POSTCARD FROM POLAND … ON WRITER’S BLOCK

Here are six few tips I have either picked up over the years, or have discovered myself to help combat the all-pervasive Writer’s Block.

  1. First of all, Writer’s Block doesn’t exist. No … strike that; it shouldn’t exist. If you have written before, you can write now, and you will continue to be able to write in the future. And not only that, everything that you have written in the past can be seen as part of a process to deliver you to where you are right now. Unless, of course, you possess genius. So take that thought and run with it, or … think about it, to transport your writing to somewhere even better in the future. This is known as Dissonance Reduction, and referring back to something that you have written in the past – something that you feel really good about – will help generate the confidence you need to put pen to paper. That all-important self-efficacy is achieved through mastery experiences, so it is good to have a bank of these to refer to in times of difficulty (I’ll elaborate on this shortly).
  2. Have a very clear picture of what it is you want to write. This sounds simple, but it’s not, because writing is a fluid, organic process. However, here are a few tips; try to answer these questions:
    1. What are you writing?
    2. Is it a novel? If not, what is it?
    3. What is the genre?
    4. Who is the target market?
    5. Which authors do you see your masterpiece sitting next to in a bookshop?
    6. Is it character or narrative driven? On this point you may require further clarity: for example Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language is largely a character driven novel. However, it has a hook, an inciting moment that draws the reader in, and therefore this defines its genre.
    7. And the biggest question of all – and you will need to have an answer to this if you want to interest an agent – why is your book important? What makes it different from every other bloody book that’s ever been written?
    8. Once you have done this homework and know you what you are writing, the rest will fall into place. Trust me.
  3. Writers don’t like writing — they like having written.” This is a saying attributed to George R. R. Martin, whose books are the basis for “Game of Thrones.” Try to imagine what it will feel like to have achieved your daily, or maybe weekly, writing goal. How will you celebrate it? For me, I go to my favourite bar, buy a beer, open my laptop and review what I’ve written. If it flows and captivates me – particularly after two or maybe three beers – then I’m happy. If it doesn’t … if I find I’m constantly restructuring as I sip my beer … if a skip through whole paragraphs, or find my dialogue wooden, then the reader will to. But try to visualise that frisson of enjoyment that reading something you can stand by will give you. And sometimes it even helps to imagine yourself as the eyes of a friend or colleague who enjoys your voice. Remember: you are a good writer; you believe in yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.
  4. Set yourself goals.
    1. Long term goals: if you are writing a novel, how long is it going to be? You will know this by referring to works of fiction within your genre. Rule of thumb: for suspense fiction, crime fiction, detective fiction, thriller, mystery fiction, legal thriller or medical thriller, you should be aiming at around eighty to eighty-five thousand words.
    2. How long is this going to take you
    3. How much research will be required and how difficult will it be to conduct this research? Tip: write about what you know about. If you can use your own life experiences to weave into the tapestry of your fiction, it will not only be easier to write, but will also be much more natural and therefore more believable.
    4. How much available time do you have to devote to your project?
    5. Do you have a deadline? Unlikely, unless you have been previously published and have an agent breathing down your neck.
    6. So, for example, I am currently writing a darkly comedic novel about a paranoid schizophrenic sex addict. I am some fifteen thousand words into the project, and past experience (from my previous novel, Losing The Plot) suggest that I will write the bulk of it between June and the end of September, and so it should be ready for publication around next February.
    7. Medium term goals: these are harder to set. Remember, the key points (SMART etc.) about goals are that they must be achievable and measureable. The latter is surprisingly difficult to assess when it comes to writing, because we’re not just talking about a word count here; what you have written has got to have driven the project forward, so we need to assess this qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
    8. Short term goals: set yourself targets – the usual suspects are either “I will write for four hours today,” or “I will write one thousand words today.” I prefer the latter, simply because (unless you are Jack (Nicholson) Torrance in The Shining) it is impossible to cheat. Convert this goal into a weekly target and, hey presto, you have a mini medium term goal.
  5. Avoid distractions. We all know about this. Sometimes I will even do housework in order to spare myself the pain of writing. Don’t kid yourself that you must have the perfect writing environment. Okay, perhaps Ian Fleming’s writing was at its best in his Caribbean paradise sipping a Vodka Martini, surrounded by beautiful women, but for mere mortals is that really necessary? Or even desirable? Write where you find yourself. If you have a choice of inspirational venues, then by all means use them, but don’t use their absence as an excuse.
  6. And finally, I referred to this earlier, think again about how you will achieve self-efficacy through mastery experiences. Write. Anything. I suggest writing a blog. As you may well know (you will if you’re reading this) I write a blog. But it’s not a very good blog, and it doesn’t have many followers for the reasons that I don’t write it regularly and I do nothing to publicise it (other than sticking a link on Twitbook). When I’m engaged in a fiction project that is going really well, I rarely blog. But when I’m struggling, I find that it helps to step aside from the troublesome project and create a piece of prose which will achieve a modicum of Dissonance Reduction, and this often has the effect of putting me back on track.

