Finding Your Way through Writer’s Block

Feijoa season is finished for the year in my garden.
I’ve pruned the trees now the fruit are finished, snipping off the branches growing too close together, making sure there was space for birds to fly through. The sun was hot for late May, more like a spring day in the northern hemisphere than an autumn day here. Our cat lay on the hot metal of the shed roof, watching me through the red leaves of the acer tree.

We have two feijoa trees. We planted them a few years ago, when they were knee-high – just like our grandchildren. Now, the tallest grandchild is nearly up to my shoulders, and if feijoa trees have shoulders, I’m nearly up to theirs.

From summer when the first flowers appear until autumn when the fruits fall, the grandchildren check on the trees every time they visit, hoping for a good haul to eat for afternoon tea. Previous years, the crop has been pretty sparse, only a couple of fruits each day for a couple of weeks.

This summer, though, the trees were painted red with firework flowers, and by the beginning of February, hundreds of tiny grey-green fruit hung from the branches, growing a bit bigger and a bit greener every day. The first thing the grandchildren did every Friday afternoon was rush out into the garden to inspect progress, counting and measuring, and giving the branches a gentle push just in case any feijoas were ripe enough to fall into outstretched palms.

The last Friday the kids visited, the feijoas were bright, shiny green, as big as eggs, but still stubbornly clinging to the branches. Next week, we said, next week they’ll fall.

The next week, New Zealand went into lockdown. Alert level 4, for four weeks. Friday visits morphed into Friday video calls. And the feijoas fell. Tens of them. Hundreds. Thousa. . . oh, okay, not that many, but still, it’s the first year the grandchildren couldn’t help us eat them, and we end up with a bumper crop. Way more than two people could get through. Every day through lockdown, I’d get up in the morning and find another ten to twenty feijoas scattered on the lawn. We’d eat some for breakfast, cutting them in half and scooping out the flesh. I hunted out recipes for baking with feijoas. We’d eat the results for afternoon tea. Feijoa crumble slice was the favourite.

And so the grandchildren didn’t miss out altogether on this year’s crop, I started cutting and peeling, slicing and bagging and freezing. The top shelf of our freezer is all feijoas. We’ve enough to make feijoa crumble slice for fifty Fridays.

The first Thursday of lockdown, I got an email from my writing group at the local library. Write about lockdown for this month’s meeting, she suggested. I thought about writer’s block in lockdown. About how much clearer and sweeter birdsong is without the orchestra of traffic noise. About metaphor and meaning. I ate a slice of feijoa loaf for afternoon tea.

The first week, I saw a poetry journal asking for submissions of poems about lockdown, and a literary magazine asking for submissions about covid-19. I saw memes about Shakespeare writing King Lear while quarantining from the plague. I saw a poetry competition with the theme of bubbles, because in lockdown we’re living in our separate bubbles. I thought about people living in cars. We played games with the grandkids on video-call. I thought about missing hugs, and feijoas.

I didn’t write. My writing mind was on blockdown!

The second week, I saw a writing magazine asking for submissions on the theme of wildlife, and a poetry magazine for submissions on the theme of fruit. I still didn’t write.

My writing room is at the back of the house, with ranch sliders opening into the garden, and a view of the feijoa trees. Early in the day, the sun pours in and I spend a couple of hours working there every morning before breakfast. Sometimes the cat comes and joins me, curling up in a patch of sunlight on the carpet, or hiding under the desk and pouncing on my shoelaces. Goldfinches hop around the lawn, combing it for seeds, and pīwakawaka, my granddaughter’s favourite birds, flit and chirrup in the feijoa branches. I got some nice photos, and did a few sketches for a mosaic panel I’m designing for the garden. But not much writing.

Most writers, I think, will recognise the experience – you want to write, you may know exactly what you want to write, you’ve carved out some me-time in your day to write – and the words won’t come. Ideas might flourish, like this season’s feijoas, but they cling stubbornly to their branch, instead of falling in juicy, ripe words to the page. Or maybe you’re right out of ideas – there were no feijoas on the tree this season, or the birds and possums ate them all before you could get them.

