A Top 10 List to Help with Writer’s Block

Oh, oh, oh! I have a deadline to meet dear readers. Once it seemed like many moons away. Now it gallops towards me faster than a…

Stuck for a metaphor here. Faster than my own attempts to neck a glass of red wine come Friday evenings? Faster than the cat comes screeching into the kitchen when he hears the fridge door opening?

Trouble is, it’s a self-imposed deadline and we all know how they work – or don’t work, truth be told. I’m still writing, but The End doesn’t seem quite as nigh as it did the other week when I was flushed with the glory of 8,000 words.

So as I lay in bed last night battling insomnia (again, though my friend Kylie’s good advice to concentrate on saying one word over and over again in your head has proved useful), I came up with a good old Top Ten list in my head and thought to myself: “Aha! I can procrastinate, blogger-stylee, while hopefully helping my fellow writers battle their own bouts of writer’s block/lack of self-discipline.”

  1. Drum roll… Ahem, just write. Set yourself a target of a number of words which you think you can easily achieve. Write that number – and only that number – and bask in feelings of achievement.
  2. Have an imaginary conversation with your lead character. I invited Katie to sit down across the table from me. I asked her how she was and how she would like the book to end up. ‘Happily,’ she said, ‘oh and can I snog one of the big boys from Year 6?’ I tutted, but said I would look into all options.
  3. Write your ending in synopsis form. I’ve actually written plans all the way through writing. The basic structure was always there, but as the book has developed, sometimes I’ve needed to add things in so I would write another detailed plan. It was useful because it included background on characters and why they were doing what they were doing.
  4. Go back over other chapters and tweak. It makes you feel as if you are doing something worthwhile.
  5. Go for a run. Or a walk, or a cycle ride. Basically, just get out in the fresh air and puff and pant a bit. Physical energy often stimulates mental energy.
  6. Think around different options for your book. I’ve been talking to my brother-in-law about an app which would serve as some kind of publicity tool, but thinking in different ways is good for creativity in general.
  7. Join a writers forum/group. I’m part of the LinkedIn writers/editors group and the people on there do have incredibly fascinating conversations. There’s all kinds of help and advice available, even if you just want to get a few people to shout at you online: GET WRITING YOU IDLER! (They wouldn’t; they’re too kind.)
  8. I’ve had a few astonishingly patient people reading my book for me as I go along, and I ask them from time to time if they think a chapter works and if they think a particular storyline is plausible/credible.
  9. Go and read other people’s writing blogs. I follow a few of them (the bottled worder,  Daily (W)rite thebookofalice, writings of a Mrs, Gabriel LocateroFrancis Barann, Sophie Bowns and a few others and it’s heartening reading about other people’s writing methods and practices.
  10. Drum roll… Ahem, just write.

What do you think? If you have any top tips for continued creativity, I’d love to hear them.

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Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones

Don't throw away your chicken bones folks...

Don’t throw away your chicken bones folks…

I am taking my new-found conversion to carnivore very seriously indeed: today found me creating bone broth having read so many people enthusing about it online.

Basically, it’s stock – the long, slow cooking of bones and vegetables until you have a densely flavoured liquid you can use either as a flavouring for gravies, risottos, soups or drink it as it is. Enthusiasts claim all kinds of marvellous qualities for broth – immune system bolstering, hair, skin and nail improving, cellulite curing and gut healing.

Sadly, no-one said: “Actually, this truly amazing broth also turns you into THE most skilled writer, capable of rattling off 20,000 witty words a week that everyone wants to read. AND it kills off any desire to drink red wine.”

Still, worth a try for the qualities quoted in the second para if not the third hmm? As is my wont, I researched recipes online and then cobbled something together of my very own, using the world’s most marvellous culinary creation – the slow cooker.

Bone Broth AKA Chicken Stock:

  • 500g (roughly) chicken bones*
  • 2tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots,, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 8-10 black peppercorns, ground in a pestle and mortar (optional, I put these in because I like heat)
  • Handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Handful fresh sage leaves

Put all of the ingredients into your slow cooker and cover with cold water. Place on a low setting and cook for roughly 4-18 hours (the longer you leave it, the more mineral content you get out of the bones). You may need to top the water levels up from time to time. Strain once finished and use the liquid for stock or add a little sea salt to taste and drink as a broth.

