Tag Archives: writer’s block

On the dangers of believing in ‘writer’s block’…

I’ve just been asked by a magazine to give my thoughts on the terrible condition called writer’s block. I’m afraid I gave them short shrift.

I don’t believe in it. I’m frustrated when this excuse is peddled as a way of excusing poor preparation, or tiredness, or the need to do further research, or rest, breathe, look at the landscape or generally put more ‘food’ in the ‘cupboard’. We need stimulus, we need new experiences and sensations, we need change and to be active, and we also need to rest. This is natural, and I believe all humans need it. What I get perplexed about is when this malaise is wheeled out to explain why someone is not working. I have seen people grind to a halt (or not even start) and remain there for months and even years, saying ‘writer’s block’ as though that’s it, the end, and there’s nothing to be done but wait until it unblocks itself in its own sweet time, if ever….

This is not to be confused with burn-out, or lack of confidence, or an overly-active critic in the head who murmurs endlessly about how crap you are, or a host of other debilitating conditions we also have to get over in order to do what we do… And after blasting the poor editor with my thoughts about how we indulge notions of writer’s block to the benefit of a burgeoning self-help industry, but to the detriment of the profession (it adds to the fantasy of the tortured, suffering artist and lets lazy writers get away with it), I became superstitious and wondered if I was inviting hubris….

I have never had writer’s block as I see writing as a craft and profession, as well as one of the greatest joys and solaces of my life. In the past when I have failed to write it was because I needed rest, or stimulus, or discipline, or a few quiet nights in and less out on the tiles – I needed to research more, to plot better, to be more spontaneous, or less jaded – I just needed to get on and do the bloody work. I started seeing the difference between a writer and a would-be writer as the latter talks about it, endlessly, whilst the real thing just applies the seat of the pants to a chair and gets on with it.

When I teach I have a series of timed exercises I encourage writers to do at home to start afresh, or change direction, so instead of falling into that big hole in the manuscript they are making bigger by boring their eyes into it, they might find it less intimidating by approaching from a different place.

I have never found a problem with writing that couldn’t be solved by writing.

And then I found other writers felt similar to me – wonderfully successful and talented writers, whose words might make be feel less superstitious about inviting hubris when I write ‘I don’t get writer’s block.’ I can’t afford to come to a stop with a show going into tech’ in Taipei art Festival and another starting rehearsals in the UK this week, and a short monologue to write for Agent 160’s Fun Palace…

So over to Philip Pullman….

“Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?

The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn’t find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.

Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.”

Fabulous. No-nonsense and to the point. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Now I’m off to write that monologue….

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Fear and writing.

I’m assuming the former First Lady didn’t mean leaping out of a helicopter when she came up with that famous quotation. Her genius, perhaps, lay in understanding the everyday and how those small daily victories and failures can define us.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” Eleanor Roosevelt.

It’s good to get the adrenaline flowing, to get that heart rattling against the inside of the ribs, to face something we fear and avoid and would rather leave alone, thank you. But invariably when we do finally confront something, what happens? If you’re anything like me, after the initial blood rush there is a high, a sense of achievement and strength. I feel if not invincible, then happy I’ve taken action, even if that action is as ‘simple’ as sitting down and trying to put words to a thought or feeling.

Overcoming our creative fears is essential. I’m uncomfortable saying that writers, practitioners, makers and artists are courageous, as I feel this undermines the reality of those on the frontline confronting despots or bullets or fire or overwhelming odds, but who press on regardless, with hope and optimism. I’m not a volunteer with médecins sans frontiers (who I really do think are brave), but I must also admit it takes a form of courage to do what we do.

I wrote in my last post about doubt, how it is so often something artists are encouraged not to do. I think doubt can be important – it can reveal possibilities otherwise obscured by the absolute. It is self-doubt that is debilitating. Self-doubt can turn the creative impulse to stone and stop us from making our work, which is why it is important in our daily work we do something that scares us: to defy the fear manifesting itself as self-doubt.

From my own experience, but also from working with other writers, I know we often don’t realise we are sabotaging the integrity of our work and the paths to our future through fear. Often when working as a dramaturg or mentor I’ve had to corner a writer and ask why haven’t they reached the mutually agreed deadline; why haven’t they done the work they outlined; why haven’t they written with passion and to the best of their ability now that opportunity they’ve been wishing for so long is finally here…?