How can you get your words flowing again?

Take a break

Grab a coffee and put your feet up. Go out and catch up with some friends. Or take a few days holiday from writing – or all of the above. Sometimes, you may be struggling to write just because you are tired, so take some time to relax.

Do something different

Read a book, create some art, do some gardening, go shopping… doing something else gives you the chance to step back from your writing. A change of focus often helps to bring clarity to whatever it is you are stuck with. Gathering fallen feijoas one morning gave me the idea for the poem below, which broke the back of my lockdown blockdown.

Get moving

There’s something about physical activity that loosens up the thinking process. Going for a walk, especially if it’s on the beach or along the river in the trees, fires up the body and the brain. Even just driving somewhere – the motion of the car puts the mind in motion too.

Talk to someone

Articulating the problem is often all that’s needed to find the solution. Join a writing group or an online workshop where you can share work, discuss writing issues, and get feedback.

Try a different angle

Park the scene you are having trouble with, and move on to another part of the narrative. You can go back later, when you’ve figured out what you need to say. Or try rewriting the scene from the point of view of another character.

Writing exercises

Exercises and prompts are good launching pads. Search for writing prompts on Google or Pinterest, or click here for some more ideas.

Morning pages

Try this stream-of-consciousness journalling. Each day, hand write three pages of thoughts – don’t worry about making sense, or spelling, or grammar, just write whatever random thoughts occur to you. This can free your mind up for more focused, crafted writing later.

Change of scene

Take your laptop or tablet or pen and paper somewhere different. Try writing in a cafe, or park your car up somewhere and write. Being in a different environment gives your senses a boost as you see, hear, smell etc. different things. If it’s too distracting to focus on a sustained piece of work, just write notes, and craft them later. Or treat it like an exercise – you could write a list of three things you can see, three you can hear, smell, touch and taste. Then choose to focus on writing about something from that list, in a ten-minute freewrite session. you might be surprised with what you create!

Emotional checklist

Often, the block has nothing to do with our writing ability or creativity at all, but has an emotional source – like fear, or fatigue. You might just need a good sleep. Or maybe you are worried and anxious over events in the world, in your life, at work etc. It’s hard to concentrate and create when you’re stressed. Or is it something more personal? I used to find finishing writing projects really difficult because of an unrecognised fear about taking the next step to publication – the spectre of rejection.

Once you acknowledge a fear or emotional issue, you can take steps to solve it. I solved the rejection fear by getting rejected a few times – I submitted poems to magazines. Some were accepted, some weren’t. But I learned I can deal with rejection when it happens – and celebrate when it doesn’t! Rejection is no fun – but the fear of it doesn’t stop me finishing projects any more.

When I was struggling to write at the beginning of lockdown, I realised I was actually struggling to get my head around pandemics and lockdowns – so I gave myself a few days holiday from writing – until the feijoas did their work! Once I got going again, I wrote three poems, two short stories, and one and a half chapters on my novel.

When you figure out what is stopping you writing, you can find a way to start again.

Gathering Feijoas

The feijoas are the best they’ve ever been.
Last Friday, you counted one hundred
feijoa promises, a few days shy of ripe.

Feijoas are best fresh from the tree
and eaten for breakfast, halved,
scooped out with your favourite spoon.
The one with ABC on the handle
your Mummy used when she was small.

Lockdown cancels a month of Fridays.
The feijoas ripen, giant green raindrops
free-falling overnight and gathered
from dew-wet grass.

Feijoas don’t last. We can’t eat twenty a day.
Don’t waste them, you say when we video-call.
I peel and chop and freeze, search Pinterest
for recipes, add dates and ginger
and vanilla essence to our weekly shop.

I bake feijoa loaf, feijoa and ginger muffins,
feijoa crumble slice, feijoa date cake.
After lockdown, you’ll visit again
and we’ll make feijoa ice-cream.
You can eat it for breakfast, scooping
it from the bowl with Mummy’s ABC spoon.
When you finish, you can help me prune
the feijoa trees, ready for next year’s crop.

