WRITER'S BLOCK is something that people often ask about. At two recent literature festivals I heard at least 4 authors have the question of writer's block and how to cure it asked of them. They all gave different answers, all valid. Here's mine: A very wise person once told me this, and I think it's the best advice on the subject. (I will now paraphrase wildly...) Writer's block is not when you have nothing to write about; it's when you have too much to write about - too many ideas, concepts, revelations, whatever. What then happens is that you get so full up that your mind becomes constipated - yes, that's right! Just like eating too much cake, and I speak from personal experience of cake. So, what do you do when you become constipated? You need a purge! It's like clearing out a blocked wastepipe. First you've got to get out the solid lumps that are causing the blockage, then you flush the remainder through and suddenly you have a clean channel for fresh...umm, processes! And how do you this with writing? I've found the best the thing to do when you feel blocked is to sit down and just write...anything at all will do. Write a stream of consciousness, a shopping list, a letter to somebody, absolutely anything to free up the stuff in the pipes and get it moving. It doesn't matter if it's a load of crap (did you see what I did there?) because you can chuck the first load of stuff in the bin...or down the toilet if you prefer! If you still feel blocked, write some more. Absolutely anything. After a short while your channels (and your mind) will start to feel clearer, and perhaps a little fresher. When they do, get out a clean sheet of paper/open a new document in your computer and off you go. You'll then be in a much better position to catch the new stuff that's trying to come through you. Have a go. I've done this lots of times and it works. So, don't fret if you have writer's block. It's a good sign. Much better than feeling completely empty, isn't it?
Musings and mind leaks...
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A couple of days ago I became ridiculously excited when I discovered that my debut novel (not due to be published until February) had become available to pre-order on Waterstones and Wordery online bookshops. There it was, brazen as you like, showing off its ISBN number and everything. Even my name was spelt correctly. I literally (and I actually mean 'literally') jumped around the room for several minutes with joy. Even better, Waterstones (my old employers) had suggested one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, under 'If you like this you might also like...' Pure joy! As is the custom for us modern writers today, I went straight on to social media to inform anyone who was awake of my exciting news and posted a link to one of the bookshops for pre-orders. To my amazement and with deep gratitude, I started to see messages coming in from friends around the world to say they had just pre-ordered! I was and still am truly humbled by the actions of friends, both old and new, showing complete faith in my ability to write a book they might enjoy, before they've read any of it, and without even seeing the finished cover! These people truly have more belief in me than I do myself, and by that I am blown away. They've even paid good money to demonstrate this belief! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Not just for the pre-orders, but also the many messages of support and encouragement. I'm writing this down and posting it on the eternal interweb so that I can remember these feelings when I'm onto book Number 5, published by Faber & Faber (one day...!). I hope I never, ever take these things for granted.
(...And if anyone out there does want to pre-order, there's a link on my 'Published Works: Books' page!)
A week ago, I was right in the middle of our first ever Bury St Edmunds Literature Festival. Somehow (God knows how!) I found myself on the organising team, spending 6 months planning, fretting, enthusing and generally being exhausted. Here are some lessons I've learned along the way, in case anyone reading this is foolish enough to try organising their own literature festival:
1. Think big, start small. Start with a list of your dream authors and work downwards. At least one person on that list will say 'yes'. They really will. If they don't, just make your list a little longer.
2. Get as many different businesses/organisations in your local town enthused as possible and get them to help you where they can. There's a lot of work to do. If they've got any spare cash, get them to give you that too! Publicity, venue hire, author expenses, etc. cost money and you probably can't afford it yourself. Oh, and don't expect to get paid either.
3. Plan the festival you'd like to go to and include events you wish other festivals had - poetry slams, pop-up book readings in cafes, book-themed pub crawls...anything you can think of that might be fun. The impractical ideas will fall away very quickly but don't discount them until they are impossible!
4. Be nice to writers!! Look after all the authors who agreed to come. Sure, they're selling their books. Sure it's good for their careers to talk about their work. Sure, their publishers will probably pay their expenses, but without them you'd have no festival at all. Treat them well. Treat them as if you've invited them into your home and you're proud of it. If they've had a great time they will be happy to be invited back.
5. Last but not least: when you're exhausted, frustrated, sick of lugging books around, fed up at people complaining the event they want to go to is too late/too early/too expensive/too cheap...remember why you agreed to do this in the first place: BECAUSE YOU LOVE BOOKS! Don't forget that, and take some extra vitamins - you'll need the energy!
Perhaps I'll be involved in next year's festival and perhaps I won't. One thing's for sure, I will continue to dream about being one of those writers on the podium soon, talking about my own work and making people laugh and cry for all the right reasons. So, if you see me at a Literature Festival one day, don't forget No. 4: Be nice to writers!
Here's a thought: If writing could be described as a human body - a journalist would be the brain, a novelist would be the mind, a playwight would be the soul, and a poet would be the heart. What would be the blood? Would it be inspiration?...Just a thought.