Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Hello, my lovelies! Happy Wednesday! Today's post is in answer to a reader question, but before I get started, I bring tidings of great joy! THE NAME OF THE BLADE has been nominated for the Teen Choice Book of the Year 2014! Voting for the winner will run between now and the beginning of February next year, so if you've enjoyed the book and would like to see it get a little more attention head over here to the poll and voice your opinion (you can vote for up to five books, not just mine).

Also, any reviews for the US version of the book there on would be greatly, greatly appreciated. I know that's a pain for US Dear Readers who've already reviewed the UK version of the book, since those reviews *should* have been transferred across. But I emailed about it and their response was basically 'Meh'. So... it's down to us to do something about the lonely, four-review status of the book. I appreciate the readers who've already done so more than I can say. But I love you all anyway. Mwah!

Now onto today's question, which was left in the comments by Anon:
I had a quick question in which I'd like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Many thanks!
Anon, this is a problem I'm sure most writers and creative people have. I know that the fantastic YA writer Melinda Lo, for instance, needs to meditate for a short while each day before beginning work in order to centre herself. It's a little strange, because if you're anything like me you spend a lot of time doing regular day to day tasks - shopping, cleaning, walking the dog - with your brain just buzzing with your character's voices and bits of descriptions and actions you can't wait to write. But as soon as you actually sit down to do so? Suddenly your head is filled with the regular day to day tasks instead! Frustrating.

I've got an advantage because I have my Writing Cave, a teeny-tiny box room which is filled with books and a computer and pretty much nothing else. When I go in there my brain *knows* that we're about to get down to business and so I find it easier to clear my head and start work (sometimes I swear, as soon as I walk in I can feel my synapses give out a little sigh of relief). But on days when I'm stressed or tired or just not feeling all that creative, it can still be really tough to stop other thoughts from getting in the way of the words. So I do have a few strategies that I use to shove all that annoying real stuff out of the front of my head to make room for my story.

MUSIC: I'm a little more music obsessed than the average bear (although not as obsessed as the famous Maggie Stiefvater, whose eye-wateringly extensive playlists can be found all over her blog and Tumblr) and make multiple playlists for each book, and sometimes specific ones for each character or for important relationships or events. But you don't have to be a tunes-nerd to utilise the benefits of music to help you focus and get your head into a creative space! You don't even need to be one of those writers who listens to music as they work - I know plenty of people who can't stand it, but don't worry about that. That's not what we're doing here.

Set aside an afternoon to browse on Spotify or YouTube and find a song that really speaks to you - you know the kind I'm talking about, one that makes you stop whatever you're doing for a moment as soon as you hear the opening notes, that gives you a little shiver down your spine when it opens up. If it's a tune that relates in some way to your current book, that's great, but it doesn't have to be. It just needs to be a piece of music that speaks to you.

Download said piece of music and the next time you come to write, after your document or your notebook is open and you're ready to begin, stop - and play the song. Listen to it with your whole heart, feel it, let it move you. When it's finished, hopefully the buzzing thoughts will have calmed down a bit and you'll feel the stillness and inner quiet you need to start putting words down. 

PLANNING: Sometimes your head is full of anxiety and stress because you know the upcoming scene is really important and you're not sure you have the skills to pull it off. This worry can block the brain like nothing else, and before you know it your thoughts have gone off on a merry, procrastinating joy-ride, fixating on the cracks in the ceiling, the not-very-interesting thing you saw on TV last night, or your plans for great-aunt Miriam's birthday present next May: in short, ANYTHING but the thing you actually need to concentrate on.

At this point, whether you're an outliner or a pantser, a little bit of planning can really help. Not too much! Don't panic! Get a Post-It or the back of an envelope and a pencil and make yourself a little bullet-pointed list of three or five or ten things you need to accomplish in this scene. John and Beth argue/Beth storms out/John watches Beth from window and has revelation about feelings/John sees fireball fly over castle wall and immolate Beth/John screams in primal rage, turns into purple gorilla and smashes way out of window to destroy everyone. There!

