Sunday, 20 March 2016

How Seven Famous Writers Conquered Writer’s block

How Seven Famous Writers Conquered…Writer’s block

Time and again, my creative writing students ping me an email that says something very like this–
Dear Nina, I’ve hit a crisis/complication/problem/issue with my mother/health/partner/job and because of this I’ve done no writing. Please can I have more time?

I write back, mostly to say, yes, of course, and I’m sorry that you’ve got so many worries that you can no longer write, but…just a thought…you’re not actually suffering from–

Writer’s block

Are you?

We all know how that dreaded ailment. It hits us where it really hurts, directly into our hopes and dreams and deepest needs. 

 Writer’s block is a strange thing, given that, as Flannery O’Connor  points out, “Anybody who has survived an average childhood has enough to write about for a dozen years” but also  the most soul-destroying thing.The pen has no ink, the keyboard refuses to tap out your thoughts.

Below, I quote Seven Really Famous Writers who have suffered the block, just as you have. They’ve all  had periods of blankness, but, unlike Gustave Flaubert, who once said to a friend, “You don't know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands, trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word” these writers have found an escape route, and been thoughtful enough to share it with the world, to help struggling writers like you and me. Here are my seven conquering heros:

Teeter Inversion Table
Dan Brown, Author of The Da Vinci Code 
Telegraph Features writer Harry Wallop tried out Dan Brown's cure for  writer’s block when Brown revealed that he hangs upside down to get the creative juices flowing again. The results, here on Youtube, are very entertaining, if highly unbelievable;  Crazy idea? Don't try this at home? We'll quickly move on to number two:

Philip Hensher, novelist
One thing I do is take the Tube to the end of the line, then walk back into the centre of London. It's hard not to find anything to write about doing that.
Sounds almost as crazy as inversion, but walking alone is a wonderful way of overcoming all sorts of blocks, and I use it regularly. Now I live in the country, I’m lucky, because my walks can be beautiful, but the point is not to be noticing the scenery, but to allow your steady footsteps to send you into a brown study in which you’ll find yourself entering your character’s minds, houses, conversations, and motivations, all of which can send you hurtling back to the keyboard. Be sure to take a notebook because it’s easy to forget those glimmers of brilliance.

Maya Angelou, writer and poet
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.

That advice sounds to me a bit like the freewriting I recommend, as do most writers who have tried it. If you still aren’t trying to get out of a block  by regularly freewriting sessions, you should go to right now to find out what you’re missing. 

Laurence Sterne 18th C author of Tristram Shandy
Before writing, Sterne would shave his beard, change his shirt and coat, send for a “better wig,” put on a topaz ring, and dress “after his best fashion.”

Don’t knock it. If you’ve watched Shakespeare in Love, you’ll have noticed the little ‘ritual’ Joseph Fiennes has on-screen – he twirls his quill between his palms and spins on his stool each time he sits down to write. There is nothing wrong with having ‘prompts’ to get you going. I have a writing friend who has to play a game of Solitaire on her laptop before she can begin to write, and there are many more little rituals that might help get you going:
 a cup of tea/bottle of water/glass of whisky at your side as you begin
10 mins of yoga, stretching, Tai Chi or similar
Try playing music – no singing, the words will get in the way – baroque/classic for heightened thinking,  folk/easy listening for relaxing those muscles – something specific to stimulate production and create that ‘Pavlov effect’
Burn some essencial oils as you write
Start sessions by reading one chapter from a stimulating book
Allow 5 minutes surfing the net – set a timer to make sure you get to work 
Keep a writer’s magazine to hand to dip into
Start with a freewrite (see Number 3 above)

Jessica Hinds
Jessica Hinds, screenwriter, playwright and lyricist 
Learn to tap into your deepest instincts as a writer, and connect to your writing at its creative source. The goal of meditative writing is to return you to that time, when finding your voice as a writer was as easy as being yourself, and raw creativity flowed as effortlessly as inspiration…You’ll learn to banish writer’s block forever…

When you meditate on your writing, you may find you are taken far away from your surroundings. Although you are not asleep, your thoughts have taken predominance over being fully alert, your brain slows into Alpha brain waves. Writing can be achieved before touching a keyboard, when we visit a strange place in our heads and meditate…or visualize things we will want to write about. Writing is the setting down of the words, pictures, and ideas that have already appeared in our head – whether we visualized them only seconds before we touch the keys, or weeks – even years – before we write. Once a writer knows how to access their imagination, transferring their thoughts into writing becomes much easier. 

William Faulkner, Nobel laureate 
“I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” 

Examine your body clock to find out the optimum time for your writing. Now look at the times you’re not ‘needed’ by other people. Ask yourself how you can chose a time, place and length of time to write, by factoring in all the possibilities. Now tell the people you live with, or see frequently, that they must please respect your writing time (and space).

Ernest Hemmingway, novelist, short story writer, and journalist
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next . . . That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it
There are two types of  writer’s block – not being able to start, and not being able to continue. If you follow numbers 1 to 5, you will soon be writing. Then you can start to work with number 6; coming to write at a specific time and place, and going away from your keyboard knowing what you want to say next. Further ways to accomplish that are;
 working to an outline
walking or meditating on what will happen next between writing sessions
reading around 500 words of the last session’s output as you start to write.

Michèle Roberts, novelist and poet
”It's usually because I'm afraid of what I'm writing about. In the case of my second novel I had great difficulty writing about incest, but as soon as I realised what I was scared of, and tuned into that, the block subsided.

You may not be writing something as difficult as Roberts at the moment, but that does not mean to say you aren’t fearful of it. Writing is a terrifying process in itself. We are scared of failure, and when we read our words back to ourselves, we are often shocked at their futility and frightened of ever repeating a process that leads to such despondency. Face the Fear, writers. Bear two things in mind to help overcome it (a) you’re probably being way too hard on your own writing, and (b) so was every writer before you. 

