In celebration of launching my new ebook ‘The Thinking Writer’s Guide to Writer’s Block’, I’d like to give away a number of copies. If you’d like a free copy, leave a comment on this blog post, or drop me an email via the contact form and let me know where to email it to.
Writer’s block… lack of inspiration… too much procrastination… These things plague the modern writer. ‘The Thinking Writer’s Guide to Writer’s Block’ takes a look at the psychology behind the dreaded block, and offers cognitive and practical methods for dealing with it.
This giveaway is for one week only. So make sure to ask me for your copy by Tuesday 17th July.
In return for your free copy, I would be really appreciative if you could blog or tweet or generally help spread the word about the ebook – but of course, this is up to you. However, if you do decide to pass on the information, be sure to tell your followers that they can get a 20% discount until the end of July with promo code UNBLOCK2012.
For more information about the ebook, visit the shop.
… is that there are no secrets.
You may know that I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed with my writing at the moment. It’s been causing me writer’s block. I started to realise I was experiencing this when I would meet up with friends (or go to the hairdresser, or visit a relative) and someone would ask me how the novel was going. And I hadn’t worked on it since the last time I saw them, so I would say ‘Oh, you know, slowly but surely. Work has been taking priority recently.’
Being aware of my paralysis hasn’t helped. It only made me more anxious since I was more aware of the lack of words being written.
That’s when I decided to do some serious research into writer’s block. It was amazing the things I discovered. There are so many crappy blog posts and articles that offer quick-fix solutions that don’t work. Go for a walk. Write with a pen instead of a laptop. Just force yourself to write. Get up an hour earlier every day.
These things do not help. They do not address the underlying issues that prevent writing.
The more useful advice was about creating a writing habit, a routine, a small daily target, etc. But even these things weren’t quite enough. They still couldn’t get me over that initial hurdle.
So I dug a little deeper. I created a survey and ask other people about their experiences with writer’s block. I looked into psychology, and in-depth studies into different types of creative block and different methods for overcoming them. I looked into the factors that make things like habit and routine work, and the proven ways for implementing them. I looked into different perspectives on fear and procrastination and time management. That’s when things started getting more interesting. The chaos started forming into discernible patterns. It became manageable.
And I decided that after spending hours researching all of this, I would gather together the most useful information into an ebook, to help other writers in my position. Ironically, I wrote 10k words in two weeks. After a few days of formatting, I am now happy to present to you: ‘The Thinking Writer’s Guide to Writer’s Block.’
After years of developing this site, it the first item to be added to my newly created ‘Shop‘, and is available for just £4.99. This includes two printable ‘don’t break the chain’ calendars, a printable workbook, and a ’10 Writing Habits of Famous Authors’ document for interest and inspiration. And to thank you for being a reader of my blog, I’m offering you a 20% discount if you use the promo code ‘UNBLOCK2012′ (expires 31st July 2012), which lowers the price to about £3.99.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a ‘quick fix’ type of thing. I’m still using the ideas and methods I discuss in the ebook to help me out of my writing hole. But I’m feeling more positive about it. I feel more equipped with knowledge and strategies. I’m getting there. These things are starting to work. I hope they can work for you, too, if you ever have the misfortune of falling victim to the dreaded block.
(Image source: http://incalius.deviantart.com/art/Just-Another-Brick-In-the-Wall-125065404)
Pop over to Vanessa Gebbie’s blog where she’s interviewed me about my creative writing critiquing service. It was really good to get into some depth about the process, aims and background of Inkspill Critiques.
What are Inkspill’s strengths when it comes to evaluating and giving feedback on a piece of work?
The Guardian recently hosted a discussion lead by several creative professionals about what it means to be an artist living in today’s society. Offering advice and sharing experiences, much of the discussion can be applied to any struggling creative. Here are the highlights:
1. Be in it for the long haul
“You’ve got to be in it for the long haul; making connections, understanding your own art practice and making a meaningful contribution all take time, risk and learning from mistakes. Project Management isn’t taught in art schools but most of the time professional artists are doing this anyway by trial and error.” – Pippa Koszerek, artist and curator
As a professional creative, you must wear many hats. It isn’t just about the creative work: you also have to be your own manager. This is often something less intuitive to creatives, and is not particularly taught on academic creative courses.
There are so many aspects to this side of the creative career, and all of them take time to learn and build. Don’t get disheartened. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – it is better to get something wrong and learn from it than to never try for fear of failure.
