When writer’s block comes out to play…

writers-block

Writer’s block is like the sensation of sleep paralysis, convinced that you’re awake, yet you physically cannot wake up. Plain creepy and awfully weird. Writer’s block is terrifying, especially seeing as you’re likely to be writing to a deadline. I cannot really tell you how to banish it because I don’t know how! All I know is that it visits me all too often and I have tried and tested numerous ways of coercing it to make a swift exit. I have put together some of my best tips, and I hope that if you suffer from this numbing bee sting that you find this short list useful.

  1. Keep Calm and Carry on Writing. When writer’s block strikes by all means take a short break. Do something you find relaxing, take a short walk, listen to music, or (my favourite) do some breathing exercises, but do not abandon your work entirely. This is the worst thing to do. I cannot help but think that writer’s block could be re-worded as ‘fear’. More than half of the times I have experienced it I couldn’t write because I was scared. My head was blocked by hundreds of ‘what ifs?’ What if this is terrible? What if no one likes my work? What if I’m just not a good writer? What if this never goes away? Whenever I have experienced writer’s block these are the questions I have turned over and over in my mind. The problem was essentially just a wave of fear which was eroding all of the creative ideas and plans in my mind. On the basis that writers block is nothing but fear, I figure the best way to try to relieve it is to face it. Take the old ‘face your fear head on’ advice and put your pen to paper. Such simple, yet such difficult advice I know. Your creative ideas and your confidence need to outshine and blind every niggling ‘what if’. This is rare fight, because it has to be won verbally.
  2. Be the reader. Just write, no matter how ugly it gets. Remember the only person that has to read this at the moment is, well, you! You are alone and that means you are in complete control.Not only do I think that this time can make you feel as though you were not invisible but in a room full of people painfully visible and plain ignored.  I think it’s really easy to let anxieties jade the simple fact that no one else is involved in your writing and that being alone is what you need. You need to spend time accepting this blockade of anxieties in order to understand the root of the problem. The critics, the publisher, the potential reader are all fictional. Yes, they matter, and of course someone will have to judge and recognise your writing for it to go anywhere public. However, right now it is just you and your pages (or page) and fear needn’t let you forget how much power you have. For this time let yourself be the reader that loves how you write, heck, let yourself be the reader that is obsessed with your work and absolutely loves it! See your work through the eyes of someone who admires it, it will banish the anxieties that are lowering your confidence.
  3. Summon some support. If I had to select just one tip that I thought really worked well, and that wasn’t just me rambling on about loving yourself in order to ‘banish Mr Writer’s Block and his brother Mr Fear..’ it is to summon some support from all the writers who have ever inspired you. When I’m at crisis point and the words just aren’t coming out, it really helps me to take half an hour out and switch writing for reading. I surround myself with all of the work that I have every admired. The books on my shelf that I am quite literally in love with. I summon support from my favourite writers by reading and re-reading their work. In doing so I stop to remind myself what amazing writing sounds like. It’s like I hear their voice demanding me to write like I know I can. To do the thing that they first inspired me to try. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that whenever I read my favourite authors it’s not long before my fingers are burning to write something!

Writers block is certainly debilitating. If approached the wrong way, for instance, by abandoning your work for days, you can easily feed it and it will grow stronger. You do not want to let it grow beyond your control. Remember writer’s block is only ever temporary. You are not a bad writer, and you are not the only writer to experience these fears and anxieties. With persistence and pride you will be back to being the enthusiastic word loving nerd that I know you all are!

Advertisements

Poetic Meter, Feet, and Rhythm (basic notes)

Although rhythm is a natural occurrence when words are strung together, in poetry, rhythm and meter is deliberate, a conscious choice. The decision to employ any given meter and thereby create a certain rhythm is a pressure for the poet to make their work the best they believe it can be.

Thus, rhythm in poetic context becomes a form of measurement, with each unit of measurement being called a foot. A foot can be thought of as a building block in a line of poetry. English poetry applies five basic rhythm structures varying in stressed (/) and unstressed (-) syllables. These five basic meters consist of iambs, spondees, trochees, anapests, and dactyls.

Rhythms with two syllable feet:
• IAMBIC -/ (example word: excite)
• TROCHAIC /- (example word: deadline)
• SPONDAIC // (example words: true blue)

Rhythms with three syllable feet:
• DACTYLIC /– (example: Frequently)
• ANAPESTIC –/ (example: to the park)

Each line of meter contains a certain number of feet, or a certain amount of building blocks. A line containing just one foot is therefore considered as ‘monometer’, two feet ‘dimeter’ and so on.
(1) Monometer
(2) Dimeter
(3) Trimeter
(4) Tetrameter
(5) Pentameter
(6) Hexameter
(7) Heptameter
(8) Octameter

Meter can also be described in overall terms. A poem containing feet that end on an unstressed syllable is described as falling meter. Consequently a poem with feet ending on a stressed syllable is rising meter.

