Some favourite characters save a writer from the block.. A story in two Acts. Act Two.
I’m writing this part a couple of months after the first ‘Act’ So can apply some further hindsight to this process. Whilst this did provide an impetus for getting things moving and prompted a re-start on some stalled projects they still remain unfinished.
So this approach is one method that provided a temporary boost. But the holy grail for a writer is getting to the point of not having to rely on one big fix to solve a blocker. That ‘Silver Bullet’ is how to make writing a habit.
It seems like the simple truth is just putting in the work and making writing a routine.
You’ll find this advice from prolific writer like Stephen King in his seminal book ‘on writing’.
I’ve also recently finished reading ‘The Power of Habit’ By Charles Duhigg which gives some fascinating insights into the formation and changing of habits which you can apply to any part of your life including writing
And think about those times when you were at School or University on a deadline. Isn’t it amazing how the night before a paper was due the words flowed majestically from your fingers?
“Only amateurs have time to obsess to the point of frustration. Professionals have continual deadlines — they learn to put out their best work and move on.” – Stefanie Flaxman
A trap many of us fall into is ‘waiting for inspiration’ or to be in the right frame of mind etc. Most likely from memories of times when you’d been inspired, and you don’t need any encouragement.
This is where the trope of ‘The writer as an Athlete’ feels cliched and tired. But like all the best cliché’s is founded in a universal truth. Train yourself to do the work. And keep doing the work even if it’s hard. Even if you don’t feel like it because over time those habits will stick and you will achieve so much more than if you waited for a magical fix.
Extending this athlete metaphor there’s some great advice here in this piece by Kelton Reid on writing rituals of pro writers. These ‘pre-game rituals’ can be a powerful basis of the right habits and if they work for pro’s….
It reminds me of a ritual of one of my own favourite authors from my childhood, Roald Dahl. At around 10 am he would make his way down the garden to the hut and sharpen six yellow pencils using an electric pencil sharpener. He would brush the shavings away using an old, inscribed clothes brush which he had kept from his childhood boarding school days. His yellow legal writing pads were specially imported from America.
Photo of Roald Dahl From DailyMail UK story found here.
When all of the pencils needed to be sharpened again he knew that he had written for a couple of hours and it was time for lunch. After a light lunch, he would often indulge in another of his passions, a bet on the horses before having a nap and returning to the hut for another two-hour writing session in the afternoon.
“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult
So my takeaways from ‘Act Two’. Set yourself up for success. What are the times you can protect most easily to give you the space to create? Protect them.
What are the rituals you can get into that prompt you to get into a flow?
What are the small bitesize pieces of work you can do to give you something to get started on, move your work along and feel a sense of accomplishment?
How do you recognize when you need to work on something like a background task. i.e how many times have you struggled with a problem, taken a break/slept on it. And resolved it in super quick time when you returned to it?
Can you recognize these times?
And if you get stuck on one thing. Can you move onto another that you can do to keep your momentum?
Read up on habit formation. It’s the difference from being someone who identifies as a writer vs someone who identifies as a person who writes for x amount of time x days a week.
And if you’ve read this far and are a writer I would love to know how you’ve got on and what has worked for you.
If you’ve read this far and are an artist looking for a project. Again I might have something for you…