I am very fortunate in some ways. I have only experienced true ‘writer’s block’ once and for a very short time. I am however, often afflicted with a term I’ve labelled ‘writer’s bleurgh’. Sometimes, when I’m feeling ‘bleurgh’ I just cannot be bothered to write. I want to walk, meditate…Sorry, I’m lying, I want to watch telly or binge on the Internet for a few hours a night.
More often, my writer’s bleurgh emerges as terrible, truly terrible writing. My head gets so full of stories that I start narrating every day occurrences. That sugar I spilled? Could that become a metaphor for the sweetness of life in a piece of short fiction? That woman walking her dog across the road, should I create a play about the tension between them? I mean… I could, but it’s exhausting and the writing that comes from these endless observances is usually weird and turgid.
When I feel like this, I know it’s time to take a complete break from writing and reset my brain. But I don’t like to stray too far from creativity, so here are some things I do that keep me in touch with my creative self, while I take a bit of time out.
1. I read craft essays about writing. It’s relaxing, I can make the odd note, I can skip over parts that aren’t for me. Leone Ross @leoneross has a wealth of tips and resources about her writing process which she very kindly shares on her social media. Paul McVeigh @paul_mc_veigh is another generous writer who regularly shares essays, interviews and tips amongst the opportunities on his blog http://paulmcveigh.blogspot.com/
2. I listen to stories while I do mundane things. If I’m folding clothes, washing dishes or any of the other boring yet necessary tasks that take up my time, I listen to short fiction being read. I love listening to work read aloud anyway as I think it gives a different response to the piece. Flashback Fiction have recorded versions of all of their published stories, read by the authors https://flashbackfiction.com/ The Word Factory have videos of numerous writers performing their work http://www.thewordfactory.tv/site/video-readings-in-conversation/ It’s sort of creativity by osmosis, taking things in without feeling like I’m forcing myself to learn.
3. I watch telly. I watch a lot of telly anyway and I don’t feel the need to justify it or apologise for it. Sometimes it’s nice to switch my brain off totally. However, I have found certain programmes seem to have a positive effect on my creativity. Portrait Artist of the Year, Master of Photography and The Great British Bake Off all seem to do the trick. I’m watching how other people create, in other mediums. I don’t exactly watch them with a notebook, I just take in the ideas presented and let them seep into my stories at a later date ( I mean, someone definitely needs to write a surreal horror story about that brandy snap biscuit face!)
4. I watch more telly. Oh hello, did you think I was done with that? Sometimes, I deliberately watch a programme that is particularly relevant to the genre I’m writing. My focus at the moment is coming of age so I’ve just binged on Stranger Things. As well as subconsciously wearing a check shirt over dungarees and listening to Bon Jovi, I’ve also made a huge mind map of all of the tropes related to ‘coming of age’ inspired by each episode. I’m going to use it to develop new story ideas. My very early stage novel is partially about grooming so I am going to watch the BBC drama Three Girls while I’m planning it. It’s not to pinch ideas, it’s just to get my head in the right mindset.
5. I help other writers. Part of the reason I love being on twitter is for the writing community there. I have so many ‘writer friends’ who I can share pieces with. Reading and critiquing someone else’s work is a great way for me to stay in touch with creativity while not over exerting myself. My recent twitter shout out lead me to reading over 25 pieces! Seeing what works or doesn’t work in other people’s writing is so helpful when you come back to your own.
I’d love to hear some ideas for switching off (but not too off) from other writers, comment here or find me on twitter @jonzeywriter