The reason has always come down to fear. Fear of exposing themselves to criticism; fear of not being liked or admired because of their material; fear of not being good enough; fear of appearing not as bright as they’d like…the fear of failing… the fear of succeeding…. I know a writer who turned down the opportunity to work with a production company on developing the screenplay she’d been pitching for two years. In tears and after much baffled questioning, she finally admitted she had withdrawn from the project as she was frightened on two counts: First, that she wouldn’t be good enough and therefore would be ‘found out’. Secondly, if she was ‘good enough’ and the film got made, that would have massive implications on her career and she didn’t want her life to change…

Fear is connected to change, yet that is the one thing in this life we can be sure is going to happen…. So let us try and embrace this rather than resist it.

And so we return to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice. It can be interpreted in many ways, and applied to a host of diverse actions, but as artists and writers perhaps we can take it to mean to DARE.  DARE to reach for our ambitions, to express what we really think; to make the best work we can even though this may make us  vulnerable.

 

starting to write…research, creating materials and scratching out the territory

It’s that exciting time – researching, imagining the territory, scratching out the first traces of what may develop into a character’s voice, journey, temperament, discoveries… I’m starting out on a new play, creating the anarchic, formless, sprawling mosaic of half-monologues, author’s questions and asides, indications of dynamic and interaction in snatches of dialogue, hastily written notes about place and action which eventually come together to create an image of the world of the play…

As a playwright, I’m not a planner. I know all the tricks and approaches, the theories and proposed practices. I’ve read the books, been to the seminars, taken and led the workshops. I know how it’s done and am known for my skills with dramaturgy and structure, yet my own process at the start of a new play is deliberately chaotic and to a planner’s eye, undisciplined. I give myself free rein to follow any wild association that pings in my head, to research in unlikely places so long as there is a chord resounding in me, to scrawl pages of notes and questions and one liners and ‘what ifs’ and scratching outs and a) b) c) d) versions of what may happen and whose emerging voice it may be and what this might really be about…

I read widely and eclectically – a medieval Welsh myth in translation, a misery memoir on abduction and a Victorian botanical primer (with delicious, delicate hand-painted illustrative plates) in the past four days alone. I’ve read about stamens and ovules; the flora and fauna of the New Forest; an American Survivalist’s blog on going off-grid and an Austrian’s guide for surviving trauma. I’ve seasoned this with playlists of new-to-me musicians and composers selected by my nephews and images from photographers’ blogs on remote places and abandoned buildings.

I’m immersing myself in whatever snags my interest or resonates for the perceived journey ahead. I’m not being selective or critical. I’m dipping in like a swift tips the surface of a lake, sampling, trying, flying on, keeping moving. I’ve learnt how seductive research can be. I know how it can engross you, consume you, and become either yet another form of procrastination, preventing you from getting down to the job in hand – writing – or it can weigh you and the project down, words research-heavy, too dense to soar.

I carry my diverse and immersive research lightly, although I abandon myself to its pleasures for a short time. This I think is where experience comes in – knowing when to stop both the task at hand and the whole process itself. It is also important to learn how to notate, to skim off what is of interest and potentially of use to your project, keeping always a little distance from what you are engaged in, however addictive. It is also essential to capture the thoughts that flit across your imagination before they dissipate in the air.

Have always a notebook or computer nearby. Don’t con yourself. You will not remember. Jot it down, and now, and see if the thought can be expressed in the character’s voice – the character not yet invented, nevermind realised – this is our paradoxical task but one which can’t be avoided or put off. Send away any inner critic and don’t worry how and what you write so long as you let the impulse flow through you and into the pen/keys; shake yourself out of research pleasure, which ironically often manifests in idleness. Try shaping into scrawled notes that shapeless thought clouding your mind. Get it down and keep moving – you can come look at it again, later. Travel fast, travel with curiosity and an open mind, travel well.

More on my process of starting to write will follow….

Enjoy.

The difference between prose and poetry…. Marge Piercy

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In 1999 Marge Piercy wrote a long feature for The New York Times identifying and expanding upon her processes and sources of inspiration when writing novels and poetry. Moving between poetry and prose is the secret to avoiding writer’s block, she maintains, and her reflections on both forms and where they come from is illuminating and generous.

