We hear a lot about Writer’s Block but never about Writer’s Stop. In my view, you’re far more likely to experience a Stop than a Block to your literary endeavours.
Just about anything can constitute a Stop. Illness, bereavement, looking after a sick or elderly relative: these are just some of the events that can hinder progress. At such times, you are too tired, distracted or unwell to concentrate on plot, characterisation or the intricacies of editing. Life gets in the way and you simply have to stop.
Here’s where I let you into a secret. All of this has happened to me in the last four years. An avalanche of ‘stuff’ has knocked me off course more times than I can count – and for long periods, sometimes weeks or months at a time. Just as I return to the book that I am editing, another crisis occurs.
Here’s one example or, rather, several. Since last November, my family and I have clocked up some six hospital admissions, two of which were mine. I now have a pair of gleaming new hip joints but no finished manuscript.
Every time I enter a tranquil patch, I have to start again. Despite detailed notes which are supposed to navigate me back to the last point of departure, I find it difficult to re-connect with my work and get back into the ‘zone’.
Somewhere, in my head, is a small voice screaming for time and space. I am tormented by doubt. Will I ever finish my book? Perhaps I have been struggling with it for too long. Has what started as a good idea just gone stale?
But there is also another voice, one that tells me to keep going. Don’t waste all that work, all that time invested in your book. Otherwise, what’s it all been for? And those people who have supported you, what about their sacrifice? You owe it, not just to yourself, but to them, to get back in the saddle.
Other people may distract you, but they are also the ones that keep you on course. Family, friends and readers can provide the necessary motivation.
Writing is a solitary, even selfish, pursuit so it’s good to cultivate a sense of responsibility for others. If you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for them.
I recently jotted down a 10-point life-raft to get me back on track. I hope it works for you, too.
1) Always back-up your material on a daily basis.
2) Keep a writing/editing diary so that, if you have an unexpected break, you can easily get back to where you left off. This is especially important for editing where you are dealing with a large amount of material.
3) If you are unable to tackle large projects, either write something short – a story or blog – or catch up on vital background research.
4) When trying to pick up the thread after a long break, don’t just launch in. Be organised. Write a To Do list and update it every day.
5) If you feel overwhelmed, you are trying to do too much at once. Break everything up into small, manageable tasks.
6) When getting back to writing/editing, don’t spend longer than one hour a day but make it a daily task. Better an hour every day, than six hours once a week.
7) Don’t expect to get back into the groove immediately. It takes time. Be patient.
8) If you need to rest, especially after an illness or operation, don’t fight it. Recent research shows that down-time is not wasted. You often get your best ideas when resting. Just keep a notepad nearby to jot them down.
9) If writing/editing is too demanding, give some time to planning your marketing/PR campaign. You’ll have to do this at some point, so it’s not a waste of time.
10) If you’ve been out of circulation for some time, write some short notes to key people to keep your contacts warm e.g. festival organisers, bookshop owners, librarians.
Above all, don’t give up. Just repeat the mantra: “Winners don’t Quit”.