Other means of describing meter:

According to how lines end…

Masculine lines: individual examples that end with a stressed syllable
Feminine lines: individual examples ending with an unstressed syllable

According to line breaks or punctual pauses…

Caesura: a break or pause that occurs within a metrical line
Feminine caesura: a pause that follows an unstressed syllable
Masculine caesura: a pause following a stressed syllable
Enjambment: when the syntax carries over across a line break

Show Don’t Tell (But aren’t we telling a story?)

As an amateur creative writer one phrase I constantly get told to make sure I am ‘mastering’ is the show don’t tell rule. Initially the concept of showing in a story or poem seemed slightly confusing, for I thought it was ironic that I was interested in telling stories yet I am forbidden from ‘telling’. However, after being lectured to about the concept, my mind was radically changed.

Show don’t tell is a genius concept. It was naïve of me to assume I was being told that I wasn’t allowed to tell a story. It’s similar to trying to tell a loved one or a teacher how grateful you are for them and everything they do or have ever done. It’s not going to be translated to the right destination simply telling them, you have to show them. How do you do that? through gesture, tone of voice, emotion, expression etc. You show someone gratitude by doing something slightly unusual, through a characterful gesture. It’s the same case in poetry and prose but just applied in a different context. It’s no use to you or your reader if they are merely given a list of information. You are aiming to persuade, and the only tool you have to craft your rhetoric is language. When you show, you are taking language and using it to incite a visualization, a scene. Make your reader want to engage with your characters, don’t tell them everything they need to know about them so they no longer have a reason to investigate them.

For example:

Telling: “He loved her so much he couldn’t fathom her leaving for work”
Showing: “It was disabling. Before his day even began it was over. Before his brain awoke and engaged, it was dreaming. Her 7:45am departure was the knowledge that a punch in the face was coming, but oblivion of which side it would land upon and at what force”

My 5 Top Tips
1. When using dialogue consider using punctuation to actively make the reader FEEL
2. Use strong verbs and/or phrasal verbs
3. Strategize where you will situate specific details, what needs to be shown at what points?
4. Ask yourself whether you are using your dialogue to merely report and not propel?
5. Use your omniscience wisely, give your reader information in small doses…

Cliché in Poetry?!

cliches

To a poet the fear of creating a page full of clichéd phrases is enough to incite a huge, inconvenient bout of writer’s block. However, avoiding Cliché really isn’t all that daunting. In some instances it can simply be a case of changing or updating the modifier or using unusual lexis. For example “it was a scorching hot day” may become “tiny heated hands of sand scorched burns onto the bottom of our feet”. Yes, I admit that sentence may be a bit out there; however, what it does exemplify is how quickly a cliché can be eliminated. Keeping in mind one golden rule SHOW DON’T TELL will distance you further and further from cliché as you progress writing I (almost) promise! Aim to show the reader your point as oppose to merely telling them, even if that does mean endless nights re-writing wordplay or unexpected descriptions until you are satisfied. So long as they are consistent with each other and actually do articulate a coherent image, the guesswork will keep your poem in the company of your reader for longer.

Techniques to avoid cliché:

  1. Unexpected descriptions

  2. Unusual lexis (words that may not be the first point of call when describing an object, place, emotion etc.)

  3. Use of wordplay or puns

  4. Using the conditional (could, would, should)

  5. Compound adjectives

  6. Concrete nouns

  7. Subversion of scale (cue Lewis Carroll)

  8. Personification

  9. Dismantling cliché (facing it head on)

  10. Describing something through its absence

  11. Fluctuations  

  12. Dissonance

  13. Estranging

  14. Form (unusual line endings)

Think of crafting poetry as being a discipline similar to a surgical procedure, whereby laziness is simply unfathomable. Whilst using a stereotype may fit initially and provide a temporary cure for the body of your work. Ask yourself whether in the long run will it be healthy and substantial enough to continuously evoke strong emotions, opinions, reactions or whatever your poetry may compel from your reader?

Image cited from lameezmohd.blogspot.co.uk

Using Dialogue in Short Stories (a few tips)

Uses of Dialogue

  • To make your reader assume the role of listener, for they have to shift concentration from the eyes to ears

  • An alternative method of carrying through a theme

  • To amplify the noise of your story or a voice of a character in particular

  • To allow your reader to control their own judgment

  • To expose discord in character relations (difference between what is spoken and what is actually felt)

  • To verbalize a moral undertone or lesson

  • To change the pace (slow/fast)

  • To clue the reader on possible time or setting

  • In a short story the plot has to move forward relatively quickly, dialogue can move the plot forward whilst still showing and not telling

  • Changing perspectives (how character’s really see each other)

  • Bringing characters to life, giving them familiarity

     

When dialogue goes wrong?

  • Perhaps not all questions in a short story actually require an answer? Giving too much away through dialogue may retract the ‘guess work’ from your reader which may subsequently retract the concentration needed for deeper analysis

  • To give a story discord what is not said is sometimes more important – be careful to draw the line on how much information your characters are leaking

How do people actually speak?

  • It is important to find a balance

  •  pauses and short expressions are often a useful way of conveying realistic speech

  • For example, when using cursing it is important to keep in mind how you will balance the realistic element of how often your character swears but also keeping in mind how including a large volume of curse words may retract attention from the speech that actually says something and actually offers the reader a destination.