First published in Writing Magazine June 2007
I have almost the opposite problem to Helen Coffey (Talk It Over, January 2007). I know I have talent, having sold poetry, articles and stories, and was fairly prolific too, but the application has gone, and we all know the inspiration to perspiration ratio for success.
I am not short of time or support, but I did have a couple of minor setbacks (genuinely minor), a move, and I have discovered another passion, music. Here I don’t have so much talent, but given a free moment I am much more likely to pick up the horn than the pen. I occasionally produce a little bon-bon, or a rant on an e-group, but essentially I seem to have dried up. Do you have any suggestions for restarting the flow?
Goodness, Ted, do you realise how many readers of this magazine, trying to juggle children, unhelpful spouses, batty relatives, demanding friends and the dog that needs walking – and that’s before they shop, clean or actually go to work – will be gnashing their teeth at your letter? Talent, support and time – every writer’s dream ticket – and there you are playing the French Horn. What is to be done with you?
I must say, however, that I have a certain sympathy. Writing is hard work. It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy and if you get out of the way of doing it regularly, as you have, it can be hard to kick-start yourself again. But it’s a bit like going out and trying to get fit after a period of little exercise – a terrible strain at first but so thoroughly worth it, once you have. (I speak as one who has just lumbered around a tennis court for the first time since last summer – it nearly killed me while I was missing every second ball, yet now I feel terrific.) First, though, you do have to get up off that sofa.
If you really want to write – and I presume you must do, or you wouldn’t have bothered to send this letter – then you must make an equivalent effort. Start in a small way. In my new book, Wannabe a Writer? a veritable feast of hot tips for scribes (now there’s an idea – you could buy a copy of that to inspire you!) the children’s writer and Laureate, Jacqueline Wilson, suggests keeping a diary to get you into the writing habit. I think this is an excellent idea. You could begin by telling yourself you will write – no matter what – for ten minutes each day, about whatever you are doing, thinking or feeling. Don’t use a pre-printed diary – get a nice hard-backed plain notebook so you are not limited by space. For I bet you will soon find you are writing for much longer than that.
Alternatively, you could start a blog on the internet – and add to that daily. Who knows, you may be snapped up by an eager publisher. Earlier this year, writer Judith O’Reilly’s Wife of the North – an account of adjusting to life in deepest Northumberland after moving from London – was spotted by an agent and she has since landed a lucrative deal with Viking Penguin. Think around your problem too. Why shouldn’t you write AND play music? I always think one area of creativity can only enhance another. Instead of your passions old and new conflicting, why not combine them. You’ve sold articles in the past – what about penning something for a music magazine about taking up a new instrument later in life? Or a short-story about a Horn player? A piece for a newspaper on the restorative powers of the musical experience? Looking for a new angle or subject to your writing may well get the muse going again.
Finally, look to your bookshelves. Pick up some favourite novels you’ve not read for years and get hold of some new writers you’ve never tried. There’s nothing like immersing oneself in great writing by others to make one itch to try it oneself. Or come to that – looking back at something terrific you’ve written yourself. Dig out the articles, poems or stories you are most proud of and remember how you felt when you sold them or first saw them in print. Undertake to enter some competitions to get you going again – you could start with the one in this very magazine or look in Writing Magazine‘s sister publication Writers’ News that runs competitions of its own as well as bringing news of others.
Be firm with yourself and set some deadlines and targets. Whenever I have gone through a phase of not writing much – usually when I have fallen into an exhausted heap after finishing a book – I like to imagine that I am enjoying the rest. But once I go back to my keyboard, I realise how much better I feel. Because, writing, I realise, like reading, walking by the sea or eating crisps with my white wine, is what makes me happy. I’m sure it does the same for you. But the only way to prove this is to do it. So next time you pick up your horn, take pleasure from playing it but start thinking what you’ll write about when you’ve finished. Enjoy!