Fearing the Blank Page

I’m going to admit that, recently, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to write. Not only that, but I’ve noticed a distinct aversion to the task. The thought of writing at the moment fills my being with emotions akin to disgust: whatever words I may write, they are despicable and unworthy. Somewhere along the line I’ve lost the magic of writing – the freedom and joy that creating something from scratch can allow.

Not only this, but I can’t figure out why it is that I’m struggling. It seems that for unknowable reasons, right now, I do not want to write.

Except, of course, that I do.

daring

I’m a writer. It’s in my soul. I love finding stories in words, imagining characters and bringing them to life on the page, putting them in challenging situations and seeing what happens. The very idea that I am capable of doing this tugs on the corner of my lips and convinces me to smile. I adore storytelling. Yet, at the moment, the act of putting words on the page in any type of meaningful order seems to repel me.

So I have to invent ways to enjoy writing again. I need to take the pressure off; to go back to basics and rediscover what it means to write for myself. This might means competition deadlines must be put aside and their themes forgotten. Right now, I need the freedom to explore words in whatever form they come and not feel the need to shoehorn them into something they are not. To help me do this, I’ve decided on a few ‘easy’ exercises I hope will stimulate some creativity.

1. Go back to a simple expectation that I really only have to ‘write one sentence a day. Just one sentence a day. Everyday. How easy is that?’
2. Attempt an activity Rosie Garland reveals as one of her creative rituals:
“ I…write six images. What a snail looks like climbing up a leaf, what it felt like to stub your toe. I do it every morning without fail, if miss one I do a catch up session later.”
3. Remember that I write because I want to, not because I should.
4. Keep this in mind [Thanks goes to Rosie for putting things into perspective]:

blank page quote

Hopefully, by next week I will be able to report that my fondness for writing has returned, or at least that my skills are developing once more and I will no longer be afraid of that blank page. It’s been such a long time since I faced the dreaded blinking cursor that I’d forgotten how intimidating it can be and how fear of having no ideas can often prevent us from developing any new ideas.

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What do you do when you don’t feel like writing? “Feel the fear and do it anyway?” Or admit you might need more time and calmly wait it out?
Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me


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A Letter to My Dearly Departed Dog

Dearest Mac,

I miss you. It’s only been two months since you disappeared over Rainbow Bridge, a journey I sent you out on alone because you were no longer able to enjoy this life as you once had done. It was a difficult decision, but living with the consequences of such a choice has been much harder.

I miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and your sleepy little face waking up so pleased to see me; the sound of your paws on the laminate flooring, scraping and tapping away when you got up before I did. I miss the soft depth of your fur as I scratched behind your ears, watching the grin spread across your face and your head tilt further toward me, entranced by the bliss of my fingers massaging your head. I miss your smell; that musty, deep aroma that I used to breathe in whenever I came home after work: to me it meant that the wait was over, that it was time to play, that we were united again.

Jpeg

I remember moaning whenever I was tired and I had to take you out in the rain, except, once we were out braving the weather together – you in your coat and me in mine – it was peaceful and energising. I always came back home feeling better than when we left. I recall your little trot instead of a walk and how you would bound about instead of run; your happy, swaying movements portrayed genuine joy and that could only ever make me smile. I remember coming home from work angry, when things hadn’t gone to plan or someone had let me down, and there you were, waiting to cheer me up, to make me forget the worries of the outside world because when we were together nothing else mattered to you, or to me.

There is a space beneath my desk now, where you used to rest beside my feet as I wrote. The corner where your bed used to be is clear and I don’t believe anything will ever fill that space again, not like you. The hook where your leads and collars and coats used to hang are empty now, the novelty dog tail still – there will be no more wags from you. The house is quiet without your footsteps, tapping along the hall, and no gentle snoring accompanies my daily chores although the silence echoes just as loud.

The largest void remains in my heart when I think of how essential you were to my life. At home you were my shadow and now no companion waits for me outside the bathroom door, as excited to see me after my two minute break than if I had been gone for hours. You were the reason I stopped to talk to people as we walked, and grew to know my neighbours. And when I struggled with my health you expected nothing but my love, and judged me not for the things I could not do but for the simplest gestures of attention that were all I could manage on a bad day. You helped me push through my boundaries and commit to the things I loved to do. In this way you were my inspiration, my muse and my champion; each day marked by those three walks we took that structured each one.