Seven Steps to conquering writer's block, all from people who have written successfully. 
Over to you… Go Write!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Beneath the Tor Revealed in Glastonbury




Some people came by broomstick…
Saturday 27th February, I launched the third in my Shaman Mystery Series, Beneath the Tor, at The Avalon Room in Glastonbury.

Others flew in from Ireland,
or drove from the other side of the UK
I’m please to tell you that it was a blast; everyone had a great time, there was standing room only, and as one attendee said on facebook…Ronald Hutton – and chocolates!

Here are some memories of the event:

Sam: Was great fun. Really enjoyed it. Congratulations. Downloaded the book to my kindle last night. Now just waiting for some peace and quiet to start reading... It may be a while but can't wait!!
Judy: A lovely mix of a fascinating talk, brilliant snatches of reading and a great end with that great singer who entertained us as you were signing your books
Nina, ready to sign Steve's books
Jean: We had a wonderful time. You are amazing.
John: Well done Nina
Lu: Lovely day out in Glastonbury at Nina Milton's fab book launch. 
Claire: Enjoyed seeing you and Jim and the lecture and reading were great.
Sarah: Avalon calling. Just returned from a weekend at magical, mystical Glastonbury. Plugging myself into the spiritual mains, so to speak. A bit of a whirlwind weekend actually, it was great to be at the fab Nina Milton’s book launch on the Saturday afternoon, an excellent talk by Prof Ronald Hutton with acoustic guitar and song by Arthur 'ZZ Birmingham' Billington..
I managed to have an hour of contemplative practice in Chalice Well gardens which reminded me of times gone by ... both joyful and not so joyful. Mixed feelings really. The whole experience served to remind me that wherever we are, the Land is sacred. We do not need to travel to another place to appreciate it. Honour Mother Earth and experience Her delights everywhere!
Steve: Hi we had a great time 
Charlotte: Thanks for making [my children] so welcome - I only hope they left some buffet for everyone else and didn't completely decimate the Ferrero Rochet...Anyway I've already read the book and I blame you entirely for my lack of sleep due to not being able to put it down.
David and Cathryn: had a wonderful time, and I thought the book launch went exceptionally well. I really enjoyed being back in Glastonbury, and I have started 'Beneath the Tor'
Aravis:  That was such a lovely week-end, everything went perfectly, as far as I could see.   I hope you were happy with it.  Thank you very much for inviting me!!  I'm enjoying Beneath the Tor so much I would like more of my friends to get to read it
Vicky and Bob: had a most memorable Glastonbury Experience! Thank you too.
Sue: Arthur ZZ Birmingham rocked the crowd! I thought the roof was gonna lift right off.

If you were there, I hope you are now enjoying Beneath the Tor, or other books from the Shaman Mystery Series. Please remember to write up your review for Amazon, Booklikes or And why not ask your local library to stock them? Finally, having finished with the book, why not pass it on or lend it to a friend? 

But if you weren’t there, you can indulge now in some of what went on during the afternoon. 

Introducing Beneath The Tor…
Nina explained how she’d wanted to write ever since her reception class teacher told the class to write a story and she realized that the lovely books her daddy had been reading her hadn’t just arrived from ‘book heaven’ but were actually written by people!

Ronald Hutton on Shamanism…
Witty, erudite and expansive,
Professor Ronald Hutton talks about shamanism
Ronald Hutton is professor of history at Bristol University and a world authority on paganism. He gave a talk on the history of shamanism, concentrating on how it arrived in the West and was taken up and made obtainable by the great exponents in this country and the US especially. He then very cleverly (well, he is clever!) explained how my books tapped this seam. Readers nowadays like two particular genres of novel; crime fiction and fantastic fiction. By entering Sabbie Dare’s two worlds…as a 30 year old woman faced with dilemmas, worries and, sometimes, danger – and her journeys into the spirit world as a shaman…I have successfully blended the two.  (thank you, Ronald...)

Nina's Readings:

From In the Moors…
Nina Milton reads from her series
“It was awful,” said Cliff. I’d given him a glass of water and he was holding on to it as if it was a healing elixir. The pulps of his fingertips were crushed around it, until the surface of the water trembled and slopped onto his cords jeans.
“Perhaps it will help to describe what happened to you.”
Cliff downed the rest of the water and spent time examining the tumbler, turning it round and round and gazing into it as if it were a crystal ball. His hands were bony at the knuckles, the fingers long and pale… to read more from the book, click here

From Unraveled Visions
The retrieval was unceremonious and without dignity. The woman’s body was winched from Dunball Wharf at 17.13, dripping with sluice-slime. The hip bones shone white against the sun and there were fish swimming in her belly… To read more from this book click here

From  Beneath the Tor…
 “A chivalric slaying,” said Morgan. “It was promised.”
The acolyte had brought them here. It was his plan to find Sabbie Dare. He didn’t expect to witness such distress.
Such magic.
For there he is. Ready for the taking. The Black Knight.
The man in black hurtles down the stairwell. He goes straight past them. A door bangs below.
He can do this. He wants it. First time. A line of cold steel straightens his back. His hands are steady; rock-hard fists…to read more from the book click here

Arthur ‘ZZ Birmingham’
Arthur ZZ Birmingham creating a storm

This is where the party really began! Arthur, blues guitarist extraordinaire, knocked the crowd’s socks off with his wonderful music. Everyone had their foot tapping as he played and sang. Thank you so much Arthur for making the afternoon complete and filled with a great buZZing atmosphere!
Thank you, and goodbye...