Busting Through Writing Blocks

What’s the one question I get asked time and time again when I’m coaching other writers?

“How do I make it through the blocks?”

Writer’s block can strike at any stage of the process: at the very beginning when you’re trying to come up with ideas from scratch and also at any point mid-story.

For me, when I’m writing a novel, it tends to strike around page 60 and the story that had been flowing along nicely comes juddering to a halt. It’s happened so often I now call this The Curse of Page 60.

In the 15 minute podcast below, from my new book Dare to Write a Novel, I share the techniques I’ve used over the years to help me get through this.

Every time I’ve written a book I’ve experienced blocks (so please don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone!) and every single time I’ve got through it, using the tips and tricks in the podcast.

The important thing to realise is that feeling stuck or blocked is a natural part of the creative process. So don’t let it get you down and whatever you do, don’t let it make you give up.

Grab a notebook and pen, make yourself a coffee / tea / strawberry margarita and press play on the audio below for a whole range of ways to reignite your inspiration…

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY: Why Getting Dropped By My Publisher was the Best Thing That Happened to Me

 

 

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL – OUT NOW!

daretowrite-anovel-cover-copy

Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.

You can find out more about it here.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, no worries. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel

“While there are many books on the technicalities of writing, there are few which deal with the problems that face the aspiring author in the other aspects of writing – the personal. Siobhan looks at those areas – why do I want to write, how do I make time, how do I justify the effort, how do I motivate myself – and draws on her experience as a life coach, and as a successful author and editor to provide strategies to work towards achieving your writing dreams and aspirations. Yes, there is sort-of technical stuff there, too; to do with how to develop characters, how to plot, how to keep track of your characters and plot, how to defeat “blocks”, but none of the formulaic “write to the beats”, “6/7/8/9 basic plots” stuff that so many writing handbooks trot out. You even get audio chapters, where Siobhan talks you through the process of visualisation, a technique very few self-help writing books I have come across ever mention, but one that I find particularly useful. I’ll mention here that I know Siobhan; I was a member of one of her writing workshops for a number of years, and benefited greatly from receiving these lessons and strategies first hand. Now I live too far away, this book makes a great replacement for her personal mentoring skills, and I can highly recommend it to any writer who is contemplating starting out on the journey, who is struggling in the process, or is looking to re-ignite their creative fires.” Amazon review

Please feel free to share it with your social networks and any writing friends.

Thanks so much!

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Dare to Write: Making the Time to Write

Welcome to the first in a series of posts – and podcasts – called Dare to Write.

Dare to Write is all about encouraging writers to overcome their blocks and write fearlessly and for the love of it.

Over the years, I’ve taught a lot of writers in my workshops, one-to-one sessions and talks and one gripe that comes up time and time again is that it can be so hard finding the time to write.

This used to be a real issue for me too because I’d always tell myself that if I didn’t have a good chunk of time to devote to my writing – at least two to three hours – then it wasn’t worth bothering at all.

The trouble is, with so many different things competing for our time – family, friends, work, Netflix, the inter-bloody-net and all of its updates and newsfeeds and notifications – how often do we get a spare three hours to spend writing?

It wasn’t until I changed my thinking and began to write for shorter periods of time more regularly that I started to get things done.

In my book Dare to Write a Novel I talk about how, as writers, we need to see ourselves as the tortoise of Hare and Tortoise fame. Slowly but surely wins the race – or in this case, finishes the book. I even keep this tortoise on my desk to remind me.

IMG_20140226_180531

Books, screenplays, scripts and short story or poetry collections take a long time to complete. But, even if we aren’t able to hare along, we can still get the job done if we can summon up the grit and determination to keep showing up at the page, day after day, for smaller chunks of time.

Below, author, poet and screen-writer Paul Ebbs sums this up brilliantly as he talks about how he makes the time for his writing…

“This is not about having the ideas that’s the hard bit, this is about doing the donkey work the easy bit.

There are no obstacles to you writing except the ones you accept to be obstacles. 

I firmly believe this.

If you don’t have the time to write, then write one word a day. Just one. You can do that. You can make that time. Then there’s no obstacle. Unless you want the thing you’re writing to be finished more quickly. If you want it finished more quickly then that’s an obstacle that you’ve put there yourself. If you want it finished more quickly, then write two words a day – you’ll be finished in half the time.

Writing is about not accepting the obstacles that you’ve put there yourself.

