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                                                                                                

 

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

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.

                                                                                   

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

Writer’s Block – Part A

Writer’s Block is a big subject and, much to the chagrin of many people, there is no single simple answer to how to overcome the demon that has brought your writing to a halt. This doesn’t mean it is insurmountable, or even that the negativity which surrounds it can’t be turned into a positive outcome.

Writer’s Block – two words that are easy to understand in and of themselves, but the phenomena that lie beneath are not always easy to identify. With this in mind, it is imperative that we pause to consider what Writer’s Block actually is and what causes it, before going too far into the question of how to overcome it.

If you type Writer’s Block into Google, you’ll find 5,600,000 results headlined by the definition, The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing. Wikipedia tells us it is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which the author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences creative slowdown. These are similar definitions obtained from two of the most often consulted resources available. In both cases, there are obstructions to the writer’s ability to produce work; obstacles writers must overcome if they are to be productive.

When I ask writers what Writer’s Block means to them, there are comments like ~

  • ‘When I don’t know what to write.’
  • ‘When I can’t get going…’
  • ‘When I want to write, but can’t get started.’
  • ‘When I have started, but stopped and can’t get back to it’
  • ‘When I get distracted.’
  • ‘When I find other things to do instead of writing.’

These certainly describe ways Writer’s Block can manifest and fit with the above definitions. However, there is a need to delve deeper if we want to overcome whatever it is that causes a creative slowdown or a total stop in our work.

A writer is anyone who writes, has written, or has a strong urge to write – whether or not they have been published. Some may not agree with this broad statement because of a belief that a person isn’t a writer until they have published a work of significance. However, that would mean anyone who writes for enjoyment, and not publication, is not a writer. In my mind, this person is a writer in the same way as someone who plays golf for pleasure is a golfer, regardless of whether they play at competition level… or like the home gardener, who grows plants for the sheer feeling of satisfaction that comes from their connection with the earth and flora.

A block is an obstruction or obstacle, as outlined above… but if you go a step further and look up the word ‘blockage’, you’ll find it means ~ an act or instance of obstruction, or state of being obstructed, resistance to understanding, learning etc, set up by existing habits of thought and action.

Therefore, Writer’s Block is anything that obstructs a writer’s ability to write… be it physical, emotional or mental… long-term or short-term… real or imagined.

Opinions differ as to how blocked a writer has to be before they are considered to have Writer’s Block. Do they have to be totally paralysed? Or, is struggling to get back to their work for a few days enough to say they are stuck in the Writer’s Block tunnel?

Writer’s Block is personal – it can be different things to different people, and also different things to any particular person at different times. It can strike any writer at any time, and it seems to be inevitable that it will strike every writer at some stage of their writing life.

Having established this, it becomes clear that, not only is there no single simple fix that can be employed to unlock the impasse, but that there is not even a standard list of actions to eradicate the problem. The concept of Writer’s Block becomes as overwhelming as the question of how to move through it.

Problem-solving techniques demand that we identify and know the cause of a problem before we can find a solution, and Writer’s Block is a classic example of this.

What causes Writer’s Block? This is a simple enough question and the most common answers would range from having no idea, to having too many ideas and feeling overwhelmed, to perfectionism and fear. But there are multiple reasons that Writer’s Block occurs, many of which are unique to individual people and situations.

 

Causes will be explored in my Next Blog ~ Writer’s Block – Part B to be posted soon.

In the meantime, try Exercise #12 ~ How Do I Experience Writer’s Block?

 

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

Turn The Opportunity To Succeed Into Success

In mid-December I began a series of blogs, writing exercises and writing tips centred around setting writing goals. The first two Blogs (Here and Here) covered preparation for, and the construction of, goals that have the opportunity to succeed, and this blog will explore ways to turn that opportunity into success.

You have already achieved the pre-requisites for success ~

> You laid the foundations for your goals well in advance of 1st January. Contrast in your mind the difference between your goal-setting journey during December and waking up on New Year’s Day (or New Year’s Eve) and thinking, I should decide what I want to achieve this year.

> You’ve also set SMART goals. Much has been written about this commonly used rule and there are several variations on what each letter stands for, but in the process I outlined for you they stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

> Your SMART writing goals for 2017 have been personalised through a deep exploration of your current position in relation to writing, what you want to achieve and how you might get there.

> You reinforced the power of your goals by writing a commitment to bring them to fruition.

