The New Writer’s Room

Her back to the view, the new writer faces a blank wall. ‘Imagination must meet memory in the dark’, Annie Dillard wrote, ‘appealing workplaces must be avoided.’ And so despite the fresh new space which has been created just for her, a space crying out for colour and attention, the new writer assumes the position, fingers poised, no chance of a colourful distraction.

Behind her the Australian sky is raging with activity. A flock of birds flying in formation, their military precision wasted on the unseeing eye. Butterflies dance around the forgotten but persistent lemon tree. They may as well be pinned in a museum drawer, for the new writer is desperately trying to adhere to a routine, a strictness brought on by unfamiliarity.

Her time has been planned, organised down to the last full stop. An hour to ponder a character in her not-yet-started novel. An hour to peruse magazines to which she will submit as yet unwritten articles. An hour to map her thoughts on a bestselling book idea. An hour to trawl writing blogs for snippets of brilliance and good advice.

She resists the urge to turn and look at the clock on the wall. She is afraid the day outside will betray her determination to stay inside and write. She is concerned that one glimpse of the blue sky will destroy her resolve to remain a prisoner in her new room.

It is ironic that the plain and ordinary box the room was originally designed to be was forbidden by the local building planner. For reasons known only to the bureaucrat and his rubber stamp, the room had to be redesigned.

It now resembled an old cottage attic perhaps, or a French garret room. Its ceiling is angled and raked, the many junctions throwing the light in corners where there should have been none. It is a much more romantic and tortured room than the plain and ordinary box the room was meant to be.

It is perfect for the new writer to begin her craft.

But the silence is distracting, the bareness of the wall diverting. The new writer is not used to the blank canvas of time and space this new room affords her. She is used to the colour and energy of her young children. She is used to stealing moments of time at her computer propped on the kitchen table between the crayons and the half eaten apples. This new space is altogether too pure and her mind is drawing a blank.

The new writer stands and reluctantly leaves her room. She leaves behind her space of supposed work, creativity and inspiration and heads downstairs to her world of family and chaos. The house is quiet though, her children and husband allowing her today to write undisturbed, to begin her new life alone. Her fingers lightly brush the kitchen table, still covered with unfinished breakfast and half read newspapers. The corner where she sat to write for so long, the corner of the kitchen table she could not wait to escape, is now just an ordinary corner heaped high with papers, a precarious pile of glittered and decorated offerings.

The words flowed from that kitchen table. She can still hear the words bouncing around the room, words about the trials and tribulations of being a mother, the pains of parenting, the small gifts given to us in the form of first steps and new experiences. The words overflow and fill the room. But the new writer knows that those words were amateur, proffering little more than snippets of news she shared with family and friends afar, vignettes of vanity, her motherly pride sometimes getting the better of her. Those words were not the utterances of a real writer.

The silence is even lonelier downstairs in the rooms normally filled with the laughter and noise of children, so the new writer feels drawn to the sterility of the haven provided upstairs. Time seems to operate on a new dimension in the writer’s new room. Where once her fingers would fly across the keyboard and the words would form themselves on the screen before she had even seen them in her mind, now the words were stuck and she struggled to find them, hiding as they were in the recesses of her imagination. Where once she had to snatch five minutes of time to write, now the prospect of a day alone in her attic cell petrified her.

Many sacrifices were made so that the new writer could call herself that. Paid work was abandoned, and along with it the monetary and social rewards that came with it. The risk of starting again was not just on the shoulders of the one who was making the changes but on all the family. Being back at the starting line in middle age brought with it the very real risk of staying there.

And so the new writer returns to her writing room and once again assumes the position. She wonders whether the new technology is stifling her creativity and toys with the idea of nib and ink, or at least an old typewriter. She stares forward at the blank wall waiting for inspiration to come. Shadows dancing in the corner of her eye threaten to distract her. She must not be diverted, she is a new writer with a dream. Her new room is jeopardising her ability to concentrate and she has the very real concern that she will not succeed as a writer, and the world will soon discover that she is in fact a fraud.