It’s about breaking down tasks – If I’ve got a script to write, or a book I don’t think about the whole thing (once I’ve had the idea) I break it down – for a script I set myself the entirely reasonable target of five scenes per day. I know I can write more on a good day – but not every day is a good day. For example while I’m here writing this today, there’s a young guy next door to my office tiling our kitchen. So with all the scraping and spinning of the tile cutter, it’s difficult to concentrate. So do I accept that as an obstacle? No. I write this piece for Siobhan – it’s something I can achieve while Daniel is doing the tiling. He’s very good by the way if you want his number.

So I break tasks down, I don’t get daunted by the whole thing by tricking myself it’s only five scenes, or it’s only 1000 words or it’s only a few paragraphs for Shiv.

If you can write 100 words a day, you’ll have a 100,000 word novel in three years. If you can write 300 words a day (maybe in three 100 word blocks) you can do it in a year.

This piece for Shiv is 389 words long. It took me 18 minutes while Daniel tiled the kitchen. At 18 minutes a day, I can reasonably expect to have a 100,000 novel in 300 days and change.

The only obstacles in your way are the ones you put there yourself.”

[Paul Ebbs is a screenwriter (Doctors, Casualty, The Bill, films in development hell) an author (Doctor Who, Harry Hammer) a poet (Telling the Page, Black White Blue) and a human (breathing, farting, looking with at stuff with his eyes, thinking etc). If you want to have him write scripts for you contact his agent Christina Pickworth at Imagine Talent.]

WRITING DARE: What tortoise-style step could you take today towards finishing your work-in-progress? What amount of time, however small, could you devote to your writing? Even if it’s just fifteen minutes, fire up the laptop or grab the pad and pen and write. See how much better you feel for doing it. Try and make it a daily practise.

COMING NEXT ON DARE TO WRITE: How to Handle Criticism, featuring the toe-curlingly true story of a writer who was told by a theatre producer that the play she’d written was so bad it was a shame she’d recovered from cancer to be able to write it. She went on to pen a best-selling novel. In the next post she talks about how you can use even the harshest of criticism to fire you up.

FOLLOW THIS BLOG: For inspirational posts delivered straight to your inbox.

 

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL – OUT NOW…

daretowrite-anovel-cover-copy

Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.

You can find out more about it here.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, worry not. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel

“While there are many books on the technicalities of writing, there are few which deal with the problems that face the aspiring author in the other aspects of writing – the personal. Siobhan looks at those areas – why do I want to write, how do I make time, how do I justify the effort, how do I motivate myself – and draws on her experience as a life coach, and as a successful author and editor to provide strategies to work towards achieving your writing dreams and aspirations. Yes, there is sort-of technical stuff there, too; to do with how to develop characters, how to plot, how to keep track of your characters and plot, how to defeat “blocks”, but none of the formulaic “write to the beats”, “6/7/8/9 basic plots” stuff that so many writing handbooks trot out. You even get audio chapters, where Siobhan talks you through the process of visualisation, a technique very few self-help writing books I have come across ever mention, but one that I find particularly useful. I’ll mention here that I know Siobhan; I was a member of one of her writing workshops for a number of years, and benefited greatly from receiving these lessons and strategies first hand. Now I live too far away, this book makes a great replacement for her personal mentoring skills, and I can highly recommend it to any writer who is contemplating starting out on the journey, who is struggling in the process, or is looking to re-ignite their creative fires.” Amazon review

Please feel free to share it with your social networks and any writing friends.

Thanks so much!


Why getting dropped by my publisher was the best thing that ever happened to me

A few months after my marriage ended I had a romantic encounter with a much younger man. I was in my early thirties with a four-year-old son, he was 22, had just left uni and had plans to travel the world.

I knew it would never lead to anything – it couldn’t – but after years of feeling trapped and living in fear, spending time with this free-spirited poet helped me remember who I really was.

I’d moved into a new home, a scruffy, terraced house in a London suburb that hadn’t been decorated since the 1970s (the dining room actually had dark brown cork covering the walls and the bathroom was a delightful shade of avocado) and my third novel was just about to be published.

I felt scared – but hopeful.

I might be a single mum, but I was making a living from my dream career as a writer and I had a budding friendship with a beautiful guy who was blasting my mind back open with all his talk of travelling and poetry and dreams. For the first time in years, I was starting to feel truly me and truly alive.

But then disaster struck.

My publisher only printed 2000 copies of my book and it was released without a whisper of publicity.

I had been dropped – the literary equivalent of being dumped – and it shook my life to the core.

It had taken me years to overcome my self-doubt and achieve my dream of becoming a published author. Now it had all turned to dust.

And, worse than that, now I was a single mum. How was I going to keep a roof over my son’s head?

As I looked at my life with gloom-tinted spectacles I felt all hope draining away.

My poet friend went off travelling and I was left suffocating in fog of gloom.