So there you have it, six tips which, over the years, I have found to be helpful in overcoming Writer’s Block. Of course, some of these are highly subjective, and there are others that I also use; but my main advice would be this: when or wherever you settle down to write … write something … write anything.

Simples.

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — It’s late September and I really should be back at school.

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The book’s finished! Losing the Plot, a novel by Richie Malone (as told to me) is with my editor, after a summer in Spain spent slaving over a hot, sweaty keyboard. If you want a taste of it, click here click … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — and now for a spot of travel writing

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Amigos, it’s been a long, long time since I last blogged, and here’s the reason for this: as many of you know, I… sorry — Richie, has been totally absolved in finishing the first draft of the new novel, LOSING THE … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — THE WILD AND WHACKY WORLD OF RICHIE MALONE

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TODAY’S BLOG IS WRITTEN BY MY GUEST WRITER, THE NOVELIST RICHIE MALONE. AMIGOS, RICHIE’S NEW BOOK “LOSING THE PLOT” WILL BE AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE IN ALL GOOD BOOKSHOPS OR ON THE INTERWEB IN NOVEMBER. OVER TO YOU, RICHIE… Occasionally I … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — Ireland V Poland?

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Then I’m laying out my winter clothes and wishing I was gone… Going home… Where the Polish City winters aren’t bleeding me… Leading me… Going home… Yes, amigo, you’ve guessed it! It’s with something approaching euphoria that I write my … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — TEN REASONS WHY POLAND BEATS SPAIN AS A PLACE TO LIVE

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A couple of days ago I posted a picture on Facebook showing the weather in Marbella and the weather in Brzeg. If you didn’t catch it, it’s here. I added a comment to the post: ‘Lovely day here in Brzeg… … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — DINNER IN KATO-WHAT?

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I haven’t blogged for a bit and some of you will have been wondering if I’m still in Poland. Some of you, on the other hand, may very well have not. Well, I am, although not long after Christmas, I … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — CHRISTMAS, BLOODY CHRISTMAS

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We’re rocketing towards the middle of January now, but it would seem that the prospect of the Brzeg Christmas decorations coming down is as remote as finding a car park in the town that doesn’t resemble a bomb crater. And … Continue reading

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POSTCARD FROM POLAND — IN BRZEG, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

It’s cold in Brzeg… bloody cold.

And, this morning, for the first time since I settled in Poland, I find my normally sunny disposition tinted with an unaccustomed hue: I’m bored.

So… I’m sitting in the Ambrozia bar/café amid the usual crowd of middle-aged oddballs,

St Nicholas’ Church. Photo courtesy of Brzeg website.

either unemployed or unemployable. The Ambrozia is a hostelry wherein the ‘same seats’ rule applies at the curiously positioned linen-clad tables whose chairs resemble relics from a Thunderbirds set; it’s an oasis of calm for the lost and the lonely and houses an opaquely redundant upright piano, a large backlit globe on the bar counter and an eclectic assortment of pastries in an ancient glass counter, all beneath the stony gaze of Pope John Paul ll. I’ve been here for two months now, and so I feel it’s time for me to say a word or two about Brzeg.

Let’s get the demography, history and why it’s here out of the way first.

I’d like to say that Brzeg exists because it’s a great place to live if you work in Wroclaw, but in all honesty, I can’t.