With the New Year break and half of January behind us, this is a good time to consider the road ahead. Otherwise, this goal-setting process could become like a holiday that goes wrong because your research and planning are forgotten when you get distracted by other events (detouring to please someone else, worrying about what didn’t get done at home/work before you left, wondering if those left behind are fending for themselves etc), and you return home feeling like you haven’t had a holiday.

Some steps you could take to ensure you stay on track are ~

> Review your list of Writing Goals for 2017 and what you’ve committed to achieve in each month… and make any obvious adjustments.

> Take a closer look at January. Are you on track? Congratulations if the answer is yes! If it isn’t, identify what happened. Were you over-ambitious, or did unexpected events crop up that took precedence over your goals? If you have fallen behind schedule, you’re at the first giving-up point but it isn’t too late. Understanding how you got there will help you move forward.

> Think about what you need to do to get back on track. If there isn’t time before 31st to catch up your desired output for this month, work out what you can comfortably achieve in the next fourteen days and re-assess your plans for February/March to accommodate the remainder. This will get you back on track and hopefully there will be no need for further adjustments.

We’re all vulnerable to getting stuck at giving-up points like this early one, and need to develop strategies to bring our goals to fruition on target. Distractions and pitfalls will always be at play, and if we don’t want to slip off track we need a range of techniques to keep us safe.

Here are some suggestions you may find helpful in this quest ~

> Break down your monthly lists of tasks into more manageable weekly lists.

> Draw up an Action Plan/Schedule in days… weeks… months… for the year, and post it on a noticeboard and/or near your computer.

> Keep a running To Do List beside your computer for day-to-day activities and cross off each item when it’s completed.

> Mark off each goal as it is achieved and record it on the Achievements List you set up during December. (Blog ~ Prepare To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed)

> Undertake regular reviews (monthly or quarterly perhaps) to help you stick to your plan/timeline. Ask yourself questions like… Am I on track? If not, where did I slip behind and what do I need to do to get back on track? Do I need to adjust my schedule or anything else to make my writing time more productive?

> Be prepared to re-assess your goals… a decision to change direction is not necessarily a failure – it may be an indication of development due to a change of priorities, information, interest, circumstances, or similar.

> Make sure any adjustments you make follow the same criteria as the other goals on your list – check that they are personalised SMART goals that have your commitment in writing.

> Keep a diary dedicated to your writing, which matches your planned work schedule. Shop around for a diary that also gives advice on the industry, competition information, dates of writing festivals and so on. This diary is likely to become you writing bible… and will keep you in the loop, prevent you from double-booking/overloading yourself and help keep writing on your agenda.

> Mark in your Writing Diary the times you set aside for writing each week. These entries become appointments with your computer; just as any other diary entry is an appointment with someone or to do something in particular. I consider these to be firm appointments and am not available for anything else at these times. This is my work time, as it would be if I was employed elsewhere, and I treat it with the same respect.

> At the end of each writing session, take the time to jot down your next task or the points you want to make next in the piece you’re writing. I do this in dot points at the end of what I’ve just written. When I return to the work, I can immediately see where I’m up to and pick up the thread without destroying the flow of the writing.

> When new writing possibilities arise during the year, add them to your Reserve List (Blog ~ Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed)

These are suggestions only and they won’t all suit everyone. Choose those that work for you and add any others you may have in mind. The object is to find ways to keep you focused on the writing outcomes you choose for yourself. Just as you personalised the goals you set, work to personalise the steps you will take to bring those goals to fruition in a timely manner.

Never lose sight of the overall aim to be a successful writer. Regardless of the schedule you use, remember the words of the great Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, ‘If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write’.

The message is clear… write… write… write…

In closing, I would add… whatever happens, keep your work interesting (to you) and enjoy the journey!

 

Have you been able to stay on track during the first half of January?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Next Blog ~ Writer’s Block

 

Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed

If you’ve had the chance to read my last Blog ~ Preparing To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed…  Writing Tip #10 and Writing Exercise ~ Reflect On Your Writing Year… and followed my recommendations, you will be ready to construct writing goals for 2017 that have a real possibility of success. You will also have a list of writing achievements to date, and a list of longed-for writing outcomes.

Set aside your Writing Achievements List, ready to add to it as your goals come to fruition one by one.

