Beat the block: five things that help me write

“If poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.” – Keats

Writing can be a tricky thing. Especially if you end up writing for a living as well as for pleasure. It can very quickly seem like a chore, one that doesn’t even give you the opportunity the throw an artistic hissy fit and refuse to do anything because, as a freelancer, my words are my bread and butter.

And it doesn’t help that impressively prolific romantic poets like Keats and Wordsworth set their standards for writing so high. I’m not too sure how naturally Keats’ poetry would have come to him if he was on deadline and writing mind-numbingly dull copy on a pay-per-word basis. Wordsworth once called his writing “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, which sometimes it is, but then again there are always times when the words aren’t even trickling out, let alone overflowing. When this happens for me, I try one of the below to help ease that dreaded writer’s block.

b78bea2088c7e3afce571a3472817b55 1. Sort your life out. Trying to write when you’re surrounded by mess that has built up because you’re trying to ignore it while you write is, for me anyway, pointless. If I’m sitting in a kitchen that hasn’t been cleaned for weeks or in my room when it’s decorated with used clothes and empty cups, all I can do is fret over having to tackle the mess at that indefinable point in time ‘after I’ve done some work’, which invariably means I don’t get anything written because I know what’s looming post work.

If you have tidy surroundings before you start you’ve got no excuse to do anything but write.

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2. Get inspired. When you can’t get the words out and you’ve been staring at a blank page for the last hour and a half it’s easy to despair. Sometime looking around my room all I notice is peeling paint or that messy drawer that could be re-arranged…I don’t see potential stories or article pitches. Sometimes I see nothing at all. Everything goes completely blank and not in the pleasing black canvas ideal, more in the black hole of nothingness sense.

If I can’t think of anything I’ll fill my head with the thoughts, images and words of other inspirational people and hope somethings rubs off and I have a eureka moment during the process. When I need inspiring I go here:

BoredPanda.com – like buzz feed but with more art and incredible imagery. It was also where I found the work of Erik Johansson and JeeYoung Lee.

Messy Nessy Chic – a blog on offbeat travel destinations and photo diaries of the unusual and the obscure. See the inspiration vault for an endless source of joy like this post: A Compendium of Abandoned Greenhouses.

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The National Portrait Gallery – From the crowds of tourists and locals who visit to the thousands of pictures on the walls, it’s hard not to loose yourself in these images of faces past and present.

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The British Library’s Reading Room – I don’t think there’s a better way to be inspired to write than being surrounded, from floor to ceiling with words.

The British Library Reading Room inside the British Museum, Bloomsbury, before the move of the British Library to its current location at St.Pancras.

If all else fails, these writers never fail to inspire me:

3. Take a dance break. Ok, so this will probably sound utterly ridiculous, but when I’ve been scrunched up writing furiously for hours I often feel like a corpse riddled with rigour mortis. There are also times when words won’t come; when I’ve spilled a fifth cup of coffee down me or over my notepad; when a feature falls through at the last moment; when I can’t find any work at all and I think about the looming rent…times when all I can do is stand up in my kitchen, put a song on and engage in that most mental of alone time activities: the dance like no one is watching dance.

I’ve been caught out many a time doing these dances. Mainly by flatmates coming home early and once by a bemused window cleaner, but all I know is I feel immeasurable better for having done them…even if I do have all the smooth moves of a chicken having a seizure. These are the songs that never fail to get me moving for three minutes.

4. Get out of the house. When I’m freelancing I can often be found sitting at my kitchen table, usually in my dressing gown, desperately looking for things to do to distract myself from work. I’ve found myself doing everything, including cooking elaborate three course meals for one and scrubbing the underside of chairs, to avoid getting onto the task in hand.

There’s a very unique sort of embarrassment that comes with this territory that often involves answering the door semi-dressed at three in the afternoon to delivery men who assume you’re off sick from work; or facing your housemates who trot in suited and booted from work at 6pm to be greeted by the sight of you, still in your dressing gown (which potentially has food stains down it by now) in the same position they left you in ten hours ago.

There’s only one way I can beat this writing-induced rut and that’s to escape. Nothing clears my mind or focuses me like a walk around one of the Commons (Clapham, Wandsworth or Tooting) near me or an afternoon spent in a coffee shop typing away. Not only will it give you a change of scenery and rescue you from ironing every sock in the house, it will also force you to get dressed, which is always a bonus.

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You wouldn’t be alone either, other famous writers like Ernest Hemingway and JK Rowling have all retreated to cafes to get their work done…although I haven’t quite found anywhere as inspirational to write in as Hemingway’s Les Deux Magots in Paris.

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There are lots of lovely places to hide out in London, my favourites are The Lido Cafe in Herne Hill, where you can watch the swimmers do lazy laps as you type on their sunny terrace; The Black Lab on Clapham Common Southside, which has divine coffee and a quiet bank of seats at the back that’s ideal for freelancers and The Wellcome Cafe on Euston Road, which has the added benefit of letting you explore The Wellcome Collection’s latest free exhibit for inspiration. The current one is an intimate look at sex called The Institute of Sexology and is running until September 2015.

564936_10151804465743538_1078830932_nImage: Wellcome Collection

5. Just write. Write anything. This sounds simple, but when you’re faced with an intimidatingly blank page, that flashing curser can seem as terrifying a spectre as Edgar Allen Poe’s raven  and it’s often hard to scribble anything. When this happens I always try to write around what I am meant to be writing. I write adjectives I like, sensations, memories and names and their surrounding semantic fields. I write to do lists; I pen fragments of short stories, I simply write phrases that I like the sound of; emails to old friends or random thoughts that do – with a little coaxing and a lot of editing – eventually turn into finished articles and posts.

There’s nothing harder than starting to write if you’re out of practice, but if you force yourself to write for a few hours each day you’ll be surprised at how naturally it begins to come…perhaps even as naturally as the leaves to a tree.

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