I believe that writers never stop learning. I’m always keen to hear and share what others have said about process and creativity – what this blog, in different approaches, is all about. When not documenting or reflecting on my own collaborations or processes, I’m constantly trawling through old journals, periodicals and the internet, seeking advice, camaraderie, solace, understanding and wisdom. If I’m despondent, or frustrated, or unclear about what to do with my own work, reading the thoughts of other writers invariably works as a remedy, or at least shifts something in me. So as another strand to this blog, ‘Writers on Writing’.  What follows is an edit from Marge Piercy’s original essay, but it is a masterclass. Enjoy.

Life of Prose and Poetry — an Inspiring Combination

By MARGE PIERCY   New York Times. December 20, 1999

….Sometimes I say that if a writer works in more than one genre, the chances of getting writer’s block are greatly diminished. If I am stuck in a difficult passage of a novel, I may jump ahead to smoother ground, or I may pause and work on poems exclusively for a time. If I lack ideas for one genre, usually I have them simmering for the other.

I am always going back and forth. It’s a rare period that is devoted only to one. That happens when I am revising a novel to a deadline, working every day until my eyes or my back gives out, and when I am putting a collection of poetry together, making a coherent artifact out of the poems of the last few years and reworking them as I go….

 Poems start from a phrase, an image, an idea, a rhythm insistent in the back of the brain. I once wrote a poem when I realized I had been hearing a line from a David Bryne song entirely wrong, and I liked it my way. Some poems are a journey of discovery and exploration for the writer as well as the reader. I find out where I am going when I finally arrive, which may take years.

Poems hatch from memory, fantasy, the need to communicate with the living, the dead, the unborn. Poems come directly out of daily life, from the garden, the cats, the newspaper, the lives of friends, quarrels, a good or bad time in bed, from cooking, from writing itself, from disasters and nuisances, gifts and celebrations. They go back into daily life: people read them at weddings and funerals, give them to lovers or soon-to-be ex-lovers or those they lust for, put them up on their refrigerators or over their computers, use them to teach or to exhort, to vent joy or grief.

The mind wraps itself around a poem. It is almost sensual, particularly if you work on a computer. You can turn the poem round and about and upside down, dancing with it a kind of bolero of two snakes twisting and coiling, until the poem has found its right and proper shape.

There is something so personal and so impersonal at once in the activity that it is addictive. I may be dealing with my own anger, my humiliation, my passion, my pleasure; but once I am working with it in a poem, it becomes molten ore. It becomes “not me.” And the being who works with it is not the normal, daily me. It has no sex, no shame, no ambition, no net. It eats silence like bread. I can’t stay in that white-hot place long, but when I am in it, there is nothing else. All the dearness and detritus of ordinary living falls away, even when that is the stuff of the poem. It is as remote as if I were an archaeologist working with the kitchen midden of a 4,000-year-old city.

Prose is prosier. No high-flying language here. My urge to write fiction comes from the same part of my psyche that cannot resist eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations in airports, in restaurants, in the supermarket. I am a nosy person. My mother was an amazing listener, and she radiated something that caused strangers on buses to sit down and begin to tell her their life stories or their troubles. I have learned to control that part of myself, but I am still a good interviewer and a good listener because I am madly curious about what people’s lives are like and what they think about them and say about them and the silences between the words….

 I always want to hear how the stories come out, what happens next, a basic urge all writers bring to fiction and one pull that keeps readers turning page after page. Another drive is the desire to make sense of the random, chaotic, painful, terrifying, astonishing events of our lives. We want there to be grand patterns. We want there to be some sense in events, even if the sense is that no one is in charge and entropy conquers; that all is illusion or a baroque and tasteless joke. Each good novel has a vision of its world that informs what is put in and what is left out.

For me the gifts of the novelist are empathy and imagination. I enter my characters and try to put on their worldviews, their ways of moving, their habits, their beliefs and the lies they tell themselves, their passions and antipathies, even the language in which they speak and think: the colors of their lives. Imagination has to do with moving those characters through events, has to do with entering another time, whether of the recent past or 300 or 500 years ago, in Prague or Paris or London or New York or the islands of the Pacific. It has to do with changing some variables and moving into imagined futures, while retaining a sense of character so strong the reader will believe in a landscape and in cities and worlds vastly different from our own.