You don't have to stick to this list of things - but by having defined what you're here to accomplish, you've sneakily slid your brain sideways into focus on the story in a no pressure sort of way. When  the list is finished, generally you feel calmer and better able to begin. 

TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF: Sometimes all the stars align right, the writing gods smile on you, you roll out of bed bright and early and find that you have a whole day or half day (or whatever) with nothing to do but write. No distractions, no worries, nothing else to accomplish. It's going to be amazing! You sit down. And you stare at the blank computer screen/page. And stare. And stare some more. AND NOTHING COMES OUT.

Why? Too much pressure! The idea of dedicating a whole day or several long hours in a row to nothing but writing feels exciting, but in practice it can often make your brain freeze up. So come at it a different way. Set your phone or your alarm to beep in half an hour or forty minutes and tell yourself that you need to write as many words as possible in that time. When you're done, you're done. The rest of the day is free. GO!

This might sound like the opposite of 'taking the pressure off' but it works really well. Now you have a short-term goal which is much less scary than 'spend the entire day creating deathless prose' and you don't have any time to hang around. It jumpstarts you creatively and you may find that you write a surprising amount for such a short period of time. You may also find that at the end of your thirty of forty minutes you're desperate to continue - which is fine - or that you're exhausted and happy to stop - also fine! Either way, you'll have accomplished much more than you would have if you'd spent two hours staring at your blank page before finally bursting into tears, fleeing to your favourite blankie, and curling into the fetal position. 

JUST RESIGN YOURSELF: Even with all these Jedi mindtricks, there are still times when your brain simply will not shut up and you cannot seem to get into the proper writing mood. You know that anything you write for at least the first twenty minutes is going to be rubbish.

So? Resign yourself to that and write anyway.

Just because the first few paragraphs or pages will need a lot of rewriting, that doesn't mean the rest of your work for the day won't be excellent and well-worth committing to the page. It doesn't mean you should waste hours fruitlessly trying to inspire yourself in increasingly bizarre ways, or give up completely, either. This is one of the first lessons that full-time writers learn: sometimes you just have to push through and write, even when you don't feel like it.

In almost every case, after half an hour or so, the effort to put words down loosens up my cramped creative brain and I start to feel happy and inspired after all. So what if it takes a page of dross to get me there? It's worth it!

I hope this helps, Anon! Read you next week, everyone :)


sarah said...

congratulations on your nomination!

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Sarah!

Phoenixgirl said...

This is unrelated to this post, but I just wanted to let you know that one of the links in the All About Writing tab seems to be broken. I was reading through some of the old posts there for inspiration, and when I clicked on "How Do You Pick Your Titles?" it mysteriously sent me to a page that told me to log into my Google+ account. Something must have gotten muddled somehow since you put it up.

Zoë Marriott said...

Phoenix: oh, darn - I had no idea. Thanks for letting me know, Phoenix! I'll try to fix it ASAP.

Alex Mullarky said...

Great advice Zoe, thank you! Do you have any author events coming up in the next few weeks? I'm in the UK for Christmas :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: I hope you have a lovely time! Annoyingly I - and a couple of other writers - really tried to set up some events over Christmas with no less than THREE different bookshops. But apparently Christmas isn't a good time for bookshops anymore (well, that was the excuse we were given!) and we couldn't get them to agree to anything. Gah.

Alex Mullarky said...

Shocking. Bookshops looked pretty busy today!

Pam said...

Most excellent tips, Ms Z.
I'm a big fan of the...set a timer school of writing when I'm having trouble getting clear and focussed. And/or as a trick to just GET MY HAND IN MOTION.

Once I settle in, the work almost always begins to flow and the 'fears' are also chased away.

The fears being that horrid free floating anxiety that haunts me whenever I am not writing.

If I can get my butt in the chair and to the page.... Even for a short time... The fears dissipate like....magic.

Thanks for the tips.

Go easy ~p

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