Jpeg

I’ve stopped writing now. It isn’t the same without you here. There will always be something missing whenever I sit down at my desk and prepare to write. There is no impetus to roll out of bed, no thoughtful morning walk or happy playful times. My feet remain cold as I sit here and the room is quiet, and I have no encouraging eyes to look upon when I come to a blank moment. There is no end to the torture of that blank page that I am now to face alone; no hopeful face looking up at me to remind me that it’s time to stop and take a break. And there are no silly celebrations when I do finally find the words; no squeaky toys to watch you chase or treats for you to find. My writing world is ‘blah’ without you in it and I find myself at a loss to continue with it now you’re gone.

Instead I write to you, my faithful rescue dog, who knew how to make me smile when I was down and calm me when I despaired. You gave your whole self to me and I had to let you go. And the pain is still so raw, my home too empty and quiet, and my heart broken.

Yours Forever and More,
Cat x

Writing that dreaded Synopsis

I think putting together a synopsis for a novel is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for ‘new’ writers. I am certainly finding it very difficult. How am I expected to sum up a story that it has already taken me around 90,000 words to tell in only a page or two?

There are numerous methods and techniques out in the either of the web that can help you write a synopsis, and most of these are centred around the various basic story structures that should come together to form a novel.

The basics of a good story...

The basics of a good story…

Here are a few that I’ve been finding useful*:

  • If you need to be taken through every step – maybe because you aren’t clear on your plot, or like to be thorough – try How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy. This is a Seven Step Programme that will help you identify all of the key points for both the emotional aspects and main arc of your plot
  • If you feel that you have a good grasp of your story and characters, Synopsis Writing Made Easy by James Scott Bell might be better for you. This is a good paragraph by paragraph guide to synopsis writing that starts out with the premise of your novel in just one sentence!
  • I also really like How to Write a One-Page Synopsis, written by Amanda Patterson. This is a great, quick reference to the synopsis writing process – providing you know your main plot points.
  • Finally, I had an excellent recommendation from a friend – actually, my new critique partner, – who has been struggling with a synopsis herself recently. She suggested I check out Dan Wells’ Seven Point Story Structure, recommended by the Self Publishing Toolkit. Not only do they offer worksheets to get you started, but Dan also has some awesome videos on YouTube (Part 1/5 here).
    Having read my friend’s brilliant synopsis yesterday this technique most definitely works.

* It should be noted that if you’re writing a synopsis for querying always check the submission guidelines to see what the agent/publisher expects. 

The biggest issue I have is that my novel doesn’t conform to the standard story structure. The story does – but the novel itself does not. Whilst I have my main story arc (written in 3rd person) between this there are three instances of 1st person story flashbacks from different characters – all of which also have their own story structure included.

Therefore, as it stands, I officially have four stories in one. Writing a standard synopsis, therefore, doesn’t really sum up my novel as a whole. In order to get around this, I’m going to have to play around a little longer with different techniques and see what works best. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that at least it’s not as complex as Cloud Atlas – for which I discovered this basic synopsis.

Once I’ve got a version I’m happy with I’ll be sharing my new synopsis here so you can see how I got on. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the plot of my novel, check out my current ‘book blurb’ on my Novel’s Page.

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Have you struggled writing a synopsis, or did you breeze though it? Any tips or links would be gratefully received via comments. Or, alternatively, Tweet something for my attention @CatLumb

The long winding road of how to be a writer…

Squeezing in time to write can sometimes be the biggest barrier to actually getting anything written. Most of us have busy lives and a list of priorities that other people can often depend on. Fortunately, right now I am lucky enough to not be in such a category.

Over the past three years I’ve had to rearrange my responsibilities quite drastically thanks to contracting a virus in 2009 that left me with M.E. (more commonly recognised as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’). Since then I have had to simplify my life. I was off sick for a number of months (and then off sick repeatedly over a number of weeks), and for a short time I could barely leave my apartment because I couldn’t be sure I’d have the energy to get back – even though I might only be considering a journey to the shop around the corner.

It was in this time I came to the realisation that I had always wanted to write, but never actually gotten around to do any real writing. I re-read some of my old journals, during which I digested pages and pages of promises to write, desire to create stories and even ideas that I planned to put down on paper…eventually. But, until 2011, nothing had come of it.

