Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Writer’s Block – Getting Your Creativity Back on Track

Don't let your demons get you down. Image Copyright Janet Cameron
It happens to us all from time to time. Your creative fire has gone AWOL, your work is suffering, and there seems no way forward. The good news is there’s no need to panic, because highs and lows are part of life’s pattern. Being stuck in a rut isn’t necessarily the same as writer’s block. Maybe you haven’t stopped writing; you’re just producing the same boring old stuff and you’re not sure it’s worth the bother. All the same, you’re anxious to get going, so is there anything you can do to rediscover that cutting edge style of yours?
Use your feelings: Your feelings are pretty intense right now. Use them. Write a poem or a piece of prose about your loss of inspiration, using pen and paper rather than your computer. Find a place to write that’s different from your usual spot – maybe a park, a cafe, a secluded nook in the garden. Pour out your heart without worrying whether what you are writing is publishable.
A different genre: Kick your creative juices into gear by trying a completely different genre. If you write light fiction, try some research in a different field, maybe a lively, non-fiction piece about a local site of historic interest. Does the site have a ghost or some sort of juicy scandal or conspiracy? Maybe a local publication would be interested. On the other hand, if you write non-fiction, try writing fiction instead. It can be tricky moving away from your comfort zone, but you never know, you may find a new outlet by exploring exciting new territory.
Make old writing come alive: If you’re confident enough, you could rescue one of your old stories by altering the viewpoint, say from third person to first person, or you could change the tense, from past to present, or from present to past. You could even retell the story from a different character’s viewpoint. While you’re doing this, you’re bound to incorporate some editing or revisions to your text. This has the advantage of allowing you to re-analyse your writing and sometimes the story may appear fresher.
Jump right in: Accept that everyone feels inadequate sometimes and there are many ways of tackling creative projects. An article in The Times by Richard Cork, dated January 26 1998, tells how the famous artist Francis Bacon complained, "I can’t draw." The point was drawing had no part in the final product, the painting. Bacon explained that he launched himself straight into his artwork, without doing any preparatory work – "When I paint, I draw directly with the brush." Try applying Bacon’s technique to writing. Start your next story in the middle, right in the thick of the action and write the beginning and ending later. Or, if you’re feeling experimental, try writing the ending first.
Read inspiring creative writing books: Never underestimate the value of reading about writing by those who have a practical and positive approach. Two examples are Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and On Writing by Stephen King. Great stuff!
Try something new related to writing: Keep all your options open. We’ve already talked about trying new genres, and new techniques. Now try one more major new thing, something you’ve never tried before. Maybe this could be a writing holiday in the Alps, or a weekend writing conference at a country retreat. Or you could run a writing event of your own.
Try something new that's nothing to do with writing: Alternatively, spend a weekend doing something completely different from writing. Join a weekend water-colour painting course or a nature programme run by your local council. Whatever you do, don’t write. You can take down a few notes, of course, but resist working them into sentences. Then see what happens on Monday morning.
Join a supportive group: Try not to suffer in a vacuum. Most of us understand the value of creative writing groups for mutual support and encouragement. However, be sure you’re getting (as well as giving) the support you need from your own group. If you don’t feel your group is a safe place to be when you’re in a writing rut, find another group where you will feel more comfortable.
Visualise – it works: Visualisation is sometimes regarded as pop psychology these days – but it works so give it a go. Take an hour or so to reflect on where you are at the moment and where you would like to be next week. Then imagine yourself being exactly how you want to be, a writing dynamo, full of enthusiasm, bursting to embrace new ideas and encouraging others to follow your example.
Think positive: Remember, you are what you think. Think positive thoughts.
My experience as a creative writing tutor and help from colleagues at the School of English, University of Kent, with some additional help from the following recommended books:
Your Writing Coach, Jurgen Wolff, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London-Boston, 2007
On Writing, Stephen King, New English Library, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg, Shambhala, 1986

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