Ideas for poems come to me any old time, but not generally ideas for revising poems. The notion that revising poems is a different process from revising fiction occurred to me on the treadmill, but I cannot imagine that I would ever think about actually revising a poem there. When I rewrite a poem, I go back into the space of the poem and contemplate it. I read it aloud. The only other time when I work on revising a poem is the first or second time I read it to an audience, when all the weak and incoherent parts suddenly manifest themselves big as the writing on billboards.

With fiction, since I live inside a novel for two or three years, the problem is letting go when I am done for the day. Ideas for what I am working on come in the night, in the tub, on planes, in the middle of supper. I keep a notebook on the night table, so that when an idea bombs in at 2 a.m., I will not get up and turn on the computer. One reason I learned to meditate was to control my fictional imagination and not let the characters take me over. Learning to let go except for those occasional flashes is central to keeping my sanity and my other, real relationships.

Biography from http://margepiercy.com/

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including The New York Times bestseller  Gone To Soldiers; the National Bestsellers Braided Lives and The Longings of Women, and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time; eighteen volumes of poetry including The Hunger Moon and The Moon is Always Female, and a critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. Born in center city Detroit, educated at the University of Michigan, the recipient of four honorary doctorates, she has been a key player in some of the major progressive battles of our time, including the anti-Vietnam war and the women’s movement, and more recently an active participant in the resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Creative burnout…. time to in-put instead of out-put.

It’s not always possible to be creative.

This may not seem the most eye-catching of statements, but for the writer/maker/artist/practitioner it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the obvious from time to time.

But actually, is this so obvious? I’ve often spoken to writer friends who get anxious when they’re not producing, or whose research/planning periods seem to be going on longer than usual, with no initiating idea to get them started on the rough draft.

When I look about me (in real life as well as online), there seems to be a culture of constant creativity, with no let-up in pace and productivity. Friends have no sooner delivered a novel or screenplay or theatre production when the next one is being anticipated. It feels as though we are in perpetual assembly line mode – out-putting constantly, with no dip in quality or originality allowed. In fact, more innovation seems to be expected each time.

And suddenly, I’m feeling very tired with all this activity…

And suddenly I long for something more organic, human-friendly and balanced.

And suddenly I’m reminded I am a farmer’s daughter, where there were seasons for planting seeds, fertilising, growth, and harvest – not forgetting those essential periods for laying fallow.

Have we forgotten the basics, in order to try and keep ahead of the game?

Many of my friends are exhausted, and it’s not just that tiredness that comes with dark winter evenings and the desire to hibernate. They are tired creatively. The juice is sluggish. The spark is failing to ignite quite as quickly as usual. I’ve had anguished emails from collaborators and former students lamenting the sudden dearth in ideas. My advice is simple and immediate, as I’ve been here so often myself: Relax, breathe, time to fill the stock cupboards and have some in-put as well as out-put…

How to in-put seems to depend as much on the kind of activity that has caused the depletion as what kind of personality or character we have.

Sometimes after long periods revising and editing, I long for visual stimulation and no language… I find myself wanting to take long walks by the sea, where my eye can carry on until the distant horizon, or if in a city, hours in art galleries (Rothko and Redon are incredibly refreshing for some reason).

When I’ve been storylining or devising, I have a sudden hunger for reading, but after teaching or working as a dramaturg in the studio, I want to lie down and listen to radio plays or audio books (one of favourites being Jim Norton’s reading of Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’). Sometimes I simply need to grab some friends and kick up my heels. I’ve found my productivity after a particularly raucous weekend with little sleep is surprisingly fruitful.

The central issue seems NOT TO PANIC…. Just accept there are times when we are tired – dull and jaded – and the remedy is finding the way(s) of getting your mojo back. We need to feed our imagination and creativity, as well as giving them moments of rest.

In praise of mentoring and creating a community of fellow writers

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Ty Newydd: The National Writers Centre of Wales and former home of Lloyd George.

I recently wrote about the joys and symbiosis of mentoring playwrights through my association with Ty Newydd, The National Writers Centre of Wales. In this capacity, I was the tutor, the dramaturg, the reader who wrote encouraging reports on works in progress with the occasional sting in order to jolt the writer (I hoped) out of inertia or unproductive habits and into focused activity. One of the strengths of working with writers you have known for many months, and in some cases several years, is the mutual trust this sharing of time and processes brings, and the knowledge of what works best for them in this most particular dynamic when deadlines are approaching and new drafts need to be delivered – the carrot or the stick.