In 2011 I started to get better. Now, this disability isn’t one that has a typical course of treatment followed by a recovery time. M.E. can plague people for a lifetime, or it can slowly fade away only to reappear at another time. Here, again, I am one of the lucky ones. The methods I was advised to put in place to aid my body in the healing process worked for me. For others, this is not the case. As such, I was able to get back to work (and fortunately I had a workplace that had decent Occupational Health support and a Disability Office to advise me), and get my life back on track for the most part.

Now, that’s not to say I resumed my old life and picked up where things had left off. It was my old life that had gotten me into the mess in the first place. I was a high achiever, a perfectionist, a people-pleaser. I rarely said ‘No’ to anything asked of me and I thrived on deadlines and challenges. As it was, I also enjoyed the pride of a job well done and the glow of recognition and congratulation it brought me. But I didn’t have time to write. What do you know – pride does come before a fall!

So, when I started to recover from the overwhelming tirade of symptoms that characterised M.E. (surprisingly, it’s not just being tired all the time, there are a whole host of other doozies that just serve to tire you out even more!), I promised myself that I wouldn’t repeat history. This time I would try; not for everyone else, not for the adulation, but for me. I consistently wrote that I wanted to write – well, that I would.

And so the blog was born! I threw myself into writing, even though I hated what I wrote. It was sloppy, it didn’t read well, it was full of clichés and stereotypes: but I was writing! Then I discovered NaNoWriMo and I set to the challenge with cautious gusto. I struggled through it and got my ‘win’ – and also one third of a first draft novel that it would take me a whole year to complete. But I had done it.

And you know how? By keeping that promise to myself and by putting into practice all the things I learned when I was recovering from my M.E.:

  1. Pace Yourself
  2. Plan Ahead
  3. Moderation
  4. Delegation
  5. Only give 80% (actually, this was 10% when I first started recovering – I had to work up to this slowly!)
  6. Maintain Hope
  7. Ask for Help

Advice for those with M.E. is to relinquish control. Stop doing all those things that people expect of you and just do the things that are important. For me, for a while, that meant being signed off sick rather than struggling into work. This also meant that I had to ask for help and share out what needed doing to other people. It was the same at home, I wasn’t capable of most of the household chores, so they were delegated to my partner. Even now I have only done the washing up a handful of times this year because it is one of the tasks I abhor and it used to set off my ME symptoms.

Number 5. also gave me a lot of trouble. I was used to throwing myself into things at 120% – in fact, that is what people expected of me, so it was even harder to give that up. But I discovered that I could still do much of what was needed without having to exhaust myself in the process. I held back. I stopped when I was tired. I started to say ‘No’ when I knew I couldn’t commit to something. I was forced to plan ahead and schedule my time wisely – not for other people, but for myself.

Hence, I created more time for my writing. I re-prioritised my entire life. I changed the way people reacted to me because I clearly stated what my boundaries were. I did what I knew I could, when I knew I could do it. And it’s the same with writing.

For those without M.E. who perhaps have better reserves of energy, writing might be something that they feel they have to fit in around their busy life. They might slot it in sometime between waking up and getting to work, or getting home and going to bed. They might start to question whether or not it’s worth it to write because they can’t give it their full attention, or because what they write doesn’t seem very good.

Well…if that’s the case: do what I did and change the way you approach it. I’m not advising that you should shrug off all your responsibilities and go wild with your word count, but it needs to be prioritised higher than some other things sometimes.

I know that every day I must write…not because I ‘should’ but because I want to dedicate some time to that which I love doing. To ensure that I get to do this I schedule my responsibilities around it. I give an hour to this task, twenty minutes to that task. I plan my days off as much as I would plan my work day – assigning time frames and task lists to ensure that I don’t go overboard and forget to accomplish my priorities and meet my targets. But I only do what I need to…because I also need to write.

I guess the point to my long rambling here is that I have learnt that writing is something to be taken seriously. In order to be a writer then I had to commit to it just like anything else. I had to practice and prioritise it. This doesn’t always mean giving more time to it – because time is a limiting factor that you can’t change – but it does mean that when you do give it time, you focus on writing and nothing else.

Don’t think of it as squeezing writing between waking up and getting to work; be proud that you are prioritising your writing time, and classify it as such. Label it your writing time – and don’t let anything get in the way of it. Don’t relegate it to the bottom of the list.

If it’s important to you, it’s important

If you want to be a writer. BE a writer. Don’t ever apologise for wanting to follow your dreams.