Thursday 16 August 2018

What to Write About When You Can't Think What to Write About

This month I am between.

Between projects, between inspiration. Between the excitement of the last book and the fresh excitement of a new idea that absolutely must be written.

This is quite a normal phase. I’ve been through it many times and it hasn’t stopped me writing yet. I have been reminding myself that everyone knows 90% of writing consists of waiting. In fact, just last winter at the Scattered Authors’ Folly Farm retreat, we talked about the rhythm of the seasons and the danger of trying to be constantly productive when we need the fallow periods for stories to put down roots. I’m a gardener. I should understand that.

Just because there’s nothing growing, it doesn’t mean I am not working on it.

In some ways, the between times were easier to deal with before I went full-time as an author. I could take a break from writing, go to work and still feel like I’d achieved something by the end of the day. And if I stamped around, irritable and idea-less, annoying my colleagues, at least I did it outside the house.

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I am incredibly lucky to be able to write full-time. I'm even luckier to have author friends in Cardiff so we can share the ups and downs of the writing life. But what do you do to get out of a 'down' patch?

Here's some of what I've been doing.


I find it increasingly difficult to read when I’m in the middle of editing. After spending my whole day looking at words, my eyes just can’t take any more. So I buy books, stack them up artistically and dive into them in the between periods. Occasionally, it’ll spark off new ideas. Mostly, though, I simply enjoy being in other people’s stories without any pressure.

Getting Outside

Last week, I took a trip up to Abergavenny to meet the local members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Much cake was eaten and, as my next book is set in Abergavenny, the lovely Jo Thomas offered to take me on a research trip.

This is Cwmcelyn (Holly Valley) nature reserve. It’s a small pond between housing estates. If you turn in one direction you’ll see red roofs everywhere. But stand at the right spot and gaze the length of the pond and you’re staring straight up into the mountains. I've lived 40 minutes away from this place for the past 20 years and I've never visited before. I wonder how many other little spots lie just around the corner, waiting to be discovered. 

The landscape is a great source of inspiration. I can imagine fairies living around Cwmcelyn, dragons nesting in the long grass...

Create Something Else

Creativity sparks creativity. Whether it’s learning a new piano piece, sewing, baking, gardening. The act of turning away from the blank notebook and doing something else can allow ideas to form in the dark recesses of the mind.

Gardening definitely sparks creativity as you struggle to find a use for yet another batch of tomatoes.

Write Rubbish

Really, the best way to get rid of a blank notebook is to fill it up. 

In the between times I will abandon my computer, grab one of my many notebooks and scrawl whatever comes into my head. Lists of all the things I like. Character names. Books and films I've enjoyed. What I can see out of the window. The idea is to take away the pressure of creating something good. I like to think that the random words are like the primordial atoms that floating in the Great Void before the Big Bang. Maybe something will draw them together and they’ll explode into a new universe. If not, you can look at them some time later and laugh.

Finally, if all else fails, you can also write a blog post. Deadlines are the best motivator in the world!


Sue Bursztynski said...

Definitely a blog post is a productive way to write when you’re not writing!

I did poetry with my Year 8 students last year. Two of them said they couldn’t think of anything to write. I said,”Why not write a poem about why you can’t write a poem?” It worked! They wrote two delightful, funny pieces about not writing - actually, better than I was expecting. A Year 7 boy who couldn’t think how to end his story took my advice and had a spaceship land. That worked too. I got THAT idea from Tanith Lee, who ended her first novel, (a secondary world fantasy with magic and more magic) by having the heroine rescued by a spaceship!

Anne Booth said...

I love the blog post and the comment too.