Keep steadily plugging away, and soon you will realise that you’ve created a network, opened doors to opportunities, learnt how to manage your time and resources, and built up a meaningful portfolio.
2. Make connections
“The age old tradition of ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ still remains an employment mantra, even for young artists.” - Rosie Percy, The Guardian
From my own experience, I know this to be true. Tapping the ‘hidden market’ can open up so many more opportunities than trailing websites and jobs pages and applying for projects that hundreds – if not thousands – of others are grappling for.
By making connections, you are not only making personal links with other creatives and professionals who can share and support you in your creative plights, but your communication can open up opportunities for collaboration or recommendation. This type of ‘people sourcing’ is often a company’s first port of call before they splash out time, money and effort on national job vacancy marketing.
You can make connections by attending conferences, workshops, exhibitions, etc, and get chatting. But web presence is equally important. It goes without saying. Social networking sites, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, are perfect for professional and creative networking.
By seeing what others are up to, and being open about your own projects, you open yourself up to discussion, which often leads to meaningful connections. Having your own regularly updated website or blog is also an important aspect of your online presence – it provides an easily accessible place for your newly made connections to find out more about you and your projects. Showcase your knowledge, passion and portfolio via your website.
3. Be your own intern
“[Use] your work experience and [put] together a proposal to fund an idea or initiative of your own.” – Rosalind Davis, artist, writer, lecturer and curator
“If you’re going to work for no pay, then work for yourself and for your own benefit, or in a group of artists for the mutual benefit of you all… not for somebody who’ll just replace you with another unpaid intern after they’re done with you.” - Alistair Gentry, writer and artist
I cannot agree more.
There are too many unpaid internships that take advantage of desperate graduates in an over-saturated market. Though internships have their places – you can make great connections and gain valuable experience – some companies see interns simply as a source of free labour.
Furthermore, unpaid internships are always unfair. Most people simply cannot afford to do them, unless they have external support. When it comes down to it, unless a parent or guardian can support the intern financially, there is no way an unpaid intern can support themselves. It is a bias system that favours the priviledged.
But, never fear, there is an alternative. Create your own internship. You are a creative after all. What can you do that will increase your experiences and knowledge base, without becoming a slave to the non-wage?
This is something I have done myself. I set up my own literary magazine and, before that, used print on demand technology to create an anthology for an online writing forum. Those projects, that I managed myself, gave me an edge in my first interview for a job in publishing – and I got the job. I could have equally spent weeks of my life in an unpaid magazine internship – that is, if I even got the intern position in such a competitive industry – photocopying and stapling papers in the corner.
Use your noodle, be creative, and gain experience on your own terms, for your own benefit.
4. Supplement your creativity with a regular (part time) job
“In terms of passion, keep looking at art, keep going onwards with your work, keep talking to artists and do not get a full time job in a non art field! Too soon that reliable income becomes a reason for you not making your art.” – Rosalind Davis
“The Arts are notorious for not paying well. I really enjoy working in the arts sector to support my artistic practice, however there are a lot of benefits to having a regular part-time job. Other industries pay much more and artists have so many transferable skills.” – Pippa Koszerek
For a lot of creatives, the main motivation is not the money. How could it be? But saying that, creatives still need to eat and pay the bills. You may never make enough money to live off of from your creative work. It’s a sad truth. And if you do end up with an income which enables you to work creatively full time, you will probably have already invested a lot of unpaid time and effort (see points 1, 2 and 3!)
So, the solution to this will probably inevitably be a paid job – possibly relating directly or indirectly to your creative projects, but perhaps not. However, it is important to keep your main creative goals in perspective. Don’t get stuck in the rat race. Keep being inspired.
5. Not enjoying it? You’re doing it wrong!
“If you’re suffering for your art or trying to become an artist is tearing your psyche or your life apart, you’re doing it wrong. I’m constantly trying to disabuse aspiring artists or art students of the romantic notion that you sacrifice your life at the altar of art until such time as a gallerist rides by on a white horse to sweep you up because your art is so awesomely essential.” – Alistair Gentry
The cliche of the suffering artist is so last century. Creatives are empowered people, going against the social grain and filling their lives with meaning. At least, that’s the plan.
If you’re not enjoying your work, or you’re not enjoying the lack of money (see point 4), maybe this life isn’t for you. There’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in trying something out before you realise it’s not what you want to do. Life is too short to strive so hard for something that you have a mental breakdown.