Windsor is a terrific place to live if you work in London, Alderley Edge provides similar

Windsor — a fine place to live if you work in London

purposefulness if you work in Manchester, and there is probably a charming rural upper-middle-class community somewhere within a short commute of Birmingham, if you have the misfortune to work there.

But if you work in Wroclaw, you would seriously be putting into question the work-life balance if you chose to live in Brzeg.

Why?

Okay, let me tell you.

Brzeg is the most significant industrial hub in the Voivodeship (province) of Opole. Its industrial enterprise includes the production of agricultural machinery, electric engines, margarine and sugar production.

It is also home to BESEL, the Polish electric engine company, founded in the town in 1950, and also to a CIK car accessories plant, in addition to providing the workforce for one of the largest confectionary companies in Poland.

The magnificent Holy Cross church. Photo courtesy of Brzeg website.

But Brzeg has an fascinating if chequered history; it was part of Germany until 1918 and then, post 1945 it became part of the population transfer and focus for the Soviet and Polish People’s Republic’s campaign to resettle Poles from the Kresy (un-annexed by the USSR) to the newly annexed territories that Poland wrested from Germany under Soviet jurisdiction as part of the Potsdam Agreement.

As towns go, it has seen a lot of changes.

But what hasn’t changed much is the physical fabric of the place and — I suspect — the wealth of leisure opportunities it has to offer its residents.

While its streets aren’t exactly paved in gold, they haven’t been ruined by the Soviets either. Large tracts of Wroclaw, or the bits of it that weren’t bombed by either the Nazis or the Russians, were systematically dismantled under the Communist PRL administration so that Warsaw could be rebuilt. The Soviets set out to make Warsaw the face of Institutional Communist Culture that the western world would aspire to, and Wroclaw paid the penalty.

And so despite a German military presence during WW2 that made way for the Soviets post-Potsdam, it’s a town that’s been pretty much left unmolested for centuries.

Walk through the streets of Brzeg on a cold December night and you will experience that curious sensation of possibly being the last remaining human on planet Earth.

Steer clear of the two centres of post-dusk commerce, the Froggy and Monkey liquor stores, and this sense of isolation pervades still further.

There’s not a bar, a café, a restaurant that extends a welcome far beyond nine. There are a couple of hotels where you will receive decent fare, but expect to pay hotel prices for this.

Brzeg is a time capsule. As you stroll through deserted streets you slip into the past; you will see no lines on the road, and ornate globular streetlights cast a watery yellow-tinged luminescence, which only serves to darken the shadows.

Long Street, Brzeg is where you will find the Ambrozia. Photo courtesy of Brzeg website.

There is no need for parking restrictions — there are few cars. And there is no requirement for traffic-calming measures as cobbled streets that date from the mists of time do the job of a thousand speed bumps. And as for CCTV on every corner? Forget it; there is no need, for this is a town that time passed by.

But this is also a town of a trillion Groundhog Days.

Most nights I end up in the Brzeska, where I see the same faces, some of whom I privately name. Billy-Two-Beers, for example, a fellow who always wears the same Dennis The Menace style sweater and — for reasons I cannot fathom — always orders two bottles of beer on arrival. And yes, before you say it, I have been known to ‘double-park’ in Marbella but that is only because the service is truly dreadful. It isn’t here.

The Brzeska is busy enough not to be a ‘same seats’ bar. The staff are friendly and sufficiently curious about the presence of a non-Polish speaking Brit living in their midst to make something of a fuss over me. A fuss that’s not unwelcome, I freely admit. I’m more of a local here than I ever was in the Blue Ball in Sidford after twenty years of patronage.

The Brzeska — my local… you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The food — particularly the Hungarian Goulash — is excellent, and it’s cheaper and less hassle than cooking at home. And so I eat, reflect on the day and plan for tomorrow, then wander home around nine and seldom do I see another soul on the streets.

Brzeg… love it… hate it?

But for sure, in Brzeg, should you ever feel the need or the desire to do so, no one would hear you scream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WONDER WHEEL — FILM CRITIQUE

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WONDER WHEEL, written and directed by Woody Allen, is the narrative of four characters whose lives intertwine in a flurry of frustration, danger and passion amid the hustle and bustle of summertime Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s. Ginny … Continue reading

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