Writers Block

After suffering from writers block last week, I’ve compiled a list of ideas for those of you writey types afflicted with the same disease. We all have times when the creative spring dries up, our pencil stops scratching mid-sentence, and we are plunged into self doubt and frozen inaction.

Of course, you may enjoy staring at the blank screen, watching the cursor blink, or gazing into the semi-distance waiting for inspiration to strike. If so, carry on by all means. If not, then I give you…

Top Tips for Curing Writers Block

1. Change your topic
Writing something completely different can often help clear your mind enough to get back onto the project at hand. If you are stuck in the plot of your novel, take a break from it and work on a short story or some prose, and let a different concept fill your mind for a day or two.Coming back to it a while later, you are bound to be able to see the problems from a different angle, and carry on where you left off.

2. Keep Writing
Taking a break from writing for an afternoon is a great idea. I’m also a big fan of sleeping on it. However, taking a week off to ‘recharge’ may work for some, but is more likely to stretch into longer. Inaction breeds inaction. Even if you need a holiday from your subject matter, try to keep writing something every day, even a diary entry or a blog. (Facebook statuses dont count.)

3. Borrow
Stuck at the beginning of a masterpiece? Not sure how to even begin? Try borrowing a line from one of the greats, search for quotes online and use that as a springboard to get writing. Having never written a sonnet before, and wanting to surprise my husband, I found myself staring at the screen blankly, until I borrowed the first line from John Barlas. Note the quotation marks, as  am certainly not advocating plagurism. Sometimes the first line is all you need to inspire your own masterpiece.

4. Get out more
Get inspired. Take a trip, or failing that, a walk. Go see something you’ve never seen before, find someone new to speak to. Broadening your mind cant fail to give you new persepctives on your plot themes and your characters. It’s also a well earned break under the guise of ‘Research.’

5. Read Read Read
When reading a great authors work, it is rare not to be able to note his or her influences shining out from their own pages. Reading other people’s writing, whether in the same genre or different, not only inspires your own, but makes you a richer person with stronger ideas to present, and characters to build. It doesnt matter what you choose, but make sure your own library is fully stacked. Even a book you think shouldnt have got past the slush pile can only serve as a reminder that there is hope for your manuscript yet!

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously
No-one needs to see todays writing except you. If it isnt the best work you’ve ever done, so be it. The pressure you put on yourself to create a masterpiece is probably a large reason why you can’t even put the date on the page today. Take a deep breath, start writing, and know that if it isnt great, you’ll edit it into shape another day. 

What else have you found helpful for curing the dreaded block?

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I hope your novel never gets published.

That’s what I often want to say when writing rejection letters to potential authors. And many budding writers have told me in the past that they would really love an honest rejection letter which tells them what they are doing wrong. But when I see the truth being given out, it seems to be always met with a chorus of “JK Rowling got rejected by tens of publishers before she got accepted by one.” JK and her “sob story turned success story” may well have made my life much more difficult.

So ok, I’m going to humour you for a minute. Let me tell you five common reasons your manuscripts are being rejected, and you can decide whether one of these reasons is yours, and either rectify it, or if you cant, move on.

It’s not a very good idea.
You are well read, intelligent, perhaps even a great writer. Your idea for a novel however, is just not that good. It isnt original, it isnt compelling, it wont attract enough readers.. Maybe try writing something else, see what kind of response you get.

You’re not a very good writer.
More common. Your idea is good, it would make a great novel. What a shame that you’re writing it. You might make your friends laugh, you might even have a little following on your blog, and please dont tell me that 1000 people have bought it on amazon. It was 0.01p. It takes more effort NOT to buy it. Despite all this, you are really not good enough.

We are not the right publishing house for your novel.
Have you looked us up on the internet? Have you browsed the writers and artists yearbook? Nothing is more annoying than a travel book submission to a poetry house. Or a fantasy trilogy to a womens lit imprint. Do your research.  I am 100% more likely to look upon you favourably if your covering letter shows some knowledge of my agency, and your manuscript fits our list. Why waste your time?

Your spelling and grammar are atrocious.
Great writer? Great idea? That’s a start. But if you struggle with the grammar and spelling, then in this day and age there is no excuse. What you can’t do on a computer, you can ask a friend to help with. If not, it’s worth buying some time with someone who knows their english. Why let your talent get lost behind misued apostrophe’s and badly spelled language when you’ve done the hard part already?

When we said we arent accepting submissions… we meant we’re really not accepting submissions.
A lot of potential authors assume that when an agency or publishing house is closed to submissions, this is practically an open invitation. “Oh well they wont be able to turn MY novel down, it’s too good.” The truth is you are probably wasting your postage. Most of the larger agencies have readers who they employ to look over submissions. If they arent accepting any, then they arent employing readers! Your manuscrript will be lucky to be returned back to you in your SAE. More likely, it will sit collecting dust in a submissions box.

There are certainly more reasons, but these are the ones I see time and time again. Having said that, I also see plenty of these type of novels on the shelves in Waterstones.. so if you fit into one of the more depressing categories.. dont give up.. there’s always hope. You could publish a truly awful novel.