The other tangible benefit from this kind of close engagement is the potential creation of community. Writing is a notoriously singular activity, requiring long stretches of solitude and solo focus. Unlike other forms, theatre has its moments of social activity, for it is a blueprint for the stage which needs the massed imaginations and skills of the collaborators (actors, director, scenographer, lighting designer, dancers, musicians, etc) to bring it to fruition. It is often a relief to move into this engagement after the solo slog – and enlivening (at the least!) to discover other interpretations and imaginations responding to a work which has perhaps until this date existed only in the voice in your own head.

But meanwhile before that – when perhaps a script is still emerging, or relationships have not yet been forged with a company to move the script into this next phase of development… what happens then?

You create the company for yourself, utilising whoever is at hand.

I am a great believer in people power. Perhaps it’s the old punk in me, but I’m an exponent of ‘doing it yourself’.

For years I have been gathering friends who, if not professional actors, are willing to be drawn into reading my script aloud. And often the carrot of wine or food once we have done this task isn’t always a required inducement. Of course such homemade workshops may not be as effective as working with an experienced cast and director or dramaturg, who have an inkling of what they’re doing… But when you are stuck in a strange sort of hiatus, hearing those words in the room rather than inside your head can often move the work forward.

Tom Wentworth, one of the participants on my recent Mentoring Scheme, has written about the joys of peer review and this kind of workshop exploration on the DAO website, link below. He outlines some of the processes we went through over the scheme, and the joys of sharing extracts of the scripts in progress in the beautiful, tiny theatre of The Lloyd George Museum in North Wales last month.

I hope that this group will continue nurturing and supporting each other. We have a well-established private google group where we urge each other on, or share opportunities in the flick of an email. We have created our own small community of fellow writers – and I hope we will continue to observe each other’s development and success of careers over the coming years.

For Tom Wentworth’s article, go to: http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/?location_id=1951

One hundred and fifty ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 120 – 124.

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More quotations about writing to inspire and encourage, chastise and giddy us up.

120)   Any writer who has difficulty in writing is probably not onto his true subject, but wasting time with false, petty goals; as soon as you connect with your true subject you will write.   (Joyce Carole Oats)

121)    Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.  (PD James)

122)   Plot springs from character… I’ve always sort of believed that these people inside me- these characters- know who they are and what they’re about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don’t type.   (Anne Lamott)

123)  I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.  (G.K.Chesterton) 

124)   Finish everything you start.   Get on with it.   Stay in your mental pyjamas all day. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. No alcohol, sex or drugs while you are working. If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.  (Colm Toibin)

Managing expectations…..

One of my dear friends emailed me for some advice:

As a writer, when you were starting out, how do you manage your expectations?

It’s a question I’m familiar with – we don’t have to be ‘an emerging writer’ to struggle with the often gaping chasm between what we anticipate or hope for, and what actually transpires. Theatre is sadly not necessarily a meritocracy, although there are plenty of encouraging stories to keep the faith alive…

My friend also asked about dealing with the feeling of emptiness that can follow a project coming to an end, with perhaps no promise of a next step, be that production, touring, etc.

After I answered my friend, she suggested it would be good fodder for a blog, so I have filleted our conversations to share with others. My comments are based solely on my own experiences and beliefs – but I hope that along the way they may be useful for others…

  • define your own idea of success – don’t be swayed by others or what you feel you should be doing/feeling/getting…. Imagine you are creating a library of your work and always keep your eyes on the horizon ie, your own definition of success – most importantly, your own definition of what you want to write, what you want to achieve, what constitutes a career in your own eyes, what you want to communicate with the world.
  • what we do is important and has significance in our own lives. Expect to be upset, to be down when something is finished, and frustrated by what is unknown…. There are so many scripts I have written I would love to go further, have more productions, be readily available through publishing… All I can do is make contact with other artists and theatres and organisations – find my allies – those who love my work and ‘get’ me as an artist – and find those whose work I love and whom I would love to work with. Then it’s about trying to make relationships and it can take a long time – opportunities are scarce and may never come up – but it’s a network, and I try to avoid isolation by supporting those whose work I admire and hope this way we can make a community.
  • theatre is ephemeral – it is energy, a dynamic which is alive and not immortal as it is made by these people in this context in this time….. Once we embrace that and understand that everything ends, it allows us to seek out new beginnings and further engagement. When a company comes together it is a unit in itself, a family, and then it can be heartbreaking when the project ends and we move on… But connections made can be re-connected and also new ones made and new units created and new productions or sharings of an individual script. Often the onus is on us as writers to get the script out into the world – an agent helps, but the vast majority of work I do and the productions I have come through relationships I have built myself with other collaborators over the years.
  • help distract yourself from the emptiness of a project apparently ending with the next one. It always helps to have new projects and ideas ready to be developed, researched, or written. But don’t rush the next one. It will take as long as it takes. Breathe deep and give thanks for what you have achieved, and then give yourself a kick up the arse and set your sights on the next horizon……

Whatever you think, think the opposite.

