessary to tell the story she’d been requested to write.

‘You have to decide which story you’re going to write’, I told her, ‘your friend’s story in the context of history, or document the historic world view story and its impact’. Anne agreed, but felt the pressure of doing her best to satisfy her friend’s wishes. She didn’t think my first suggestion was enough to fulfil her commitment and the second didn’t primarily focus on her friend’s story.

As a result, Anne chose to step away from what was really causing her blockage. She set aside the overwhelming project, even though she wasn’t yet ready to compromise with it or completely let it go.

We concentrated on how she could get past that work in order to move forward with her other aspirations. This took a long time, but she eventually began to produce work again through our poetry workshops, free-writing exercises and gradually allowing herself to simply write one word at a time.

Anne is writing again and having work published. She has been successful enough in moving away from the mammoth task she’d set herself, to allow her creative juices to have wings. In time, she will look at that project with new eyes and successfully bring it to fruition in some form or she will let it rest in the knowledge that this was never a story for her to write.

 

This Blog relates to my Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part A and Writing Tip #13 

More causes will be explored in my Next Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part C to be posted soon.

In the meantime, try Writing Exercise #12 ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block? if you haven’t done so already.

                                                                                   

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