Battling with the blank page

Illustration by Tom Gauld
Illustration by Tom Guald

Virginia Woolf said that, ‘to write a work of genius is almost always a feat of prodigious difficulty…dogs will bark, people will interrupt, money must be made.’ 26ers discuss the struggle of putting pen to paper and share their tips to overcome it.

Mike Reed

In terms of getting that novel, screenplay, whatever out from under the crushing weight of the everyday, 26ers might be interested to know I’m spending part of next week in the Cotswolds as part of the first
ever Meddle – a new venture (that I named) launched by my client Ted Pearlman.

Meddle is about gathering creative, influential people together to tackle a specific issue. This first one is all about ‘passion projects’ – those projects we all have on the back burner, wishing we could get them done and out there.

We’re hoping people will get involved by tweeting @thisismeddle with their own thoughts and experiences on this subject, including links to their blogs or other stuff they’ve found relevant and useful.


Kirsten Irving

Try speed writing (getting together with friends, picking a random word and taking 10 minutes to write something), collage, using anything from novels to cookbooks, or experimenting with a new form.


Elena Bowes

I always wear wax earplugs to block out the world and hear my thoughts. I also work better with deadlines, ideally enforced by others, to overcome creative block. When I know I have an hour to file something, I’m much more likely to focus than if I have a week. And in that hour I’ll tell myself, just write, even if it’s rubbish. Knowing that it can be rubbish relieves some of the pressure. The sense of ‘I really want to know how this turns out’ will drive you through many long nights of no results. Whereas the feeling of ‘I think I ought to do this’ dries up very quickly.

‘Pick a topic that you think will resonate with the greater audience, but that you’re also passionate about,’ advised author Gal Beckerman at a writing seminar last week. Beckerman wrote When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone, the Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, which was praised by both The New Yorker and the Washington Post as one of the best books in 2010. ‘At the end of the day when you’re alone with yourself in that long dark tunnel you have to think that it matters. You need the willpower to get you through the darker moments of writing, ‘ adds Beckerman.

In a separate interview, musician Brian Eno said, ‘The big mistake is waiting for inspiration. It won’t come looking for you. It’s not so much creating the song, it’s noticing when something is starting to happen, noticing it and building on it.’


Jamie Jauncey

One usually gets stuck when the emotional circuit is broken and one loses connection with the feeling of what one’s writing about – which tends to mean one has retreated too much into one’s head. Reminding oneself of the personal feelings (in a literal, physical sense) connected with the subject, is usually enough to get the juices flowing again. If it’s a really tough one, a few minutes automatic writing on ‘what I feel about …’ can help get you back into the zone.


Sara Sheridan

My top tip for creative block: read through what you’ve written in a completely different format (print it out, change the font etc). Your brain processes the words differently and you get new ideas on the text.


Miranda Dickinson

I have two methods that help me. Firstly, if I know where I want the story to go I write a scene further along the plotline. More often than not writing ahead of the block solves the issue because your characters have moved past whatever it was.

If that fails, my favourite remedy is to take my characters to the pub. Or the zoo. Or a space station orbiting an unknown galaxy. Write a scene set anywhere they wouldn’t be in the actual story, where you can literally hang out with them and have fun making them interact without the pressure of the story. It keeps you feeling creative, restores your faith in both your characters and your ability to write about them and, most importantly, brings back the fun that disappears when a block arrives. (And if you have to go to an actual pub to write this, so much the better…)


Lydia Thornley

I was hired recently to run a workshop on getting over a creative block. Which I immediately had a creative block about…

I’m not a writer – I’m a designer who likes words – but my top tips:

Do something boring. Go somewhere else.

And my biggest nightmare: being presented by a client with one they’ve prepared earlier: a mockup instead of a brief. Their design gets stuck in my head like a bad song.


Sabine Harnau

most of my poems will never be written

I read them in recurring dreams until my eyes ache

the blurred black print makes me squint so much sometimes that I can’t see

the astonishing orgasmic ecstatic fulfillment of –

all the gaps in – my lexicon empty

I wake with fluttering eyelids

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