The shadows in the corner of her eye call up a chorus, assaulting her concentration and rendering her incapable of writing. She turns to face her accusers, ready to admit that she is not a writer, that this was all a reverie. The wall in front of her is dotted with framed pages and she stands to examine them more closely. Her name springs from each of them, her name in print. These are her completed works, letters and stories, articles and competition pieces, all published, all framed. They are the only decoration to adorn the otherwise bare walls in her new writing room, the only ornamentation allowed in this hallowed space. They were a gift from her old self to her new dream, to inspire and encourage. They were never meant to deny her the opportunity to become all that she desired.

As she gazes upon her name, she finally sees what has always been clear: she has always been a writer. It is just the room that is new.

 

 

 

The Question with No Answer

A lot of people lately have been asking ‘how my writing is going?’ They sidle up to me at parties, or over lunch or in the playground at school, and ask with genuine curiosity.

Unless people are following my blogs or subscribed to my articles at WeekendNotes, it would seem that there is a big silence coming from my writing desk. And they would be correct.

Not a lot is happening – nothing to write about, so to speak – hence my absence here recently.

A lot of writing seems to be waiting.

Waiting for inspiration to strike. Waiting for someone to contact me to say one of my many pitches has been accepted. Waiting for the next big thing…

It’s all very passive, and unless you are really motivated, it would be too easy to spend most of your writing life waiting for things to fall into your lap.

At any one time I have multiple articles and book submissions out in the world. I would like to think they’re just about to fall in front of my future editor, someone who will be grabbed by my opening line, who can’t put it down until they get to the very last word, who any minute now will be reaching for the telephone to contact me.

Or perhaps my submissions have already been glanced over, and consigned to the virtual rubbish bin, and the only sign I will get is a beep in my phone indicating that the three month (or six month) ‘waiting’ period is up, and it’s time to submit somewhere else.

A lot of writing is waiting and silence.

But I am not sitting around in a festy glum. Not all the time anyway. I am off to Sydney soon for a masterclass in children’s literature, where I hope to hone one of my stories to a more polished level, so that when I next submit it, I might get that phone call instead of the silence.

How to Unblock Bloggers Block

Feast or famine.

Flood or drought.

Inspiration or desperation.

Do these sound familiar to you? As writers, do you find that it’s all or nothing when it comes to your writing?

People who have been reading my other blog Relentless over the years can see that I tend to write in spurts, and can either publish a number of posts in a relatively short period of time, or my blog comes to resemble the literary equivalent of an abandoned Old West town, with spinifex rolling across the screen.

I recently attended some workshops at the Perth Writer’s Festival and found just being in a room of writers was enough to get my writing mojo back. I have been thinking about what inspires me as a blogger so here are my top tips for unblocking bloggers block. If you’re a novelist, click here for my top tips for unblocking writers block.

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During times of feast, prepare for the famine

When things are going well and the ideas are coming thick and fast, write them down. Keep a single book with all your writing ideas, even if you write in different genres. When times are good you probably won’t have enough hours in the day to act on everything, so leave them (with sufficient details and notes) so that when you are blocked you can go back and look at previous ideas.

What worked before, might work again

Look through your stats and see what has been popular in the past. What have been your five most read posts? Try and figure out what was special about those pieces – what made them resonate with readers? Was it the content or the format? Was it funny or thought-provoking, controversial or sad. Find what your readers respond to and write more like that.

Sometimes the answers for future posts can be found in your readers’ comments. See what people have responded to, and find out if they have asked any questions about you or your post.

Similarly, why not write a follow-up post about one of your popular articles or a Part II, like this follow-up to The Brutal Truth About the Third Child which ended up winning a writing competition at Parent Express.

Change it up

If you have an idea for a post but for whatever reason it’s not working try changing perspective. Perhaps you always write from the first person, but this time it’s not flowing. Pretend to be your child, your dog or a stranger writing about the same thing.

If you can’t change perspective then play with the format – rather than a straight story from your own point of view, write a letter or make a list. ‘Top 10 reasons why…’ posts tend to be popular as well as any list article that claims to be the ‘best of’.

