Four strategies to tackle writer’s block (and crack time management too).

‘Getting started, keeping going, getting started again — in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival Seamus Heaney

Many bloggers hit a writing road block now and again. I can certainly identify with that. While I tend towards spontaneous, occasional bursts of inspiration to get a post underway, I have lately come to realise the value of a planned approach to blogging, to writing, and to content creation. This strategy can even be applied more broadly to work and life on a daily basis.

For my part, the origin of my writer’s block lies in the realm of cognitive freeze and a sense of overwhelm – those days when you have so much to do, or so many ideas clamouring for attention, that you don’t know where to start, so you distract yourself with anything and everything bar the task in hand. Or you sit and stare at the wall, out the window, or the blank screen or page, or bury your head in your hands.

As our sage poet Seamus Heaney reflects in his wise and wonderful words in the introduction, this is indeed a common challenge, where the key to it all is getting started, and re-started, over and over again. While procrastination is ubiquitous, and tends towards a self-feeding dynamic, it can be overcome, with a little self-training and an awareness of the need for balance between work and play.

So I’ve done some research on how to tackle procrastination, artists’, writers’, creative and general life action block, get the activity, the work, the words flowing again, and grow new momentum-building habits.

To get the work flowing again and overcome overwhelm, it’s a balancing act between time out to play, relax and recharge, interspersed with planned work stints or sprints.

Schedule, schedule, schedule, repeat.

Schedule in the play times as well as the work times.

Ensure there are some physical activities in the mix to burn the energy, boost the serotonin and grow the brain.

We often think ourselves into and out of taking action, so with this insight, I’ve cobbled together a few resources and motivators that are helping me beat the block and I want to share them.

Four strategies for getting started, keeping going, and getting started again

1. Freewriting

This technique is essentially a kind of raw, fast expressive outpouring of thoughts and feelings as they come to you. Sometimes the content isn’t even consciously thought until you see it written on the page and reading over these notes can be revealing as well as full of ideas for further writing. The practice of Freewriting  came to me by way of author and motivator Orna Ross whose website is a treasure trove of inspirational resources for writers.

2. Journaling prompts

The internet is awash with sites full of journaling ideas and prompts. Some are geared towards self-healing, anxiety management, health and fitness, all manner of life activities. For writers and artists, journaling is an all round source of motivation, idea generation and creativity sparkler. Here is just one site: called Develop Good Habits, I have found their posts helpful for habit growing tips, one of which is, of course, regular journaling. 

3. A walk in the woods (or any other natural space)

On the Creative Live blog, Hannah Brookes Olsen explains how nature refreshes the body-mind. It’s not just the time out, but the space and environment in which to idle, to induce an almost meditative state within the more natural tones and rhythms of nature. My experience is that you switch into a different mode and gain a calmness which allows ideas and memories to sift and sort themselves, with the most important or promising developing a clarity of focus that points the way forward. In addition, the physical restoration can only be good for the creativity muscle.

4. Time Management Tools

Since I started to produce strategic marketing plans and content for small businesses and freelancers, I quickly realised the necessity for forward planning to stay on top of a complex of work and personal responsibilities. My search for a workable solution led me to the website and resources of time management guru Laura Vanderkam. First and foremost, we must track what we are doing now with time, and only then can we hone in on spots and openings that can be developed into more fulfilling activity. Of course, planning ahead is crucial but again, remember to schedule in some R&R time too.

So Keep Going Guys, and Have Fun too!

NOTE: I have no affiliation with any sites mentioned or linked. These are just resources that I have found helpful going forward in my life and work. 

Citations:

Grammarist on writer’s block:

https://grammarist.com/usage/writers-block/

Image:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creation.jpg

Seamus Heaney quote:

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/19/seamus-heaney-commencement/

BIRD.org.uk: Helping young people shine their brilliance and grow their resilience.

 

chrome ball sculpture covered in yarn bombed flowers and nets.

Yarn-bombed sculpture at Newcastle, County Down. Photo my own.

Creative Mental Health

As you all know I am passionate about the power of creativity, especially music, to boost mental health and grow self esteem. So I’m doubly delighted today because, via Twitter, BIRD has appeared on my horizon.