Now I invite you to take my step-by-step journey into successful goal-setting. This process is intricate and sometimes heavy going, but well worth the effort in the end should you choose to follow the trail. I suggest working your way through the steps slowly, taking breaks to refocus if necessary. Here goes ~

> Take a critical look at your Longed-for Writing Outcomes List and decide whether each item is actually a goal and not an aim. To avoid entering into the incessant debate about the definition of these two words, I simply state that in this context I consider ‘aim’ to be a more general, all-encompassing statement such as ‘I want to be a well-known author’ and a ‘goal’ to be one of the many tasks I need to complete in order to reach that aim… for example, ‘Write at least one short story’.

> Re-word the items on your list to be clear, concise and qualified, like the above example.

> Remove any items that this process has rendered superfluous, and any which you consider are no longer relevant.

> Set aside any items that don’t currently engage your passion and those that are not relevant, but will be again… for example, writing projects tied to seasons or yearly celebrations that have passed. These can be kept for future consideration.

> Add to your list any writing-related activities you plan to undertake to enhance your writing journey… for example, ‘Take a short course on writing dialogue’ or ‘Enter at least two writing competitions’ or ‘Subscribe to three on-line writers’ journals’.

> Source opportunities for any writing-related activities you have added to your list… and insert specific information, such as name of courses/competitions/journals, associated dates and the like, into the appropriate listed tasks.

> Prioritise and re-order your list, taking into consideration known dates, your abilities/resources, and logical sequence. For instance, it would be a good idea to take the short course in dialogue before entering work into competitions.

At this point, you have an ordered list of clear, concise, qualified, sequential tasks that suit the direction of your particular writing journey. They are specific (short story, course on writing dialogue), measurable (at least one… subscribe to three…), based on your motivations (passion), and focus-oriented (the direction you want to take your work).

Take a closer look at each item on your list and ask yourself ~

> Do I have the resources – skills, time, space, head-space, information, money, contacts – to reach this goal?

> If not, what do I need to do to acquire the missing resources?

> Am I in a position to make this happen?

This journey through the list will indicate whether or not you have the ability to bring each goal to fruition. Some goals may need to be moved further down the list, or on to the separate list you’re keeping for future consideration. You will be left with only goals that you want to achieve and that can be achieved.

Your list may, however, be overwhelmingly long and out of the realms of possibility on your 2017 calendar. As you have already refined your goals and moved off the list any goals that are for the future, the next task is to consider how far down the remaining list it is realistic to expect to travel in one year.

To make this decision, there is a need to explore your writing in the context of time ~

> Give each item on your list an estimated time value… allowing 10% more time than you think the task will take.

> Calculate how many hours you plan to devote to writing each week. Under-estimate rather than over-estimate to allow for unforeseen events.

> Taking these two values and your already known deadline dates (for competitions, courses and so on) into consideration, and working down from the top of your prioritised list, draw a line under the items that you can realistically achieve in January.

> Repeat this process for each month of the year, leaving free any periods of time when your opportunity to write may be diminished due to holidays, visitors and so on.

> Any remaining items can be left on a Reserve List, from which you can draw if you finish the nominated priority goals in less than the year. Anything remaining on this list will be your starting point for your writing goal process for the following year.

The process presented here personalises every aspect of the goal-setting journey at the same time as dealing with the accepted mechanics of setting goals. It is a deep exploration of your current position in relation to writing, what you want to achieve and how you might get there.

If you’ve stayed with me to the end, you have a complete list of Writing Goals for 2017. The individual goals are clear, concise, qualified, sequential, specific, measurable, based on your motivations, focus-oriented, achievable, realistic, time-bound and tangible.

You’ve worked hard to give yourself the best possible opportunity to move your writing forward in a productive way over the coming year.

You can reinforce your intention to achieve your stated goals by writing a commitment to yourself to do everything you can to bring them to fruition. I suggest you do this now, while you’re still in the goal-setting zone, to weight the power of your goals in your favour.

 

What happens if you don’t set writing goals or if you don’t pack your goals in safeguards for success?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section on this page…

 

Next Blog ~ Turn The Opportunity To Succeed Into Success

 

 

Prepare To Set Writing Goals That Can Succeed

In my last blog ~ Writing-Friendly Spaces I wrote about finding the ideal writing space and how to make the most of the resources you have when the ideal isn’t available. This raised the question of whether life events actually stop us from writing or if we use them as an excuse not to write. Both scenarios can be true, as can a mixture of the two, and I’ll write further about this in later blogs when I tackle Writer’s Block and how we stop ourselves from writing.

