Writing Advice

I think it might be magic…

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If I believed in magic that’s what I would tell you writing is.



The firing of specific synapses, the chemical cascade that transmutes the scent of a particular perfume into a fifteen hundred word short story, the fall leaves into rhyming poetry, your brutal breakup into a seventy thousand word novel.

It’s an ancient magic, recalled from distant cold nights huddled around fires, trading tales of news from far off lands, keeping the shadows subdued and enchanted. It’s ritualistic: reliant on special pens, specific desks, a certain walking route, a routine we know by heart, that sweet annihilation of reason, a sip of wine at midnight, or the writing sweater we refuse to wash.

We seek out other’s magic rhythms too, the successful among us, we gather at their feet and beg for their secrets. Do you rise early, before the sun? Do work in the morning, or the afternoon? Have a light lunch? Take a stroll at 3pm exactly? Stay up late? Because we’ve heard that’s a sign of greater intelligence. And they kindly share their magic recipes with us; their steps to plot and puzzle, to know your characters deeply, meaningfully, to personify your settings, objects, animals, plants. They tell us of their habits, their secrets, and we absorb them, make them our own.

That moment of inspiration is magic as well; a conversation overheard out of context, a furtive look on the face of a passerby, a thing out of place in an ordinary setting. It would strike like lightning if that wasn’t so cliche. Instead it’s a burned finger on the stove, numb with shock but unforgettable.

And finally there’s a flurry of magic words, scrawled on paper or composed on the blank screen, a flashing cursor moving endlessly ahead of letters forming perfect incantations, designed to cast a spell, a trance. And when it’s over we awaken, unsure of what we’ve done, feeling a satisfying loss, an emptying out. A bruise on our knee we never noticed before. How did that get there?


Maybe it’s unhelpful to say it’s magic though.

Maybe it’s too easy.

It’s a craft, you say, a practice, a discipline.

But I think there’s something worthwhile in believing in magic, just for a second, even for an unbeliever like me. Because magic is the world of make-believe and that’s where we, as writers, want to be. Magic reminds us of the unknown, the yet to be invented, the mystical, the sacred, the beautiful. Magic reminds us we are all connected to our imaginations, to our memories of things that never were.


Also, maybe magic can allow us to believe in ourselves.

 To believe that moment of inspiration will come again, even if it’s been gone for years. To believe that we have a whole universe inside of us that’s waiting to be written, that we are connected to those ancient ancestors of ours who told stories because that’s what humans do. Maybe believing it’s magic could help us when we’ve hit the wall, because with magic we can walk through walls, or move them, or fly over them on our broomsticks, or turn them into cotton candy and eat our way through. Maybe if we believe it’s magic when things get hard we can remember why we opened that document to begin with, why we put our pen to paper.

Maybe magic can be our placebo, the pill we take to tell ourselves our the headache is all in our heads.

I think it might be magic, so go on, write me a spell.

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Beating Writer’s Block

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In my experience, writer’s block means one of two things.  Either fear of moving forward, or being lost in the woods of your imagination.  I suppose it could just be a bad day too, but those pass more often than not without much ado, so let’s stick to the big two.

Tell fear to fuck off

Ben said a great thing to me once: ‘being angry is better than being sad’.  At the time I was trying to overcome a phobia (agoraphobia triggered by the subway) and it was the best advice I’d ever gotten.  So I started swearing at my fear, under my breath of course.  I tried my best to think of all the things in the world that made me angry and I got pissed.  I told my fear to fuck off and it worked.  Getting sad or low about writer’s block will probably only serve to send you into a funk that ends with you sitting on your bed, watching the ceiling fan and thinking about nothing.  But that’s just boring.  So before you get sad, get angry.  Try giving your writer’s block a few mental kicks and a little bit of rage then settle yourself down and…

Just write

Write anything.  It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the offending novel or story that got you into this mess in the first place.  Write a list of your favorite foods, make up a character and write about him or her, write about a day at the beach gone horribly wrong.  Don’t think too much, just write, no pressure for greatness, footloose and fancy free.  Once you get back in the saddle of free and imaginative writing, you’ll remember why you love it, I promise.

Don’t try to be amazing

While in the midst of this ‘just write’ trance, don’t try to be awesome, don’t try to write the next great novel or story that you want to have published by the New Yorker.  Just write because you love it and it feels good and real and wonderful.  Trying to be amazing is a fool’s errand anyway because everyone has different opinions on what greatness is, so it’s up to you to find out what YOU love, not what everyone else loves.  So after you’ve done the anger, then the free form joyful remembering why you love writing, it’s time to find your way again.

Make a map

Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t want to ask for directions out of pride or the feeling that you ought to just ‘know’ which way is west.  Make yourself a map.  If you’re writing a novel this will look an awful lot like a story outline and if you’re like me and writing a fantasy novel (yes my short story suddenly turned into a novel) then it will be an actual map.  Structure and form can often be helpful for writers, even if we’re used to flailing about and simply ‘being creative’.  Order is good, but remember you only make lines so you can colour outside of them.

So now that we have the big two covered, let’s take a quick peek at the other options for beating that jerky writer’s block.

Exercise

I know you’ve already done your 30 minutes of exercise today, because it’s healthy and you can’t just sit around writing all day long letting your muscles atrophy, but when writer’s block strikes, it’s time to get up and move.  Exercise is awesome for a million reasons.  It loosens you up, gives you time to think, makes you feel good and apparently, makes your brain bigger!  Holy cow, how awesome is that?  Go now!  Run or walk (preferably in nature as that has stress reducing benefits as well) and get your brain working for you!

Talk to someone

Ben is my muse.  We get endless hours of enjoyment from planning out my stories and novels together.  If I’m facing writer’s block there’s nothing like a half hour walk with my honey to get me back on track.  Find yourself someone you can trust and bounce your ideas off them.  Writing doesn’t have to be a stoic, lonely thing and there’s no shame in talking it through.

Have an adventure

Go out there and live, then come back and write about it.  The world is a big place, filled with inspiration and excitement.  If you spend all your time at your computer writing about life, you might just end up not having anything to write about.  Go live it up and don’t be afraid to take a moment away from your writing, it will still be there when you get back…I promise.

Okay that’s all.  If you’ve done all these things and still have writer’s block, perhaps it’s time to switch gears and start a new project.  Leave your old one behind and give it some breathing room, then come back to it in a couple of months and see if it still has legs.

What do you do to beat writer’s block?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!