Celebrating East African Writing!
People keep asking me how I handle writer’s block. I tell them I don’t. Because I never get writer’s block. I get a massive wall standing between me and that article that’s supposed to be at the editor’s desk first thing in the morning.
Now I am afraid of heights, so scaling a wall is quite a feat. But when I was in my teens, my brother kept telling me that there is no other way to beat your fears, except facing them head on. That would explain the two or three times we jumped off the cliff at the Mtwana Cove, into sea water that was murky with sea weed. The first time I nearly drowned.
No, I am not saying that you should go jump off a high rise building to beat your writer’s block. But the plain truth is, writer’s block does not indicate an empty creative reservoir. It only means that fear is holding your creative energy hostage; fear that your article/novel/book will not be good enough for your readers, that that bitchy editor won’t like it and will send you back to the writing board (insert other fear related to writing here).
So how to beat that fear. Again, don’t jump off high points unless you really like the thrill, and have a parachute or glider. Even then, get some lessons first. In the meantime, try this:
1. Take a walk. Move away from your writing for a while. Sitting in that chair all night will not help. Trust me, I know. I’ve had a few of those nights myself. Yes. DEADLINE!!! But sitting there writing one letter every hour won’t help you get past the wall.
2. Read. Find books with topics close to the one you are writing about. You know how you get so excited about a new release, so you out and buy it, then come home and find it is so not what you expected. Take that book, try seeing what you would have done different had you been a writer. If it helps, put on a pair of glasses just like the one your editor looks over at you in that haughty, ‘I am so much better than you’ way.
3. Ask for help. Call a friend, not neccesarily a writing buddy, just someone intelligent who does not have a grudge against you. Bounce ideas of them. Listen to what they say. It helps when you look at things from someone else’s perspective. And have fun while you are at it.
4. Try re-reading your work. That is, if you had actually written something and gotten stuck in the middle. If not, skip this part. Looking at your work in new light gives you a chance to re-think the direction you are taking. Don’t let the fear of re-writing stop you. After all, as a writer, you always want your work to reflect excellence all the time. So give it that time.
5. Lighten up. I know, number 4 probably didn’t work and it sent you right down to murky sea water levels. So get some comic relief. Watch a funny movie, or sitcom. Read a funny book. Anything to raise your spirits so can go on to number 6 below.
6. Use your imagination. Put your pen down, shut off your computer. Lean back in that chair. Close your eyes and visualise those scenes. If you are not the type that has a developed daydream ability, trust me, writing will always be tough. So let your ‘imagination’ run wild for a few minutes.
7. Write another section of the story/article. I always partition my writing into parts. It helps me see the whole picture. I even have this board, where I put the sections up, and then try to synchronise them in mind and on paper. Sometimes, when I am stuck in one scene, I go ahead and write a scene that is far ahead. I find that is a great way to stimulate those creative juices. Of course, you must go back and double check on continuity. Otherwise, a character you killed off in section 5 might walk in when you are in section 12.
8. In line with no 7, Work your Outline. If you are like many writers, you have probably already made your outline or sketch of the entire story. Looking at it again or tweaking it can spark your creativity again. I once went back to my writing and reviewed some of the things that I still needed to write about and began to work towards them. It got me over the wall and made me take several of the big steps I needed to take to move the plot along.
9. Plan things: Let’s say for example, one of the scenes in your story involves a funeral, where the real killer shows up, and reveals something that leads the police to arrest him. Plan that funeral. Planning helps you to create realistic scenes. As you plan, you will likely be able to see exactly which point the revelation should come. Planning also helps you to make those scenes as realistic as possible. Better still it unleashes your creative juice, that adrenaline you need to scale that wall.
10. I know, I know, this is the number one tip for writer’s block, but IT WORKS! Sitting down and writing SOMETHING can really get the juices pumping and get you ready to move on. So sit down and start writing.
Now that we have painted the wall a nice soothing colour, let us turn to the Kenyan Conversations.
The Stories below were entered into the Storymoja/Generation Kenya – Kenyan Conversations Contest last week. Please read them, and vote on them to choose the story that will be entered into the Kenyan Conversations Final Judging Round.
Imminent Freedom by Chiira Maina: “Well, the ball is now in your court,” Joseph shrugged and was about to turn when he decided that a last attempt at making his cousin change mind would not hurt at all.
The Mysterious Visitor by Beth Nduta: The previous night everything was normal and no one had even the slightest idea that such a hideous event could take place. I remember we were at home slowly taking our breakfast when the sirens of the police car and ambulance shattered the peaceful atmosphere.
The Monster by Beatrice Wainaina: My room stinks. It reeks of my mistakes. I should not have left her. My husband is a monster . . . was I mean? I came home from the dairy to find him on her. He was ploughing her like a farmer would the earth in dry season; hard and with determination. She was five.
The Gentleman’s Club by Clifton Anthony Gashagua: They come here everyday like stray dogs leaving the comfort of their kennels at home to play in the cul-de-sac. Tole is the oldest. A retired soldier with a mind like an imaginarium, he claims to have met Queen Victoria and fought in the East African Campaign against von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces.
Remember, when you see the photos up, you can comment on the blog under the picture on the Storymoja Blog or Send in a story or dialogue that is not more than 500 words long to email@example.com. Clearly mark in the subject Contemporary/Kenyan Conversations (Insert Number indicated)
The prize details are as follows:
1st Prize: 2000/-, 2 Storymoja books and 1 complimentary day pass to the Storymoja Hay Festival
2nd Prize: 1500/-, 1 Storymoja book, and 1 Complimentary day pass to the Storymoja Hay Festival
3rd Prize: 1000/-, and 1 complimentary Day Pass to the Storymoja Hay Festival
3 complimentary day passes for best comments on the pictures.
Be Part of the Kenyan Conversation! For more details, write to firstname.lastname@example.org