An Empty Tank

In preparing this week’s entry, I struggled to choose a topic: the singular ‘they’, ‘because’ as a position, past neologisms we now take for granted, the work-life balance, even the events of 11 September 2001.

I managed to start writing a couple of these topics, and I couldn’t even begin on the others. Either I ran out of material or lost my enthusiasm halfway through. I hesitate to use the term ‘writer’s block’, because I didn’t have trouble beginning these entries, only carrying on to form them into the shape of a coherent blog post.

Русский: Это мои коты
I also couldn’t decide which picture would best illustrate my point, so here are two cats. I hear felines are perennially popular on the Internet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my experience, there are two main strategies for overcoming this difficulty. Strategy 1 is for when a deadline isn’t looming: I’ll leave it aside and go for a walk or do something else while the idea sorts itself out in my head.

However, I’m writing this on Sunday with the time fast approaching 3pm. Although it’s more than 24 hours until I publish, eight of these will be spent in bed, another eight will be spent at the office, and I would like to leave some time to proofread the text before it goes live. So Strategy 2 involves writing and writing until something usable appears on the screen. Just as you’re more likely to win a raffle prize if you buy more tickets – although it’s never guaranteed – you also have more chance of finding the right words when you write more of them.

As for the topics listed in the first paragraph, I’ll leave them aside for the moment and I might come back to them for a future entry.


That’s the place, uh-huh uh-huh, I write it.

I know you shouldn’t pay too much attention to those pictures that circulate around Facebook, but I recently saw one that deserves a response:

2016-02-13 09.53.43

It strikes me that the solution is hidden within the problem: why stare at a blank page if that doesn’t help you produce work? Go and lie down in bed, or have a shower, or drive around town. But be sure to have a safe way of recording your ideas as they occur.

The perfect spot for a writer is as individual as his or her work. I recently attended a workshop in a library. One of the organisers asked us to pick a spot in the building where we each felt comfortable, then to complete a writing exercise. Some participants preferred an open area, others preferred a little niche; one person lay on the floor while another nipped upstairs.

For my own part, I found a shelf at chest height and placed my work on top of it. When I’m using my computer at home, I prefer to stand up with my back to my bedroom window; I’ve experimented with other places in the house but they simply don’t have the same vibe.

It’s also timeworn advice to keep a notepad and pen by your bedside table in case a great idea occurs during the night. This has rarely worked for me; I find going for a walk for a walk, especially in the cold, is much more effective.

Consider also the sounds around you. I was writing a play a few years ago that had a rather dark theme, and I found the only music that helped me write this way was Radiohead. Any other time, I listen to the soundtrack from the film The Assassination of Jesse James, written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

So be sure to experiment with your particular writing place. A lot of people believe that to be a writer you have to sit a mahogany desk for a set time each day in silence and write a certain number of words. That works for some people, but if it doesn’t do anything for you, find a method that does.

Think of it this way: if you weren’t receiving your milk delivery, you wouldn’t complain to the postman. Similarly, if your current actions aren’t helping you to place words on paper, it’s time to take new actions.