Monday, 16 August 2010

How to write when the world's against you

Sometimes it feels like everybody's doing everything they can to stop you writing. Chances are that's exactly what they are doing – and why shouldn't they? Locking yourself away to tap at a keyboard or stare blankly at a screen is one step short of insanity. You've got one life to live, and your spending it doing what? It isn't healthy.

So who's going to blame your kids, your significant other, your family and friends from assuming that indulgent expression one adopts when dealing with deranged people when you say you've got to go and write; from vacuuming round your feet when you're wrestling with your inciting incident; from insisting you consider the shopping list while that fragile, once-in-a-lifetime bestselling idea eludes you and drops to the ground, crushed under the jackboots of your domestic demands.

Point is, you're doing this alone. No-one is going to help you. It's just you, and me.

So here's what to do when those situations arise that no-one but a writer could understand.

When technology fails you

Ever seen Terminator? If the technology isn't against you now, it will be. I couldn't tell you the amount of times I've been forced off the desktop computer by other family members with more legitimate claims, firing up my laptop only to find it needs to take 2 hours to download emails, 4 hours to update the operating system, and when I've finally managed to get it to synchronise with the writing files I've been working on elsewhere the thing needs to re-boot itself, by which time I've only got two hours left to sleep before I need to leave for the day job. Happy times. Solution? Unplug the evil thing and get the notebook out. Technology 0 – Writer 1.

When inspiration fails you

Stop working on what your supposed to be working on and write something else. Brainstorm the idea, drill down to the issue that's holding you up. There's no such thing as writers block, just lack of research – you can't write because you don't know your story or characters well enough – learn it or invent it. Write down the question that is at the heart of the issue, then write the answer.

When imagination fails you

Imagination is a muscle and if it isn't flexed, will wither and die. I've talked before about the reservoir of ideas available to a writer, you can stir these up by reading, research, listening to music or other means. As a writer you should be training your imagination all the time. Never block ideas, never rule them out, no matter how mundane or boring – if you allow them time to develop or work them hard enough, they could just give you enough for a whole novel.

When words fail you

Believe it or not, writing isn't just about words – they're just a means to the character and the story. Sure they can be stylish and poetic, but that's just icing on the cake. You can take pictures, draw diagrams, act out roles, try out accents, deal out cards, block a scene – all ways of working characters and stories without using words.

When you fail you

Sometimes you're so exhausted, so devoid of invention, so sick to death of it all, that you'd rather lie down and die than write.

Guess what? Sometimes it's ok to go and do something else. You are allowed a life.

Besides, it will give you something to write about.


  1. Great post James.

    Love when you say sometimes you just have to let writing go and live your life. That can do wonders --- and also give you great story ideas.

  2. Thanks Karen. Sometimes it's really tough to step away from the writing - particularly when your time to do it is limited. Still, sometimes you've got to do it. It's a bit like fitness - sometimes you've got to take a week off, so you can come back stronger to get even fitter - same with writing.

  3. Excellent, very sound advice and stuff we all should know but forget.

  4. Thanks for the read and comment, Alison. Your blog looks interesting too - thanks for stopping by, and I hope you find other articles of use for you here.

  5. "You are allowed a life." -- Tough to remember sometimes, and so very important!

    Great post. :)

  6. @Linda - hey Linda, thanks for dropping by - glad you enjoyed the post and hope to see you here again soon.

    @Carrie - great to hear from you again - I always enjoy reading your blog posts, so it's nice to know you like mine too!

  7. Oh, I have been going through "When you fail you" and feeling really guilty for wanting to just go to bed and not write anything! Thanks!

  8. The good news is, Judy, sleeping counts as writing! See here -

  9. I seem to achieve all of these failures almost daily. Thanks for this post, it helps!

  10. Thank you for your comment, Anna-Marie - I'm glad it helps, and good luck with your writing.