A quick tip for dealing with writer's block

Destroy writer's block

Writer's block. It's a thing. The white page can feel like a tyrannical force, a reign which can nevertheless be ended by a few keystrokes.

How to start? How to find that first idea?

What follows is one tip for dealing with a blank mind and a blank page.

The struggles of better writers

I was lucky enough to see the brilliant author David Mitchell gave a talk about his book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. In his genial and soft-spoken manner, he expounded on the specific challenges involved in writing a historical novel in the third person, a perspective he had never used in any of his previous novels. 

He struggled – always nice to hear of a great writer struggling – with the question of what’s relevant in the third person, i.e. how to decide what to leave in and what to leave out when the FOV, the authorial perspective is limitless.

As you do, he got on the phone with Booker prize-winning author AS Byatt, who passed on the following bon-mot: ‘whatever you think people want to hear, that’s what you put in’.

The merits of this advice aside, what was most interesting to me was his discussion of getting the language right for the period he was writing about – the 18th century. He spoke about an instance of using a word - brinkmanship - he was confident was appropriate for the time, only to have an editor flag up that it was actually coined during the cold war. 

Visiting an etymology website will prevent these kinds of embarrassments – though it may rob you of anecdotes for book readings – and allow you to delve into the fascinating and possibly inspiring history of a particular word.

Like delve, for instance! A word which derives from the Old English Deflan, meaning ‘to dig’. Weak inflections first emerged between the 14th and 16th centuries – so it’s been around for a while.

Exploring the history of a word can spawn new thoughts and associations. The word cliché, for example, dates from the 19th century and has an onomatopoeic origin, describing the sound made by the creation of printing plates, the sound, then, that accompanied the presumably noisy dawn of mass media. 

Given its origin in a technology that refined the mechanical reproduction of words, it’s not surprising that cliché eventually became a synonym for ‘trite remark’.

Such searches are not a guaranteed solution to writer's block but they may lead to a smidgeon of inspiration.

if you've got a your own quick tip for battling writer's block, please (please!) drop it in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Micka972, flickr
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