There is a degree is universalism in these types of posts, the title gives the impression that they are relevant to a wider community, and isn’t simply a story about you.  What would you rather read: ‘My horrible day at the shopping centre’ or ‘Ten reasons why taking your toddler to the shops is bound to end in tears?’

Figure out what brings readers to your blog

Most blogging platforms offer easy stats programs which will tell you what search terms people have used before ending up on your blog. For Relentless at the moment they tend to be terms like: ‘advice on having baby number 3’, ‘planning for baby number 3’, ‘should I have a third child’ and my favourite ‘how should I tell my husband we’re having baby number 3’ (while offering him a stiff drink, dear).

While it is interesting to find out what random terms brought people to your blog by mistake, it is also a great tool to see what your readership are actively searching for. Why not offer them what they are looking for.

Based on the search terms people use before they come across Relentless I could easily write a series of posts dedicated to specific questions about having three kids: “How to tell your husband you want three kids”, “What happens when you want three kids and he doesn’t” or “How to prepare for the third child”.

All really good ideas I don’t have time for right now, so I will write them in my ideas book (see point 1).

Be a thief in the night

There is no copyright on ideas, I was told once during a writing workshop. While I wouldn’t advocate merely pinching someone’s idea carte blanche (that’s boring), I certainly think that finding inspiration in other writers’ posts is fair game.

When you read something that makes you feel happy/sad/angry/motivated ask yourself WHY did this evoke such a reaction? Now figure out how you can take that reaction and write your own post. Have they left any part of this story untold? Is there another side of the story? Could you tell your own version?

Sometimes it might be the title of the post that strikes a chord: write it in your book, give it some times to marinate and then begin your own post. It might (and should) be an entirely different article than the one from which you got your inspiration, but now at least you’re over your bloggers block.

What other ideas do you have for overcoming bloggers block?

The Wall

It’s been ages since I sat down to write a post for my writers blog. I think about this website all the time. After all, this is more me than Relentless: it has my name on it. I should be working on it regularly, pimping myself, polishing myself. But I don’t, I let it slide.

My problem, in a nutshell, is that I lack discipline.

This isn’t probably something I should admit to in public, not when one of the goals of shannonmeyerkort.com is to showcase my work and abilities as a writer to potential employers and publishers.

But another goal of this blog is to be upfront and honest about life as a writer: its failings and its unmentionables. Writing is a hard slog, often with few tangible rewards.

I am halfway through a Post-graduate Diploma of Professional Writing at Curtin University. I undertake a single unit a semester so that I may still have time for my other writing and more importantly, be there for my children. During term, most of my writing time tends to be focussed on my university assignments. Other writing, such as Relentless and my articles over at WeekendNotes tend to suffer.

And then I reach that point. For this unit, that point is about 3,300 words into a 5,000 word essay. The wall.

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It’s not writers block. I know what I need to write, and how to finish the essay. It’s just rather than sitting down and completing it – as a disciplined writer would – I am now procrastinating. I have done more loads of washing in the past fortnight than in the previous month. I have been dreaming up more inventive articles over at WN. I am playing with the plot to a new children’s story.

Anything rather than write the one thing I am meant to be writing.

I read once that the difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that a professional writes every day. I also remember reading that if you want to be a real novelist, you should write at least 100 words every single day, whether you want to or not.

Part of the reason of attending uni is that I am forced to write in new genres, about new topics and for new audiences, with a deadline.

It is the deadline that keeps me moving. Keeps me honest. Last November I wrote over 18,000 words of my novel for NaNoWriMo. Since then I only have penned around 500.

500 words in 10 months.

Someone told me today that unlike paid work or commissioned writing (or university assignments) there are no consequences if I do not write a post for my blogs every day. There are no repercussions if I do not finish my novel. No one else suffers for lack of my craft, except for me.

So, I appeal to you: how do you make yourself write? Do you set yourself targets or do you make timetables? How can I restructure the way I work so that I am more disciplined in my approach?

Because I obviously need some help.