Prompted by the threat of abject poverty I started looking around for other writing-related sources of income. I called the Arts Officer at my local council and asked if he had any use for an author.

He offered me the job of running a weekly writing workshop for adults in a local library.

I’d never taught writing before and the prospect terrified me but beggars can’t be choosers and neither can freshly-dropped authors, so I readily agreed.

In preparation for my first workshop I wrote an actual script. Then I rehearsed this script in front of a circle of my son’s cuddly toys. About midway through, like some terrible omen, Bob the Builder keeled over face first on to the floor.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was on the night of that first workshop, plagued by thoughts like: Who are you to teach?

But little did I know that I was about to start one of the most enjoyable and rewarding strands of my working life.

That’s the thing about rock bottom – sometimes it isn’t rock bottom at all – it’s merely a plot device, an inciting incident, to catapult you into a much happier future.

It turned out that, once I overcame my fear and ditched the scripts, I absolutely loved teaching writing.

I absolutely loved creating a space where fellow writers felt confident enough to share their work. I loved sharing what I’d learned and encouraging them to teach each other.

After a few months, another London Borough got in touch, asking if I’d run a similar weekly workshop in one of their libraries.

I could only get child care for one of the nights so, once a week, my son would come along with me, carrying a backpack stuffed with snacks, a pad and pens and a little transistor radio, and he’d set up camp in the kids’ section of the library, while I ran the workshop in a space around the corner. The people who came to the workshop made a huge fuss of him, often bringing him gifts or sweets, and getting the tube back from the workshops with my son are some of my happiest memories as a mum. He never once moaned about having to come out late at night – for him it was an adventure.

I ended up running those two weekly writing workshops for six years. And, faced with the challenge of keeping things fresh, I ended up teaching just about every aspect of writing. From fiction to non-fiction and writing for radio, screen and stage. The Arts Departments at the local councils were hugely supportive , funding many extra-curricular competitions and events.

I’d initially taken the work for financial reasons but it came to mean so much more.

I made a huge network of new friends and met a wonderful new partner.

My scruffy, 1970s tribute house became a focal point for writing brainstorms and coaching sessions and parties. The orange tiles in the kitchen made a great dance-floor and the cork wall in the dining room made the world’s biggest noticeboard.

And – free from the pressure of having a publisher to please – I began writing again purely for the love of it.

I started writing my first novel for young adults, breaking ‘the rules’ by playing around with the structure and having a main character who was in her fifties (this is not the done thing in YA fiction). I felt free to experiment because I’d decided to self-publish. It was a liberating experience.

When the book – Dear Dylan – came out I entered it for a national book award.

This was not something I’d planned – in fact, it couldn’t have been more random.

One day, on my lunch break, I saw a mention of the award in The Bookseller magazine and had a what the hell moment, which saw me stuffing a copy of my book in an envelope and posting it purely on the off-chance.

What happened next was beyond my wildest dreams.

Over the course of several months I received a series of emails from the book award people: The first telling me they’d received Dear Dylan and entered it into the award. The second telling me my book had been long-listed. And the third telling me it had been short-listed and please could I come to the award ceremony.

Every time I received an email I was at work, and every time I had to take myself off to the Ladies toilets to do a little celebratory dance.

On the night of the award ceremony something truly magical happened. Something that, if I put it in a novel, people would sigh and say, yeah, right.

I was making my way to the London theatre where the ceremony was taking place. It was rush hour and the streets were packed. Just as I started to cross a busy road I saw a familiar face through the crowd on the other side.

The young poet guy I’d known right at the very start of all this was making his way towards me.

I hadn’t seen or heard from him for years. And, in the passing of time, I’d come to associate him with the grim time I’d been dropped by my publisher.

Now, here we were, in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, our paths about to cross once again.

We grabbed each other in an embrace, laughing at the craziness; at the what are the chances?  of it all. And then the crowds swept each of us to the opposite sides of the road.

I hurried on to the award ceremony, knowing that meeting him had to be a coincidence but wondering if there had to be some kind of symbolic meaning behind our encounter too.

Later that night, my self-published novel defied all the odds and all my wildest dreams and won the book award.

A few weeks later, it went to auction with six different publishers bidding for it.

I was no longer ‘dropped’, I was ‘award-winning’.

And the best thing about it?

I realised that it didn’t matter at all.

I’ve never been happier than I was in those wilderness years between book deals.

And I think that’s why I bumped into the poet guy the night it all changed and nothing changed.

To show me that what I’d thought was the very worst of times was simply the spark that ignited the very best of times.

 

New Book News!

 

daretowrite-anovel-cover-copy

Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.

You can find out more about it here.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, worry not. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel

Please feel free to share it with your social networks and any writing friends.

Thanks so much!