Lazy Blog

Just saw this today and thought I would share. I have deleted a few (sorry if that kind of thing drives you crazy) but have kept all the ones I agree with. When I see things like this and I agree with so many, it makes me feel unoriginal. But still amused. I’ve italicised the ones I really agree with.. Just to be clear, this is not mine! (Knowing my luck, this is the blog that will be Freshly Pressed. -sigh-)

9. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work
when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the
rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after DVD/Blue Ray? I don’t
want to have to restart my collection…again.

13. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if
I want to save any changes to my ten-page research paper that I swear I did
not make any changes to.

14. “Do not machine wash or tumble dry” means I will never wash this –
ever.

15. I hate when I just miss a call by the last ring (Hello? Hello? Damn
it!), but when I immediately call back, it rings nine times and goes to
voice mail. What did you do after I didn’t answer? Drop the phone and run
away?

16. I hate leaving my house confident and looking good and then not seeing
anyone of importance the entire day. What a waste.

17. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to
answer when they call.

18. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

22. I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than
take 2 trips to bring my groceries in.

23. The only time I look forward to a red light is when I’m trying to
finish a text.

24. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and
hunger.

25. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and
smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?

27. Shirts get dirty. Underwear get dirty. Skirts? Skirts never get dirty,
and you can wear them forever.

28. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not
know what time it is.

32. Sometimes I pretend not to remember details about people because having
a good memory apparently equates to creepiness.

33. My GPS says “Estimated Arrival Time.” I see “Time to Beat.”

34. Whenever someone says “I’m not book smart, but I’m street smart”, all I
hear is “I’m not real smart, but I’m imaginary smart”.

36. What would happen if I hired two private investigators to follow each
other?

37. I wish it were appropriate to say to a complete stranger, “Excuse me,
would you like me to show you how to discipline your child?”

40. Double-Stuffed Oreos should just be called Oreos, and regular Oreos
should be called Diet Oreos.

As an additional note to those who came here from Twitter / My website / Any place I talk about publishing.. This kind of witty numbered style is great for an article. However, I once recieved a submission where the synopsis was in bullet points. While this is obviously a useful tool for you while writing, to keep your thoughts ordered, it is just one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard of for introducing your book to me. If you cant even summarise your book in sentences, whats the hope for the actual manuscript?

Why it’s not just about pressing Spellcheck.

I’m the first to admit it, I’m an english geek. I not only like writing in it, which is self evident, but I truly love everything about the english language. Speaking, reading, learning new words, word puzzles.. you name it, I’m somewhere getting overexcited about it. I can remember very clearly a meal I shared with friends where the question was posed, what’s the longest word which is one syllable? Now I say posed, because the conversation surrounding the question may have lasted the time it took me to swallow my mouthful. For me though, it was all I could think of the rest of the afternoon. Well. It’s going to be something with some serious consonant clusters, was my first thought.An hour or so later, I’d settled on the word straight. One syllable, with an admirable 8 letters. To compare, my name has the same amount of letters, and yet 4 syllables. How can that not amaze you?!

Does this make me an insufferable nerd? Perhaps. But as I do work in publishing, it may help to explain why certain errors in spelling and/or grammar serve to drive me crazy. I may steer clear of too much grammar critique, as I know that I overuse my comma, and I also have a funny way with full stops at times… (But at least I know I’m doing it!)

Top 3 annoying spelling errors

Breath vs Breathe
I know it isnt obvious. I know there arent any set rules to make it easier for you. But learn it, and use it. If I see one more character taking “a deep breathe” or one more fictitious mother in labour being told to “breath honey breath”, I may be guilty of inflicting some ‘shortness of breathe’ myself.

Lose vs Loose
Maybe it’s because these two sound so different when said out loud? I dont know, but this one really gets my goat. And I’ve seen it used wrongly in so many places.

Any version of fair/fare/fear bear/bare/beer being misused
I’m not even going to bother explaining this one. Yes it is a word. No, it is not the right word.

I know, that at best, you’re probably thinking “she’s right, but who cares?” And unless you are sending me your literary submission or business copy, maybe you have a point. So perhaps the following examples of those who definitely suffer from bad english will get you thinking. I’m not saying that Good Grammar Saves Lives.. But it certainly saves you from becoming a laughing stock.

1. I came across this sign a while ago on the world wide web, and I love it. It shows how without proper sentence structure, your words change meaning entirely. Needless to say, I wont be stopping in Tipton, Indiana for a bite to eat any time soon.

2.This one may be slightly off topic, but I am a firm believer that if you work in a field where you have to speak to any english person, a handful of words surrounding your field is not enough. That goes for the delivery man who turned up at our house knowing only the word ‘Sign’, as well as the security guard who we asked for directions outside his health club, who was blessed with a perfect english accent for his two english words. Health and Club.
You can imagine the fun that ensued when the cake below was returned to the shop by Suzanne’s irate colleagues. Fired much?

So, as someone in the field of writing, who throws aside submissions daily because of much lesser crimes than the ones above, what should you do in order to avoid these kind of mistakes?

I can only give the following two pieces of advice:
1. Read anything you’ve written twice on screen and once on paper. If it sounds or looks wrong, it probably is.
2. Read avidly and widely. The skills of spelling and phrasing difficult words or sentences tend to seep in through your fingers as you turn the pages.

Before you know it, you’ll be writing your own blog on mistakes you find everywhere that drive you crazy. When you do, send me a link. I live for that kind of thing.

Any other spelling/grammar mistakes that drive you mad?