 

 

*You can store chicken bones in the freezer until you’ve built up enough of a quantity.

 

 

Insomnia – The Writer’s Friend?

439398-Royalty-Free-RF-Clip-Art-Illustration-Of-A-Cartoon-Sleepless-Man-Riddled-With-Insomnia

Without the benefit of toxic substances*, it seems, I am unable to sleep.

Hey ho – for what has felt like weeks now, I take more than 20 minutes to drop off and then inevitably wake up at 2am, battle with self for 45 minutes or so (SLEEP, DAMN YOU, SLEEP!) until giving up the ghost and padding through to the spare room with a book for an hour or so’s reading.

All of which does not make for well-rested feelings come 7am, or 8.30am come to think of it. The ‘spare’ room option is currently out of bounds too, as my husband broke our bed and we are sleeping in the spare room.

[Dear Ladies and Gents of my esteemed readership, you may have recoiled slightly – “But this is a U certificate blog; DO NOT detail your bedroom shenanigans here please!” Fear not, the bed-breaking incident was the result of a strawberry daiquiri too many one Wednesday night and husband took a dead man’s fall onto the bed. A loud crack accompanied his drop.]

I’ve tried most things. I’ve cut caffeine out of my life, I try to ensure two hours between my last meal and going to bed, I keep the bedroom as cool as I can and I strive for digital discipline (switching off the phone and lap top at 8pm and not watching TV in bed). I even bought myself a mat with plastic spikes sticking out of it which is supposed to act on pressure points and give you marvellous sleep.

Nothing works!

There are pluses to early hours wakefulness. It does seem a good time to plot and re-plot a story. One of the ways I’ve used to get myself to sleep for years is thinking out little day dreams for myself. The current favourite – one I don’t do too often as it seems like tempting fate – goes like this:

Me, an ordinary day sat at home staring blankly at my laptop screen and idly twirling my hair. The phone rings. I consider leaving it as it’ll only be the library telling me my books are late or someone trying to flog me solar panels. In the end, I take the call.

Ms Highheelsandpinkglitter?” An American accent comes on the line. “We JUST love your manuscript! Everyone in the office has read it – we couldn’t put it down. Name your price, dear lady, name your price! Look, we want to meet up with you. What do you say? No, you don’t need to worry about easyjet baggage restrictions; we’ll be sending a chartered flight up for you. Would tomorrow suit?”

Etc, etc.

As you can tell from the above, I’m incredibly prone to flights of fancy so these days I take them elsewhere too. In the wee, sma’ hoors**, some incredible plot developments spring to mind. “Aha,” I think to myself, “Jazz, I never knew you had it in you, but now I can see you were a bit of a scoundrel all along! Not sure that you should have made that comment to Katie; it was rather mean.”

Or – “At long last! I’ve worked out who such and such is pretending to be! To be honest, it was worrying me that I was merrily writing about his life with no clue who the little blighter was.”

Occasionally, these twists and turns stay with me. Other times, I open up the iPhone and jot them down in the notes bit – handy, but I think the sleep gurus wouldn’t approve.

Perhaps writing caused the problem in the first place? Perhaps if my mind was blissfully free of my wretched characters and what is happening to them (most of the time what happens to them comes as a complete surprise to me, to be honest) eight hours of log-like sleep would beckon.

For the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for the 2am wake-up call, a good book and iPhone jottings.

*Wine, sleeping tablets.

**Again, ladies and gents, don’t be dismayed; hoors is slang for HOURS and not the other thing (do take your minds out of the gutter I entreat you).

8,000 Words Comin’ Atcha!

I promise you the ones I wrote were a bit more interesting than this.

I promise you the ones I wrote were a bit more interesting than this.

Fiddle-de-dee!* Ladies and gentlemen of my esteemed audience – from out of nowhere (it seems) another 8,000** words has appeared.

Gracious heavens! The wretched writer’s block is blissfully obliterated and my self-imposed 3rd August deadline for finishing the book looks do-able once more.

Oh, but despite my lack of superstitious beliefs do such carelessly-uttered confidences signal an inevitable crash? You might encounter me next week with a cheery, “Hey, how’s it going? You were charging ahead great guns last week! Is another 8,000 words in the bag and The End in sight?”