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Yves Klein throwing himself into the void. 1960.

I am not a fan of Saatchi & Saatchi, nor of manipulative advertising, galloping consumerism, and the hard sell. But as someone who supports herself through creative work, and guides and encourages similar practice in others, I am a fan of subversive, engaged, imaginative thinking – which is why this (very) quick read by the former executive creative director at Saatchi ended up on my blog.

Paul Arden’s ‘Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite’ is certainly not recommended reading, and I’m not trying to get artists to think like businesspeople. The contents are largely commonsensical and things we know already (‘If You Want To Be Interesting, Be Interested’), homespun philosophy (‘It Is Better To Regret What You Have Done Than What You Haven’t’) and gung-ho go-get-’em triumphalism (‘Fired? It’s The Best Thing That Can Happen To You.’).

What it does do, which I find interesting, is give examples of ‘thinking out of the box’ (by the man who, arguably, created that phrase),  of innovators and pioneers who made the world perceive things differently by not doing things as they are ‘supposed’ to be done.

So Dick Fosbury and his revolutionary high jump technique opens the book – an example of how a ‘flop’ became a success, and changed the Olympic high jump record from 5’8″ to 7’4″ in 1968. This alarming and revolutionary feat came about by Fosbury thinking – and doing – the opposite of everyone else. Prior to the Mexico Olympics in 1968, the customary way of jumping was crossing the bar with the athlete’s body parallel to it. Fosbury inverted this. Rather than turning his body towards the bar, he turned his back to it and flopped over, setting a new world record.

A third of the way into the book, the iconic image of artist Yves Kline throwing himself into the void appears under the title ‘The Case For Being Reckless.’ Arden claims as we mature, we lose our edge, our freshness, and our fearlessness – we become grown up. Throughout the book he argues for considered recklessness, for a different angle or path to the usual. I was reminded of Beckett’s phrase about routine being ‘the great deadener.’

I particularly enjoyed Arden’s advice to ‘Do It, Then Fix It As You Go.’ This had resonance for me, and my often quoted phrase to playwrights ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’

‘Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it.‘ Arden writes. ‘Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it as you go.’

Perfect advice for writing, I think… Writing is all about re-writing. Too often I have seen writers get stuck in the quagmire of the opening chapter, refusing to move on until it is polished to perfection, getting the opening ‘right’ whilst the rest of the work isn’t even sketched in.

Likewise, with plays. From working as a script doctor and dramaturg, I’ve seen playwrights get stuck in the middle of a play – and are unable to move forward, or complete the draft. ‘Leap over it,’ I always say, ‘Start a scene somewhere else. Just by-pass this hole/pile-up/traffic jam/desert by turning your attention elsewhere. Don’t work in a linear chronology if it traps you when you reach an impasse. Continue developing the script elsewhere in the story and you’ll invariably find what you learn from that will ‘fix’ the earlier problem.’

This book is short, and can be read in twenty minutes. Many of the maxims are obvious, even irritating, but as a prompt tool to the writer, as an aid to those mired in the usual same-as-it-ever-was, or deadening ‘safeness’, it may be a window opening admitting some fresh air.

One hundred and fifty ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 111 – 114

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More thoughts from those who have done it on how to do it….

111.)  A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.  (Edgar Allan Poe).

112). Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments. (Roddy Doyle).

113). For one thousand nights, before you sleep: Read one short story a night. Read one poem a night. Read one essay a night, from very diverse fields: politics, philosophy, religion, biology, anthropology, psychology, and so on. At the end of the one-thousand nights you’ll be full of stuff! All this stuff will be bouncing around in your head, and you’ll be able to come up with lots of new ideas. (Ray Bradbury).

114). Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.” (Geoff Dyer).