Friday, February 22, 2013


I have a longer post coming about all the excellent sessions I attended at the 2013 Perth Writers Festival yesterday, but while it's fresh in my mind, I wanted to share a bit of advice on a commonly asked question that was put to literary giants Margaret Atwood and China Mieville at their excellent session on Wordsmithing. They were so much fun together, and they had so many excellent insights.

A member of the audience asked the simple question- what do they do when they get stuck?

Margaret Atwood's advice was first, try something different with what you're writing. Change point of view- first person, third person, even second person. Or change tense- present, past. Try to write the current scene from a different angle and see if that will jog you back into your work.

If that fails, she has three go-to options:

1. Go for a walk
2. Have a sleep
3. Do something repetitive and mindless, like ironing

These are oft-repeated pieces of advice, because they work- stop worrying, stop overthinking, and rest your mind a little. When it's time to get back to writing, you'll benefit from greater clarity.

China Mieville reckons that his 200 word theory has carried him through periods of being stuck- tell yourself you only have to write 200 words, or around two paragraphs, and they don't have to be good. In fact you can expect them to suck. Describe anything- even the wall you're looking at- for 200 words.

Once you've done that, go away, and when you come back later- write another 200 words. Keep that up, and you'll either get yourself back on track, or at least keep your practice up for when the inspiration comes back.

He also commented that more books don't get written because people don't put words on the page, than don't get out there because the writing isn't perfect. Get it on the page, and you can always revise it later. Margaret Atwood commented that only you will see what you write to start with, so what does it matter whether it's perfect or not?

Keep on writing, and that's the only way to get where you're going.


  1. Good post Claire! Those are some of my own thoughts about getting stuck or blocked, I have a few more.

  2. Yes! I keep telling my mom that her writing would come easier if she would only put words on the page. But she expects each word she puts down to be the right one. So she'll stare at a blank page for days because she can't figure out what the opening sentence should be :-(

  3. I thought I was the only one who managed to find my muse while ironing.

  4. It's true - my Muse visits while I'm doing something mindlessly repetitive, or just before going to sleep.

    But I love Ms. Atwood's advice to try something different, such as a different POV. That's worked for me in the past when I felt like I was forcing the scene. Switched the POV and suddenly it all came together.