To which I might mutter (bad-temperedly and shame-facedly): “Ah. Well, ahem, this week we are looking at rather reduced productivity. It’s a matter of… five words. And three of them were the result of re-reading old chapters and discovering I had missed out the odd ‘a’, ‘the’ and ‘but’.”

I am also contemplating my top of the range (not) printer and wondering how on earth it will cope with my attempts to print out 300 or so pages post novel completion. Repeatedly. I fear for my toner cartridges – I sense they are sprinters and not marathon runners. I’m definitely going to need to see this baby in the flesh (so to speak) and thus be able to survey the many, many typos that will surely jump out to me as I view the words on paper.

An additional concern! Who among friends and family can I further cajole into reading my book and reassuring my ego that it is ok? (Or suggesting in a kindly way that I should not have given up my day job after all.) I may further test patiences when I ask them to re-read said book, having swapped chapters around and added bits in.

All in all though, it’s a wonderful feeling when The End is in sight. Mucho excitement threatens to over flow in the Highheelsandpinkglitter household. Life beyond the laptop is contemplated and I may dust off my running shoes.*** Veuve Cliquot beckons…

 

 

*From out of nowhere too I appear to have developed a penchant for peculiar turns of phrase.

**8,771 words to be exact. Now I may go and write precisely 229 words to take this week’s total up to 9,000…

***Once the heat has died down.

Ssh! A Confession…

Tucking into sausages with gusto...

Tucking into sausages with gusto…

Come closer, I have a secret to tell you. Huddle round, concentrate and I will expand.

I have given up on vegetarianism and am now a committed carnivore. Part of me is still rather ashamed of this; 20 years as a vegetarian, latterly with fish thrown in. I apologise to the cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and ducks (and there will be a few more mammals and birds on that list too, once I’ve sampled them) for my mean contrivance to end their lives. Particularly apologies should go to the pigs, as sausages and black pudding are now among my favourite foods.

When you’ve been a vegetarian for as long as I had, it felt like part of my identity. And it made me feel like a nicer, morally superior person as I was not the type to be swayed by a bacon sandwich the way folklore has it for many would-be veggies and the world was not cutting down swathes of forest on my behalf to feed up animal protein. Plus, I love animals, I really, really do and commercial meat production can be absolutely disgusting.

Here’s the rub though. I mostly follow a low carb diet to keep my blood sugar levels as stable as possible. I stumbled across this a few years ago through Dr Richard Bernstein’s book, The Diabetes Solution. He’s a pretty impressive individual – he put himself through medical school so that he could prove his own theories on diabetes management – but heavens, his methods are very, very strict indeed, with a daily intake of just 40g of carbohydrate (6g for breakfast, 12 for lunch and dinner). I like to eat a bit more veg and fruit so I aim for about 75g a day.

I’d coped with a low-carbohydrate diet initially by adding fish to my diet. After a while, it began to feel a bit monotonous – fish, cheese and eggs day in day out – so I added in meat some weeks ago. In an attempt to keep some virtue to my food choices, I’ve only been eating meat from our local butcher, which is locally sourced, grass-fed and bred in reasonably good conditions.

It turns out that I really love meat. A great, juicy burger topped with cheese (sans bun, obviously), good quality bacon, black pudding, meat loaf, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb… Experiments have been plentiful and fun. The only thing I haven’t been fussed about was steak. The cheap cuts are the best – which is just as well, given my lack of regular income these days.

Anyway, in a final homage to my vegetarian years, I thought I’d share with you a favourite recipe; Spicy ratatouille cooked in the slow cooker. The great thing about cooking the veg this way is that they maintain their shape much better than when you cook it on top of the stove and it’s really, really delicious. Top it with crumbled goat’s cheese and brown it briefly under the grill.

Spicy Ratatouilleserves 4

  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large courgette
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 500ml passata
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 green chilli, diced (keep the seeds in for extra heat)
  • 1tsp tomato puree
  • 1tsp caster sugar
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Chop the aubergine, red pepper and courgette into equal-sized chunks. Slip the top off the fennel and cut into big slices. Finely dice the onion. Put all of the ingredients into your slow cooker and top up with a little extra water (about 50-100ml). Cover and cook on a low setting for 3-4 hours.

For the record, each portion of this has approximately 149 calories and 18g carbohydrate.