For now, I’d like to focus on just one way we hold ourselves back from achieving our writing dreams. We don’t take the time to give ourselves perspective.

We know we want to write. We scribble notes, write drafts of stories and bumble along learning as we go… and, if we’re lucky we may even get something published. But, do we really know where we’re going? Or what our ultimate aim is?

The term ‘Struggling Writer’ usually refers to a person struggling to make a living from writing, but I suggest that it also relates to people who are struggling to live the writer’s lifestyle… working long hours, often in the face of obstacles, and feeling as though they’re grappling in the dark and not getting anywhere.

If we’re honest, we’ve all been there… I certainly have. So, how do we go about pulling ourselves out of this rut?

The answer is to follow a very simple life tenet. If you’re going to construct a sturdy house, you must first lay solid foundations. In the same way, if you want to develop a successful writing career, you need to build a strong base as a springboard for your work.

With the New Year fast approaching, this is a good time to reflect on the past twelve months and consolidate your writing assets ready to make plans that will move your writing forward in 2017.

We all know about setting New Year’s resolutions that peter out after just a few weeks… if they last that long. There are two precautions we can take to significantly reduce the chances of this happening. The first is preparation and the second is to create goals that have the opportunity for success built into them.

Pre = before. Precaution = steps to take beforehand. Prepare = get ready, set up, put in order…

Preparation then, is putting things in order ready for what is to come… that is, getting perspective on what we have to take into the next phase of gaining qualified direction… in this case, in relation to writing.

The three steps I recommend in preparation for setting writing goals are:

Revisit any previous Writing Goals you may have set, including the most recent. Begin an Achievements List with the goals you have met and then make a separate list of any Outstanding Goals that are still relevant.

Consider what else you want to achieve with your writing and what resources you may need to acquire in order to bring these to fruition. Add these to your Outstanding Goals list – at this stage, your list of goals can be as exhaustive as you want it to be because the items on it will be prioritised, re-shaped and re-ordered in the next step of the goal-setting journey.

By the time you get to the end of this three-step preparation exercise you’ll have your writing journey to date clarified, an achievements list and a long list of what you want to achieve and the resources you may need.

This perspective will be your strong basis on which to create goals that have the opportunity for success built into them… and this will be addressed in my blog between Christmas and New Year – just in time to step into a productive year of writing!

 

Has goal-setting been your writing friend?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Next Blog ~ Construct Writing Goals That Can Succeed

Writing-Friendly Spaces

If you have visited this site before, you may know I’ve recently moved to the Far South Coast of New South Wales, where I’ve set up my first ever dedicated writing room. (Blog ~ Welcome To My Writing Home 13th August 2016)

This room is small, but lined with desks, bookcases and other writing paraphernalia. It is set up so I can walk in and go straight to the computer, or to the desk opposite where printouts related to my current work are laid out. On the adjacent desk are reminders of writing-related tasks awaiting my attention – a piece I’m working on for a local broadsheet, a poem that will soon be posted on Scriggler.com, my blog file and the date of my next get-together with local writers. Around the room, are inspirational messages, quotes and photographs that guide me through each day.

The printer is on a table under the window, which frames a dam in the foreground of rolling hills often dotted with cattle.

Sounds wonderful… and it is. This is my writing-friendly space, my workplace, my office – where I can retreat to focus on my current project and all other writing matters.

It has taken me decades to be in a position to create such a writing home. In the meantime, I’ve scribbled in some of the most unlikely places, including in the bath at midnight on New Year’s Eve. While waiting in the car or on railway stations, in trains and on buses have been familiar cocoons for me and my writing pads, as have the beach and the bush.

Once ‘in the zone’ I can scrawl ideas, notes, story plans and even short pieces of work regardless of where I am. But when it comes to the big stuff, I need space to spread out and come back the next day to find nothing changed. Before landing here in my haven, the less ideal spaces I had to work with were anywhere from the corner of a lounge room, standing at a bench, spreading out on the kitchen table, or sharing a desk/computer with others.

These spaces were the best I could manage, given my living arrangements. It was up to me to make the most of them. Earplugs were handy when I had to work in living areas. Picking the time to write in the kitchen was crucial – better in the early hours before anyone else was up and about, or in the evenings when others had retired… and never a good idea when a forthcoming meal was likely to topple me from my throne and scatter my books and papers.

