The Quiet Words: Week Seven
Creative cheat sheets
A cheat sheet for when you feel stuck
Congratulations! This week, you will have submitted your 1,200 word piece and I can’t wait to read your ideas, stories and memories. I will be getting back to all of you this week with my notes in order of submitting (so the earlier you sent me your piece, the sooner you will hear back from me) but in the meantime I’ve put together a little cheat sheet for you to print off and keep in your writer’s journal whenever you start to feel stuck.
Don’t force it If it’s just not working today and the words or the ideas just aren’t coming, then it’s okay. Don’t punish yourself by sitting in front of a computer screen, feeling the pressure to produce something meaningful and creative. If it’s not coming, then it means you’re not in the right place today. So give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. The worst thing you can do for both your productivity and well-being is to simply sit there and fight with yourself.
Unblock yourself Do whatever you need to to find your still and reconnect with it. It might be yoga, baking, taking the dog for a walk or going on a run. Re-read Week Two on Find Your Still. Take it slow. If it feels like a long-term block is looming, return to morning pages for a while to clear your head. And if there’s feelings you need to process, take some time to journal too.
Avoid all distractions Turn off the internet, put down your phone and social media apps.
Read Read the books that make you feel inspired from your list of Dazzling books. Or read something entirely new and entirely different. Perhaps a new perspective, a new world and a book you’ve not read at all is just what you need. Browse a bookshop in person, rather than online - you’ll find something you would never otherwise notice behind a screen.
Revisit your creative ideas Take the time to read through your writer’s journal and your observations. Is there anything there that you haven’t yet explored but would really like to? Engage your creative intuition and allow yourself to ask questions and follow through to wherever it takes you - you never know what ideas you might find.
Try something new If it really is feeling like a struggle to write, then give yourself some time off completely and fill your committed writing time with something new - go visit an exhibition or see a film; try an art class or learn some photography skills or take a day trip somewhere you’ve never been. Remove yourself from your daily surroundings; each new and interesting experience brings with it a whole set of observations to be made and thoughts to think which will in turn eventually become fresh writings on a page.
A cheat sheet for when your writing just isn’t coming
Read your writing aloud Listen to the way the words roll of your tongue. If you stumble, if it is hard to get the words out, then chances are you need some ruthless copy editing. The words that make you trip probably don’t need to be there at all. Sometimes you want your sentences to sound a little breathless, sometimes you want your sentences to roll on and reach a crescendo - but the only way to know if it works is to hear it. So read it, read it as if you’re a published author at your very own reading and put your soul into your sentences.
Read Return to your books on your Dazzling list and open a few pages at random. Read but do so studiously. Pay close attention to the sentences, the speech, the description. Ask yourself what you can learn. Return to Week Four - Read With A Writer’s Eye and remind yourself of what to search for and how you can bring some of that same magic into your own writing too.
Try changing your tenses If you’re writing is feeling flat and disconnected, switch tenses. I find the present tense can suddenly bring a piece to life in a way the past tense can’t. Similarly, past tense offers a rather beautiful distance and perspective that can really enhance storytelling and adds a more observational mood.
Try switching perspective Even if you are used to writing in first person for reflective prose or memoir-style essays, play around with different perspectives. You don’t even have to stick with it, but simply switching from first person to third person will suddenly let you see (and read) your writing in a new light. It’ll perhaps give you the distance you need to see what’s not working and then enable you to jump right back in.
If you have invented a character, then get to know them And get to really know them. Pretend you’re having coffee with them - is your character the kind of person who turns up on time or is running late? And if he or she is late, why? Tea or coffee? Cake or cookies? Make them real. Believe in them. Give all your characters a name. Write down all the things you know about them - they favourite foods, their most embarrassing moments, what they really think about their boss - as if these were secrets they confided in you. Most of the detail may never find its way into your writing, but the fact that you know them means you can truly bring your characters to life. Another trick that always helps me with characters is imagining that they've come over for dinner, and I have to introduce them to my husband. It's an entertaining exercise, as well as a helpful, insightful one.
And if you haven’t got fictional characters Then do the same for any of the voices that appear in your writing. Make them real. Turn to your journal and pick out observations that you’ve made of the way people gesture, the habits that are so normal and yet so individual. And if you’re only writing about yourself, then make yourself real. Drop in the little truthful details that will bring you closer to your reader, make you seem more than just fingers typing in front of a screen.
Re-read your work and always edit Cull and curate your words until it reads beautifully and sparkles with clarity. Even if this means you shed a thousand words in the process; so be it. There is a place for unedited work, and that’s your morning pages and your journal. Polish each and every sentence, even the most ordinary sounding, so that every single word works hard for you and adds to the mood and the soul of your writing.
You might be wondering why on earth I didn’t give you these cheat sheets last week, when you were actually in the midst of writing your pieces for me. Truthfully, I wanted to see how you’d do on your own. I want you to believe that you can do this, that you can write creatively and move people, all on your own. These cheat sheets are here for you next time, just in case you need them.
I think you’ve probably earned a week off writing homework by now! So go, enjoy your accomplishment of handing your writing project in. But this is a different kind of homework. Share with one another. Head to our Facebook page and share your experience of writing for me, and how you feel it went. If you've made connections, perhaps you'd like to swap work and share your own feedback for a second, third opinion.
And don’t forget - keep up with that journal and those morning pages. And have you finished reading the book I asked you to start in Week 1? Did you notice anything different about it when reading it with a writer’s eye?
PS Remember your very first piece of homework in Week One? The one where I asked you to imagine your most creative life, and write down five words to describe it? Take a moment to just reflect on that. Do you feel you’re reaching that goal?