The organisation BIRD is the brainchild of Founding Director Neil Phillimore who has brought together a unique group of creative activists who nurture young people struggling with various life issues and stresses. BIRD’s mentors take them through a process of self expression using various media, especially music, song, drama and creative writing.

The power of arts and social support for mental health is well documented, as I have found in my own research and gleaned from many others’ studies. BIRD’s work is active proof that boosts what seems to me to be an emerging sense of self-affirmation, recovery and growth for otherwise vulnerable and at risk youth. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is empowerment though I feel there’s a lot more to it- as they say so much better themselves with their name BIRD, Brilliance, Integrity, Relationship and Delight.

With schools forced to cut arts budgets and society offering little in the way of free community provision for young people to find support and encouragement, this fantastic project deserves recognition for their service to the 16-25 age group, so many of whom are overwhelmed and underserved.

A Beacon of Inspiration

I believe also that BIRD is a beacon of light in terms of what can be done in creative mental health support. They need support for their current crowdfunding appeal so they can upgrade their resources and continue their work. This project could also be a workable model for further and more widespread initiatives and is certainly one I am keeping my eye on for future inspiration.

Good luck to all you folks at BIRD and keep up the great work 🙂

Hope springs eternal in the poetry of Bill McKnight.

image of book vocer with silhouette and title

 

An interview with poet Bill McKnight

by Roberta McDonnell for Subliminal Spaces blog.

Belfast poet Bill McKnight has just published his second collection which goes by the intriguing title of PoetraitureAs I suggested in the collection’s Introduction which it was my humble duty and deep privilege to write, these poems paint a portrait in words. Those words are sometimes brief yet are so full of pure, distilled poignancy that you realise he could have written a whole book and not said it any better. His lines resonate and communicate in Bill’s authentic, unique voice, filled with insight, hope and humour.

Poetraiture builds to some extent upon themes of stigmatisation and emotional struggle indicative of the first collection Loud Silence, yet in this second volume there is an expansion and maturation of the poet’s attention and observations. He addresses, with great wit and wisdom, themes around modernity, consumerism, human disconnection and the challenges for us all of authenticity and of ‘being human’ as he puts it. In Soul for example, at the same time as a widow is laid to rest in a damp cemetery,

Downtown, shoppers set the tone, / and ‘jingle bells’ is what the tills are ringing.

 

I asked Bill what sparked off the impulse to write and compose poetry? ‘It just came out spontaneously’ he told me, and went on to explain that many poems emerged during a period of recovery after a mental health struggle. Poetry is a therapeutic resource, he argues, with much personal experience to back up that claim.

Bill says, ‘It seems to come from the unconscious…or I don’t know where it comes from, it just erupts. But it’s only when I look back at the poems later on and reflect on them that I start to understand what they mean…connecting the dots.’ He continues, ‘My poems are a gift, to myself and to others who might find encouragement in them. They’re like little adverts for people who, for one reason or another, might have a short attention span but a brief affirmation might stick with them. I’d love to see them up on posters around the place to help remind people there’s always hope, no matter how ill you are or have been.’

So, when I ask Bill what he feels the aim of his work is, he has already answered the question, but adds, ‘I want to connect with people and to inspire them with hope for recovery. My aim could be summarised as “Symbolising Hope”.’

On Being Published

Bill: ‘What does being published mean to me? Well, it means getting the message out. Encouraging openness. Letting people know that mental illness need not be the end of the road. I’ve known suffering and the pain of stigma but I also know the reality and joy of healing. My main intention is that people get help and inspiration and overall encouragement from my work.

I have a vision for community mental health with a lot of peer input. Ideally, if my literary work could sustain me financially, my hopes are to help the community in North Belfast, to devote my energies full-time to that work. My vision is for a community mental health resource that supports and affirms people, working at the same time to change hearts and minds in this separated and divided society. I’m interested in bringing people together through integrated programmes of mental health support and peer support.’

What / whom do you like to read?

‘I don’t have a favourite author though I used to like the wit and humour of Spike Milligan. I get so much from a wide range of literature, like psychological books, poetry and stories, in fact I’m currently exploring nursery rhymes, they have so much wisdom in a few short lines.’