When people ask my advice on creating a writing-friendly space, I tell them every writer’s ideal space is different… because we are individuals. How each person approaches their unique space will depend on their circumstances and resources, and what suits them.

The task is to find a way to set up a space that feels like it is yours alone when you’re in it, personalize it in some way, and make it as accessible as you can.

Make the most of whatever you have at your disposal. If at all possible, create a space that is exclusively yours for writing. Set it up so you don’t have to remove books and papers (or anything else) from around the computer each time before you start – nothing kills the creative urge quicker than a distracting delay. Surround yourself with all things writing and anything else that will put/keep you in the mood. Perhaps create small deadlines for yourself and put up inspirational quotes and affirmations.

If you have no choice but to share your space and/or the computer with others, I suggest you work out a timetable that suits all parties and negotiate options for how the partnership will work.

I once had the privilege of sitting at the desk Eleanor Dark used when she was writing. It was in the centre of a one room building in the gardens of Varuna Writers’ Centre, which was once her home. Behind the desk was the only other item of furniture; a cabinet divided into rows and rows of drawers, each one the size of a manuscript. Her husband had built it and her free-standing writing room, so she could work undisturbed.

As I sat in awe of the woman and her work, I was not only chastened but was hit by the realization that a writing-friendly (preferably writing-dedicated) space was as imperative for a writer as was a studio or attic (or similar) for an artist.

 

Do you have a dedicated space for your writing?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Next Blog ~ Motivation

Treasures From Childhood

I emerged from childhood with four books, which still adorn my bookcase. Today, they are small contributions on a full shelf of books that I keep for children who visit my home – mostly my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These books are small… in number that is… they are surely large in my estimation and huge in consideration of what they stand for.

These are the treasures of my beginnings as a writer. They dragged me into that dream of some day having books with my name embossed on them, which would be as precious to future generations as these and many others were to me… whether they belonged to me or somebody else.

As I grew to what Grandma called ‘A responsible age’, she gave me two books from her coveted collection. The first was Silver Brumby’s Daughter, by Australian author Elyne Mitchell and published by Hutchinson of London. Horses didn’t interest me at all, but the book did – it was mine!

The second book from Grandma was an early copy – perhaps one of the first – of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, coloured and illustrated by Bessie Pease, and published by J Coker & Co Ltd, London. It is printed on paper so thick it might be called cardboard and every page has a wide border of illustrations from the story. There are also eight full-page colour plates. This book is one of my greatest treasures and having it restored is on my list of paramount intentions.

In high school, I was awarded Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott for first in the class in two subjects – Needlework and Home Science. I would like to be able to say it was the prize for excellence in English, but it wasn’t.

Later, my sister’s friend handed on a book to me because the main character was my namesake. There are two stories within the confines of the cover – What Katy Did and What Katy Did At School by Susan Coolidge, published in England by Rylee Classics.

This book felt like it had my name on the cover, and took me a little closer to the dream.

My will to write was always strong.

At the end of each school break, we were set the task of writing about the wonderful holidays we’d had. Most of the kids wrote about holidays at the beach, visiting grandparents interstate, or trips to Sydney and places like Taronga Park Zoo. Because we didn’t have such holidays, I often caused a stir by writing about the pattern on the bottom of the swimming pool, how long I could hold my breath under water, or simply spending the day making mud pies with my younger siblings.

Then, when I was eight, there was that first little book I wrote about the pup and his friends getting into mischief. Read more about this in my Blog ~ Welcome To My Writing Home

Next came a short story called The Wonder Boy Of Two Hundred Years Ago about a boy frozen after his death, to be brought back after two centuries. I was twelve at the time and had not heard of cryonics.

In the second year of high school, I approached the principal about starting a school magazine. She told me I could do it, but no one on the teaching staff would have time to help me and I couldn’t use school resources. I gathered ‘news’ and wrote some ‘articles’, but had no idea how to get them from individual pieces into an interesting paper.

The idea was dropped in favour of my copious notebooks of teenage poetry.

The foundations were laid for my future as a writer.

 

What literary treasures accompanied you from childhood to adulthood?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Next Blog ~ Writer-friendly Spaces

School Frustrations And Triumphs

In primary school, I devoured the School Readers and repeatedly asked if I could borrow from the school library. But alas! This room was only for high school students – that is, until I reached high school. Then it was apparently only for the use of the boarders, who couldn’t ‘get to the town library’.

I was frustrated by the assumption that anyone not cosseted at the school was free to go where they wanted, and could therefore get their own books. This was definitely not the case in my family.