Writer’s Block or Sheer Laziness – You Decide…

None of this is getting words written hmm?

None of this is getting words written hmm?

It appears, dear readers, that my declaration of triumph over the war on words (my battle to keep stacking those numbers up) was over confidence on my part. Misplaced optimism, I’m afraid.

Here I sit, in front of my laptop merrily emailing friends (in great detail; those poor souls surely thought there couldn’t possibly be 2,000 words to describe a lamb recipe I tried out recently), re-organising my folders and files – the joy of re-naming! – and reverting to previously noted tactic of finding long and complex recipes to try out.

In addition, the sun has shone its heart out in my part of the world this week. We have experienced temperatures in the mid-20s. The cat has collapsed in a soporific state in the coolest part of the house he can find and I count the hours, well minutes, until I can justifiably say to myself: “I’ve been on the flippin’ lap top for AGES. It’s time to remember all those important Primal Blueprint rules about getting out in the daylight and soaking up Vitamin D. My health demands it!”

Two hours of sunbathing per day. Sometimes I read, sometimes I daydream, sometimes I snooze.

In short, I have procrastinated, deliberated, added in countless other jobs and twiddled my thumbs rather than write a book. To be fair to myself, I have also applied for several freelancing jobs. Heck, I’ve even done a few of them and been PAID, which is always a bonus in the freelancing world.

I also – very important task – tutored Mama Highheelsandpinkglitter on the use of Windows 8. She now knows how to switch her laptop off.

But, but, but… There’s a book waiting to be finished. There’s a bottle of champagne chilling nicely. There’s even a, gulp, writing competition to enter (deadline 20 September). Time to kick procrastination back into touch.

Readers – Who Cares?

The cat mooching for food is Plan K.

The cat mooching for food is Plan K.

There’s a popular saying that I’m quite fond of – dance as if no-one’s watching…

I like to follow that advice myself, but as I tend to dance mostly in my own living room, no-one is watching anyway. Unless you count Google Maps’ sneaky satellite cameras beaming into our homes and my own peculiar moves might turn those cameras off right away anyway.

Let’s adapt that saying though – what about ‘write as if no-one is reading’? Or more importantly, as if you don’t particularly care if anyone does? I admit, defensiveness does motivate me here. “So, three trillion people aren’t reading my blogs – ah well, who cares anyway? I don’t need three trillion folks to read and comment on what I write.” That kind of thing y’know.

I love writing. It’s why I left my safe, well-paid office job and launched myself into the foolhardy venture of carving out a career as a full time writer. Plan A is that I complete the book I started last year (hey, two thirds of the way through), manage to get it published and it sells in sufficient quantities for me to make a living from it. The path to book selling, though, is littered with broken dreams and insane folks flogging books no-one knows about it, no-one reads and no-one buys.

So there’s Plan B too. Write a book, get it published and sell it in small quantities whilst also supplementing my income through freelance writing opportunities a la elance.com and people per hour.com.

Plans C and D also exist. Plan E is get a full-time job office job once more. Maybe I should make it Plan Z instead and figure out a few more creative options for how I can make money before that one has to be launched…

Create the world’s first paint-on non-orange fake tan? Make films of the cat mooching for food and turn him into a YouTube sensation, resulting in sponsorship from giant cat food manufacturer? Establish an online vintage shoe company? Write a diet book based purely on anecdotal evidence and with no scientific backing whatsoever?

But back to that writing for yourself malarkey. I’ll reference Joe Warnimont here, as that’s one of the messages he promotes. And if you aren’t actively trying to promote your blog (Facebook, Twitter, endlessly liking and commenting on other people’s stuff, finding guest bloggers, posting links to your blog on Q&A forums etc), then you can tackle any subject you want. I tried niche blogging – if you’ve ever Google-d anything relating to diet and fitness, you’ll realise why niche blogging is so incredibly popular – but my gnat-attention span wore out by post three and I soon resorted back to writing about anything which took my fancy that day.

My original understanding of a blog was that it was some kind of online diary. Blogging isn’t really about that any more – it’s about raising awareness, marketing your business, creating fresh content for your website, increasing traffic to websites and making money. Hey ho! For the moment, I’ll keep on writing as if no-one is reading. Creative fulfilment comes in many forms.