What are you currently working on?

‘A humourous collection of poetry in the short-term. In the long-term I’ve ideas and some sketched out plans for a play. I’m also in a period of reflection, looking back over some of my past work and it deepens your insight, then it stirs my imagination and gives me more ideas, like a domino effect. It’s all about making connections…that’s my process…that’s how the creativity works.’

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who hope to publish?

‘Be yourself. Dare to be different. Embrace your unique imperfection. There may be nothing new under the sun but there are limitless ways of saying it and speaking truth. And another thing is: don’t be afraid of nerves or ashamed of being nervous. Face your fears and go past them.’

Wise words indeed. Authenticity is one of Bill’s trademarks. It may not have always been so, in fact he suggests it was not being true to himself that caused a lot of his earlier suffering .

The reason I was ill / was because I was not Bill.

 

I hope that demonstrates the intensity of the distilled wisdom and insight in Bill’s work. Catch up with Poetraiture for more inspiration, fun and food for thought. Bill’s first collection Loud Silence  is worth catching too.

Citations and image from Poetraiture ©Bill McKnight

Article ©Roberta McDonnell

 

The Fragility of Being Human and the Power of Poetry to Mend

blue word cloud composed of poet names and recurring words

The Power of Poetry

In a recent BBC2 documentary on W. H. Auden and ‘The Age of Anxiety’, Poet Paul Muldoon reflected that Auden’s work reveals the ‘fragility’ of human societies, indeed of what we think of as ‘civilisation’. It was this insight that struck me as one of the reasons for the intensely therapeutic nature of poetry, both reading and writing it. For if poetry and poets help us understand the human condition and our own experience in the world, or as Muldoon has it, in the ‘moments’ in which we find ourselves, then it can help us to fully engage with the world, with our lives and with our authentic selves.

To do this, I am convinced we need to work with all shades of existence, including, as Jung maintained, the realm of shadow. For again it was Jung’s contention that denial of the shadow gives it tremendous destructive power, acted out in political contexts in the guise of oppressive ideologies and mass violence. And Auden saw this too in the mesmerism of crowds by the rise of fascist tyrants during the 1930s,

‘And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; / He knew human folly like the back of his hand,’

 

Louis MacNeice, another poet who arose during the thirties, also imbued significant chunks of his work with a sense of human mortality and the weariness of war, yet with a balancing opposite that revelled in human connection and in moments of ‘Sunlight on the Garden’.

Even in child development we can see reflections of the poet’s worlds of fear and destruction, opposed and challenged by growth, light and creativity. Melanie Klein constructed her whole model of child development around ideas that every human child goes through a period of depression and alienation, which must be negotiated successfully in order to grow into a balanced, happy, functional adult. How is this trial surmounted? By being steeped in an environment full of opportunities to channel feelings and fears and to use creative energies to construct and express the self. This also requires being surrounded by emotionally healthy, loving carers who can become positive, constructive internalised role models. A fragile existence and perilous journey, indeed, for if these conditions are not met at least in some measure, all sorts of distorted relationships and ideas may develop, allowing for powerful defensive, negative shadow material to fester into self-destructive or outwardly violent actions.

Auden understood this dynamic and pointed it out, not I believe to be a doom warrior, but to show the way out of the cycle of destruction, through understanding and validating other humans and their experience, and by addressing our needs for safety, belonging and expressive outlets. In September 1, 1939 he writes,

‘I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.’

 

As Muldoon and other commentators in the documentary explained, the individual experience is inextricably linked to the contexts in which it emerges, and these contexts are multi-layered: time, history, place, biological, social, political, cultural. Poetry as a therapeutic resource must surely be more widely acknowledged and funded. For my own part, I find poetry encouraging and validating, which is why I seem to be on a bit of a bender of late, catching up with some of the classics like Auden and MacNeice as well as more modern poets like C. K. Williams and Paul Muldoon. Here are a few links to sites I’ve come across recently. I hope you find them as uplifting and exciting as I do.

The Interesting Literature blog

The Poetry Foundation

And the word art motif above was created free on wordart.com 

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