Further frustration crowded my high school days when I realised our English teacher was never going to be available. She was the principal and therefore very busy.

Every English lesson for four years went like this…

We settled in class, the principal came into the room and said, ‘Open your Using English books on Page 38 and do Unit 13 and Unit 14′ (for instance). She put some folders on the teacher’s desk and left the room. Many students wrote notes to each other, whispered, or drew pictures in their exercise books. Very few even opened Using English, let alone attempt the work, because Sister never took the time to check what we’d done – unless there was too much noise and she had to drag herself away from her office to calm us.

I often did some of the work, not because I was a goody-goody (I was far from that!) but because I liked English. Sometimes I wrote poetry – especially as I got older and had a boyfriend. There is nothing like first love to get the poetry pen flowing.

At the end of class, the principal returned, collected her folders from the desk and said, ‘Finish the unit you’re working on for homework’. Then she was gone, and so were we.

We were deprived of discussions about the classics, and my memory is that Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, was the set text for four years in a row.

We found our own way through the subject and either passed or failed on our own merit. I was lucky that my mother’s teaching persona meant she spoke well and I seemed to automatically pick up the rules of English which got me a reasonable pass. Some others were not so lucky.

In my last year of school, a group of us wanted to learn to type and I volunteered to convince the principal that the school was responsible for offering such a course. She eventually agreed to us using the library for one hour after school each afternoon. It would be up to us, she said in no uncertain terms, to make the most of the time. All she could do was sell us the necessary books and set us up with metal shields to cover our hands so we couldn’t see the typewriter keys.

We took the opportunity seriously. To this day, I am grateful for those dreaded keyboard covers, the teacher’s understanding and my friends’ commitment, all of which contributed to a lifetime of touch-typing.

My three friends and I spent many hours typing aaaa bbbb cccc and so on, and completed all the tasks in the text books while seated at the long wooden tables in the mysterious library. But we never held or read one book from the shelves of the cabinets. They were locked behind glass doors and there were no keys to be found.

 

What role did your teachers play in your development as a writer?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Next Blog ~ Childhood Treasures

Spelling Bees

When I was in third class, we had a spelling bee each week, which I enjoyed immensely.

Ninety-six of us children (no exaggeration, I swear!) stood around the edge of the classroom nervously waiting to begin. Because the room was so long – two rooms, with the concertina-type wooden partition folded back – we couldn’t hear from one end to the other. Sister Xavier stood in the middle and Missy moved around the circle to be sure we each heard our words properly.

Sister gave us one word each in turn and, if we spelt it correctly, we remained standing and waited for our next challenge. If we were incorrect, we sat in our usual seat, and so it went on until the winner was the only one standing.

I loved spelling and did well in these exercises. I was often one of the last few spellers, then one day I was one of the last two. Sister Xavier said the word ‘business’ and I spelt it ‘biseness’. I was disappointed, but proud to be so close to the top of such a big class. The next week, I was again one of two still standing when the other girl spelt her word incorrectly. I went to sit down, thinking I’d won.

‘Stay there’, Sister said, and she gave me another word. I spelt it correctly and again began to move towards my seat.

‘We’ll keep going’, Sister said, ‘until you make a mistake’. She continued to pummel me with words, and the more difficult they got the more determined I was to not make a mistake.

The class was on high alert. The words kept coming and I kept spelling them.

‘I give up’, she said, and turned to walk to the front of the room. Then she turned back, ‘I’ve got one more for you’, she said. ‘If you get this one right, you can have an early mark.’

An early mark didn’t help me much because I had to wait for the bus, but I was baited. Then came the word, ‘incomprehensibility’. I had never heard it, let alone know what it meant or how to spell it.

I swallowed hard, and told myself to go slowly and spell one syllable at a time. That hadn’t worked with ‘business’, but it might with this word – it was the only strategy I had, and this was about more than getting out of school early.

‘in-com-pre-hen-sib-il-ity’, I said in measured tones. Sister Xavier saluted, and there was a collective cheer. I left the classroom to wait alone at the bus stop to the sound of clapping and foot-stomping led by the two teachers. I knew the principal wouldn’t be happy with my teachers for allowing the commotion, and would be livid if she knew they were involved.

As shy as I was, this was one of the highlights of my school days…

 

What words hold significance for you? Why?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section…

 

Next Blog ~ School Frustrations And Triumphs