Next year, we will gather feijoas together.
They will be the best they have ever been.

  18 comments for “Finding Your Way through Writer’s Block

  1. 04/08/2020 at 9:56 am

    I really needed this ! I’m halfway through a book proposal and I know what I want to say – I just can’t get it onto the god damn screen ! I’m new to WordPress so articles like this are just what I’m after – thank you x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      04/08/2020 at 11:20 am

      You’re welcome. Good luck with the proposal

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 20/06/2020 at 5:11 am

    Great tips! I often find that simply stepping away for a bit and clearing my mind can make a big difference. That is usually the point in the day when I take the dogs for a walk or curl up to watch my favourite show on TV. Regardless, it’s something that allows me to just ‘be’, clearing my mind rather than focusing on anything mentally intensive. Works for me 9 times out of 10!

    I also love the trick of going to work in different surroundings, but that isn’t nearly as easy right now. Usually, I would pack up and hit my local cafe for a morning when I needed to work outside the house somewhere. However, the cafes here aren’t open. Instead, I’m rotating between working in my office and working out in the back yard to change it up the best way that I can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      21/06/2020 at 1:05 am

      Clearing the mind is so important – allows you to come back to the writing with new energy

      Like

  3. 20/06/2020 at 4:07 am

    When I get creatively blocked I get in such a bad mood. During the pandemic, it was because things were getting stale from not going out or hanging out with my friends or talking to new people with new perspectives. I’m slowly getting back into the creative spirit, great tips

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      21/06/2020 at 1:14 am

      Glad you’re creativity is coming back now

      Like

  4. 20/06/2020 at 3:48 am

    You write so beautifully, I love your style. Before this post, I had never heard of Feijoa, so this was really interesting. I wonder if you get them in other countries than New Zealand.

    Great tips on writer‘s block, definitely something I struggle with sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      21/06/2020 at 1:15 am

      Ithink some south American countries have feijoas

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The Prepping Wife
    20/06/2020 at 1:18 am

    I found myself in this place as well. You would think with a surplus of time on our hands, we would all be writing away! Nope. It was far more difficult than normal to produce anything decent. Which I don’t write when I’m not in the right mindset, because I produce crap and it just makes me mad. So I found myself doing other things instead. Going for walks, talking to the people who are important in my life. I also found that I could spend my work time doing other things besides writing. There is always SEO edits to focus on, new Pinterest images to make, the list goes on. I tried to make a checklist of two things every day I wanted to do. Which two seems pretty insignificant, given how much I normally work and demand of myself. But I had to really take a step back and realize that I wasn’t in a good place to push myself so hard, and simply was proud of checking things off my list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      21/06/2020 at 1:17 am

      I like that idea, just having a short checklist of things to achieve in a day.

      Like

  6. Lyosha Varezhkina
    18/06/2020 at 7:52 pm

    Great piece of advice. I could actually extrapolate it to any activity which makes this post even better

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      19/06/2020 at 1:27 am

      True, lots of things it could apply to!

      Like

  7. 18/06/2020 at 2:16 am

    Yes we all go through this at some point of time and need to acknowledge the need to cope up. These are excellent thoughts to look at and identify our best way to get over the phase,Emotional checklist is so very important area in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      18/06/2020 at 5:37 pm

      I think it’s often emotional issues that get in the way, even if we’re not immediately aware of them!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. 17/06/2020 at 11:51 pm

    Been here many times, so it is always good to hear any hints and tips how to get the flow going again x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      18/06/2020 at 5:38 pm

      It’s always good to have a range of tips to help

      Like

  9. 16/06/2020 at 11:52 pm

    Writer’s block is real. A change of scenery (usually getting outside if the weather permits) is one idea that usually works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trish
      17/06/2020 at 12:52 am

      Yep, that’s usually what works best for me too, especially if irt involves going for a walk!

      Like

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