On the other hand, you have to be responsible for your own creative career. You have to act positively and fight for what you believe in. No one ever said it would be easy. Just don’t let it get you down.
6. Understand your motivations and the concept of funding
“If you want to be an artist, then ask yourself, is my work sustainable? Am I going to have to beg others for money for the rest of my life? Do I want to make work that people want to see, or am I going to make work that nobody except an elite group of awardees will ever see?” – ‘SpeaktotheHand’
“There is an essential argument that not all art should be popular – not because it isn’t good, but perhaps because it is challenging accepted norms or making a controversial or difficult statement. The second related argument is about the academic and intellectual capacity of art; if your work is positioned is a place where you are effectively adding to new knowledge – academic PhD level, for example – where you are building on work that has been made before you at an extremely high level – it isn’t likely to popular with a majority. But it may well be very highly regarded, extremely worthwhile, even move the field on and become part of the canon.
“Public funding exists to ensure this kind of work (and other “non commercial”) can be made: it’s for the public benefit in terms of the national ability to contribute to universal and/or international debates/issues/fields of knowledge.” – Dany Louise, freelancer working with artists and arts organisations
“One of the Arts Council’s prime criteria for grants was and is that there is an identified and genuine audience for the work. So ‘nobody is interested’ is also wrong… And just to state the obvious: professional artists also pay taxes.” – Alistair Gentry
Lots of quotes here, but I think they raise issues in an important debate. Firstly, as a creative, your motivations will effect your work priorities, and how you go about your work. Do you want to provide projects for mass public consumption? Do you want to make as much money as you can from a project? Do you want to challenge social archetypes? Do you want to contribute to new academic research?
The answers to these questions will inform another important question: Am I able to get funding? Should I be able to receive such funding? Why?
Even if a project qualifies for funding, there is not enough to go around. Public arts cuts have dramatically effected the creative industries and this, too, must factor into your thought process and your artistic motivations. Important points to consider – with no right or wrong answer.
A lot to think about, and a lot to do. But perhaps the most important thing to remember is this:
There is no set path to creative success. Everyone will have a different journey based on their intentions, motivations, talent, personality, medium and connections. Oh, and you might want to take a walk in a field and keep your eye out for a four leafed clover. ‘Cause not matter how hard you work, you’re still going to need some luck.
Titles are extremely important when it comes to pitching your work to agents and editors. Literary agent Karoline Sutton (of Curtis Brown) even went so far as to say that she could sell a novel on a title alone if it was awesome enough. A fantastic title can add thousands of pounds onto an author advance, she says.
Why? Because a great title is one of the main ways a novel gets noticed, gets picked up in a bookshop, which then (hopefully) leads to a sale. When there are over 120,000 books being published each year in the UK alone (not including self-published books)*, you need something that helps you stand out from the crowd.
Here are some more tips from Karolina (she really is a wealth of information) specifically on writing great novel titles:
- Pay attention to trends and fashions. Don’t wait to be atthe end; be at the start of a trend, or ahead of it!
- Don’t be too abstract. Concrete titles give us a strong hint towards what the novel is about, or its main theme(s).
- One word titles (with or without ‘The’) are popular and definitive. For example: Room by Emma Donoghue; The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
- Longer phrases are also popular. For example: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
- The title must reflect the tone of the book. Only give your novel a bold and quirky title if it is a bold a quirky book.
- If your friends can’t remember the title of your novel a week after you’ve told them, you haven’t got a very good title!
And here are a few of my own tips on coming up with titles:
- Scribble down words and phrases related to the subject matter and theme of your novel.
- Keep an eye out for phrases in literature or lines of poems which could serve as a title (or inspiration).
- If you are writing for a specific genre, research the type of title that is often used.
- Don’t worry if you discover that your title has already been taken: titles aren’t subjected to copyrighting. However, be aware of the downsides of this.
- It’s useful to have a working title in mind while you are writing as it keeps you focused on your novel’s core.
- Don’t worry too much about coming up with the perfect title. An agent will help you with this, and a publishing house’s marketing division usually has the final say anyway. Of course, if you come up with an awesome title from the outset, there’ll be less chance that the publishers will want to change it.
So the moral of the story is: if you can, try your best to come up with the most brilliantly awesome title that’s ahead of the trend… But don’t worry too much.
Do you have any tips on writing novel titles that I’ve not included here? Where have you found your best titles? What’s your idea of a great title?*Morgan, Nicola, Write to be Published, Snowbooks, 2011