Emirates Literature Foundation Blog (ELF)

Struggling To Write? I Hear Ya.

Sometimes the right words are hard to find.

Do you have creative constipation? You know, the feeling where you really want to write that novel, but you’re a bit stuck and just can’t seem to get it moving? I hear yah, I had plenty of time off over the last six months to finish a novel I started years ago, but it just wasn’t happening. But, fear not, here’s some mental laxatives to help unblock your creative mind. 

Firstly, you need to write. No one can do it for you. You can’t call yourself a writer unless you write. Open the Word document and just start typing. Stuck for ‘the muse’? Write about the thoughts you had in the last 24 hours or a summary of what you want to write, to help make it clear in your mind. Writing is a muscle and, like at the gym, sometimes you need to warm up first. And the sooner you do the sooner the words start flowing. I find it useful to have a music playlist to get into the mood of that particular chapter (so if its depressing its Adele and The Greatest Showman soundtrack, but if it’s an action scene then it’s the Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx).

Secondly, a few weeks ago I decided the best way to solve my chronic procrastination was to use social media to shame myself into finishing it: I set a wordcount goal and update people regularly on the progress. It has been relatively successful (even though the last few days I have completely fallen off the wagon due to annoying real-life stresses - like finances and medical insurance - getting in the way. That will happen). But the support you’ll get will be very motivating and it’ll keep you on track. Yes, it’s big, scary and very public, but there’s no better motivator than fear.

A good tip is to get out of the house, bring the laptop and write at a coffee shop. The change of scenery helps and there are less distractions (Netflix and its willy lure). Set a wordcount goal and tell yourself you’re not going home until you hit a good bulk of it. Arrange to meet other people so you don’t bottle out. Seeing them writing away will shame any procrastinatory thoughts to the back of your mind.

On that note, join a writing group, the pressure to deliver every week, fortnight or month is a great incentive and it’ll help to get feedback. A good place to start is the Dubai Writers’ Group. Or get to know a few other writers and make a pact to send each other a few pages over an agreed period of time. Authors are usually people pleasers, so you’ll comply and it helps keep you on track. Join some online writers’ groups for moral support or if you have any questions, so you can keep motivated and see that other people have the same crazy concerns and anxieties. A great one is the Writers HQ Facebook group.

Thirdly, at the start of each day I find it motivating to watch a quick video on writing tips, and two I like are Writing by Jenna Moreci and iWriterly (they’re funny, practical and don’t pander) and if you are finished your first novel and want to get published, or see what the process is like, then the BookEnds Literary Agency has a fantastic blog video series. But, don’t fall into the Youtube spiral and end up watching other videos and then hours will have gone by with no writing.

Finally, one piece of good advice they all say is don’t get caught up in thinking the first draft has to be absolutely perfect. The aim of draft 1 is to finish the novel. Then the real work of editing, rewriting, fleshing out more editing starts. “All first drafts of everything are garbage,” Ernest Hemingway said, so believe him if you don’t believe me. Or, if you really can’t write, then read books similar to the one you want to and see how that writer does things and then go back to your own writing and start. So, you can get your shit together, but you need to first stop reading this and just go and write. 

Inspired to start flexing your writing muscles? Then try entering the Montegrappa Letter Writing Competition, or even the the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize. For more writing tips, check out our interview with The Book Thief author Markus Zusak below!

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Shane McGinley is a senior journalist and editor living in Dubai. When he is not working on his magnum opus, he can be commissioned for freelance features via his LinkedIn account.