Saturday, 1 August 2015

TAKING THE PLUNGER by VALERIE LAWS

Man wielding his mighty plunger


You know, we all get bunged up now and again. No, I’m not talking about constipation, I leave that to cringe-making TV ads. However I might be using plumbing metaphors, partly, ok, largely so I can write about men with enormous tools (yes I know there are female plumbers, and small tools, but those are for other blogs, other times).
Man with enormous tool. Just because I like writing that. 

There have been many discussions of Writers’ Block online, and responses are reminiscent of those about sea- or morning-sickness, or gluten or dairy intolerance, in that those who’ve never had it (YET), often seem to assume it’s imagined or just other writers being over-precious weedy wets chiz chiz. Just apply bum to chair, fingers to keyboard, and keep going, they bark like Sergeant Majors. Those of us with livings to earn can’t afford to have WB! Well those who lay bricks can’t afford to have bad backs, and yet they do. Others, at all levels of fame and success, however measured, are haunted by the condition to varying degrees.

It could be you’ve run out of ideas. It could be you’ve exhausted your resources, and need to live a bit, get out and ‘fill the well’ with experiences before writing some more – those contracted to write more books/poems/plays than their brains want to may be in this position. I don’t tend to run out of ideas, in fact I sometimes have too many. I work in many genres, and at times, masses of creative ideas for art installations, plays, blogs, poems, crime fiction, comedy, one-woman shows, flood in, and the result is a standstill as they get wedged in the revolving door of my available time and attention. Snatches of dialogue, brilliant plot points, beautiful images, stories aching to be told, pester me like a brood of demanding toddlers, each jealously stopping me from giving my time to the others.
Ever get this?
But sometimes, it’s good to stop and let things flow for a bit. Whatever your reason for being blocked, bunged, bewildered or even bored by writing, one possible tool for clearing the drain is a book detailing twelve weeks of activities to aid the creative in anyone, not just writers. THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron has been around a good while, and I’ve begun to realise how many people on facebook have done it. Not a self-help book fan normally,  I’ve done it twice, once some years ago at a traumatic time and once again just recently.
Available in paperback or on Kindle. 
There are some potentially off-putting things about it, but it can have some powerful effects if you just get on and do it. The main tool is the three pages a day free writing or ‘morning pages’. There are also ‘affirmations’ where you are allowed to say nice things about yourself (in private of course as is only decent) and spot the ‘blurts’ as your nasty inner voice starts trying to cut you down to size. There are tasks to choose from, and ‘Artists’ dates’ – much of the book is about carving out space for yourself in a life often given to our roles in others’ lives – and lots of inspirational quotes.

A warning: the tone of Julia Cameron’s narration is New Age-y, hipster and quasi-religious. Though she makes it clear that what she calls ‘God’ is the creative principle at the heart of the universe, and you don’t have to subscribe to it as a deity to do the course. It’s not about believing anything, just doing it and seeing what comes up. If you can let that side of it pass, it can bring out not only lots of new creative ideas and useful insights into how you think about yourself and your work/play and how you allow yourself to be a writer/musician/potter: but also, it can be a way to bring out latent memories, quite surprising some of them, issues you never resolved and have almost forgotten, but which are still slowing you down and nibbling away at your self-esteem. The words of a spiteful bully, or ex-lover, or teacher. Connecting with your ‘inner child’, who is the creative person inside you with all a child’s needs, irrationality, joy and fragility, is a large part of it.
Oops, found my inner child...
A lot of it is fun. The tasks will suggest you try new things – I went and did a Chinese flower painting course, I bought adults’ colouring books (very fashionable these) and basically got away from doing things I felt I had to be ‘good’ at or finish or do ‘well’ at. This time round, a few new insights came up. And it’s left me with even more creative ideas written in my months of morning pages, but it has also cleared the way for new ways of thinking, the possibility of change and reinvention, not just in the writing arena. I've started working on several new directions for my poetry and am not panicking, quite so much, about all the other ideas lined up. I’d say The Artist's Way is worth a go.

Another source of inspiration if your well has temporarily run dry or you'd like a kick start in a new direction, Marie Lightman who runs Writers' Cafe in Newcastle upon Tyne, has taken on the challenge of blogging a new writing prompt every day for  a year, so pop in here any time https://marielightmanpromptresponse.wordpress.com/about/

Find out more about my various projects and productions on valerielaws.com 
Some of my thirteen books are now on Kindle UK US, iBooks UK USKoboNook and more, on all platforms worldwide.
Follow me on Twitter @ValerieLaws or find me on facebook 

10 comments:

Catherine Czerkawska said...

How fascinating. I'm off to find the book. I know all too well the block that comes with having just too many ideas, too many bits and pieces going on, a sort of mental log jam so you find yourself doing the hoovering instead. Also there's the log jam that comes when you've done a whole lot of research for a piece of historical fiction and then you realise you have to start writing the novel. But you don't. You do just one more bit of research... Over that one now, but boy, did it go on for a few months. Many thanks for a great post!

Chris Longmuir said...

Ah! Now I know why my characters aren't speaking to me and have gone off in the huff. It's related to the recent loss of my mother. We weren't close (there's a lot of history involved) so the grieving process is not likely to kick in. But, I reckon a lot of the issues between us must be bubbling below the surface and affecting my productivity. My half-brother did say I should write a book about it all, which of course I can't do, but maybe he had a point. Maybe I need to bring all those memories to the surface instead of pushing them down and convincing myself they're not important. Maybe I have to face up to the fact that it's not a God given that you have to be close to your mother. Notice how I haven't included 'like' or 'love' in this unburdening of myself. On the other hand maybe I need therapy!!!!

Elizabeth Kay said...

Sometimes it can be a sudden loss of confidence. There doesn't even have to be an obvious reason, and it can last for years. And sometimes all it takes is one positive response to something for a whole backlog of ideas to come flooding back.

Reb MacRath said...

Fine post. I'll keep the Cameron book in mind. So far, I've been blessed though with a mighty tool that rears and bucks with constant new ideas. :)

julia jones said...

especially like the analogy of a bricklayer with a bad back & a writer who is blocked. Thanks Valerie

Umberto Tosi said...

Gee, and I thought it was just me! You write about writer's block in such an engaging way, no small feat. Thanks, Valerie. I a big fan of Julia Cameron too. Her first book - The Artist's Way -- is her best. I did her exercises - the morning pages, dates with myself, affirmations - back when it first came out. I even took a workshop she gave in San Francisco back in the late 80s. Her techniques do help oil the machinery of writing, but her insights have stayed with me and helped even more. She's authentic. She truly understands the creative process - from the artist point of view. She sweeps aside the societal cliches, materialistic attitudes and false assumptions that we creative types have too often internalized and helps us recognize them as the stoppers that they are.

madwippitt said...

Spot on.

Dennis Hamley said...

Block? At the moment I'm in it.

Lydia Bennet said...

Thanks, all, I've been away so unable to comment before, pleased to know Umberto that you endorse the book and its author! I hope it helps those of you who've yet to try it - you don't have to be blocked, or a writer, to find it useful, it's good for any turning point in a person's life.

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