Daily Archives: September 27, 2011

Guest post re. writer’s block by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writer’s block, by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel.

‘Fallow Times: Dealing With Writer’s Block’

If there is anything a writer fears more than a crashed hard drive, it’s writer’s block. The terror of one day sitting down, poising our fingers over the keyboard, and nothing coming out is enough to send most writers back to bed.

Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves, simply by not sitting down at our computers and putting finger to keyboard. Yesterday, I suddenly decided I just had to retile my bathroom floor; I spent the entire day on the floor, cutting tile, putting it down, fussing to make sure it was laid with the precision of a professional floor tiler. I asked some of my writer friends about their procrastination activities. One said she spent hours ironing her girls’ school uniforms. Another spent hours repainting baseboards. A third invited her grandchildren over for a sleepover so she’d have to focus on them rather than her writing.

That is procrastination, not writer’s block. The cure for that is to schedule a day once a week or so to do projects like these, and the other days, put your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard and write!

But what if you are where you are supposed to be, at your desk, fingers poised, and not one word flows from your brain to the keyboard? What if you really are frozen, unable to write?

Believe it or not, this is okay. In fact, it’s a necessary part of being a writer. I don’t believe in writer’s block. When we can’t tap our ideas, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any. It means they aren’t ripe yet; they aren’t ready for birth. Any organic gardener will tell you fallow times are just as crucial to a good harvest as growing times. The soil needs to rest, to prepare itself for the next growing season. Your creative imagination is exactly the same. It needs to lie fallow and rest between crops of good stories. Winter of the mind is as crucial to a story as winter of the earth is to a good harvest.

That’s all very well and good, you may be thinking, but what if I’ve been in a fallow time for too long? How can I jump-start my ideas?

Different methods work for different people. What one writer swears is the cure for writer’s block, another writer will say doesn’t help at all. This list of suggestions is just that—a list of suggestions. If one trick doesn’t work for you, try another.

  • Change your routine. I’m a morning person. I can happily awaken at 5:00 a.m., fix a cup of coffee, and write until noon. Then, at exactly 12:02 p.m., my brain turns to mush and I can’t write any longer. I have writer friends whose schedules are just the opposite. They sleep until noon and write into the wee hours of the night. If you’re blocked, shake up your routine. Try writing in the morning if you’re a night owl, or writing at night if you’re like me, a morning person.
  • Write something different. Yes, you’re working on your masterpiece of a novel, the one that is sure to be a best seller. But if you’re blocked, you aren’t working on it, are you? Instead, try writing a poem, a limerick, a haiku. Write a love letter to your partner. Write a song. Don’t worry if it’s good or not. Good isn’t the issue—writing is. It’s very possible that the simple act of putting pen to paper (or keystroke to keyboard) is all you’ll need to jump start your creative imagination.
  • Take a walk. Or, go to the gym. Play tennis, or golf. Sometimes our brains don’t work because we’ve spent so many hours hunched over our computers our bodies are turning into piles of mashed potatoes. A little exercise will lift your spirits, tone your body, and give your creativity a jolt.
  • Play with toys. Yup, toys. I hereby give you permission to put playthings on your desk. If you don’t have any toys, go to the store and buy some. The reasoning behind this is quite simple. Think for a moment: who are the most creative people you know? Children, of course. Remember as a child casting aside your newly unwrapped holiday presents to turn the box into a spaceship? How many of you made forts from your parents’ dining room chairs? Playing with toys will bring out your inner child. Your creative, inner child. When I taught fiction writing workshops, this was always a favorite assignment of my students: to go out and buy toys for themselves!
  • Practice some other creative art. This is similar to the toy thing, and works well for people who are so grown up they can’t find their inner child anymore. (But that isn’t you, is it? I didn’t think so.) Your creative nature is like your health. It needs to be fed and nurtured. Carrots are a healthy food, but your body wouldn’t stay healthy for very long if you ate only carrots, would it? The same is true for your creative nature. Feed it only one food—fiction writing, in most of our cases—and that creative nature will grow unhealthy. To keep it fit, sculpt clay, paint with watercolors, or take up jewelry making. Make a collage. It doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as it is new to you and creative. It doesn’t have to be very good; no one has to see it but you. I am partial to making little statues and figurines out of Sculpey clay, and to making jewelry from semi-precious stones. But sometimes I dabble in watercolors, silk dyeing, and book making. Every time I finish an art project, I feel like I can return to my computer and take on the world.
  • Go ahead and write crap. If you really, truly don’t want to do anything other than work on your novel, by all means, sit at your computer and write crap. It is easier to fix bad writing than it is to create something from nothing. It could be that writing crap will wake up your muse enough to make her indignant and come rushing back to help you dig yourself out of that big pile.

All writers experience fallow times at one point or another; anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest with you. If you’re in a fallow time, enjoy it. Make notes about what is going on around you; go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations. Who knows? You may overhear something that you can use. Remember, for writers, everything is research, everything is material for stories.

You will survive your fallow time. In the long run, it just may make you a better writer.

Thank you so much Smoky. I’m off now… to go and write. 🙂

Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin; a recently-released collection of stories,Short Story Collection Vol. 1; and two nonfiction books on writing which have recently been combined into one book, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. She is the author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the natural world. All her books are published by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Smoky lives in California with her husband Scott (a college music professor and classical guitarist), her daughter (a college student and actress), and a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains and deserts, splashing in tide pools, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).


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Transcription of BWT podcast: Oundle Lit Fest (March 2011) – Day 2 of 5

The eighteenth special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 9th May 2011 and featured the second day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website

Thursday 17th March: Sarah McIntyre, Children’s Illustrator & author

Introduced by Committee Member Leigh Giurlando, she explained that Sarah’s London studio, based in London, was a former police station which Sarah renamed The Fleece Station after her love of drawing sheep. Sarah initially talked about her children’s book ‘You can’t eat a princess’, featuring Princess Spaghetti, which she read out to the wonderfully enthusiastic audience of Years R, 1 and 2 (5-7 year olds) alongside projected stills of the book. Every few seconds she’d ask the audience questions and each time dozens of hands went up in the air. Looking around the room, all eyes were on Sarah in her colourful pink dress, furry bolero and jewelled headdress, especially captivated when she imitated voices of the characters including aliens, monsters, Princess Spaghetti and her father King Cupcake.

Sarah explained that she has been drawing since she was a toddler and professionally since she was the same age as the children she was speaking to, carting the pictures around her neighbourhood selling some for 10c. Other slides included early sketches of Princess Spaghetti and her father (which looked nothing like the finished characters). The rear inside cover of the book has about a dozen of nameless aliens so the next few minutes were spent with the children naming them with suggestions including Giggly, Jemima Cupcake, Greedy and Mr Five Eyes.

Sarah then drew an alien on a flip chart starting with a basic semi-circular body shape and three feet, each with three toes. Next she asked for a number of eyes and ended up with nine; one close to the body and eight on long stalks. With help from the children, she gave it a huge open mouth with five triangular teeth then added long lashes to the eyes. Giving it fish breath (delightfully depicted by a curly line with a fish at the end of it) and then seven arms, one holding his favourite food: poo ice cream. A long stripy curled up nose then followed just before another arm held a pen flavoured hot dog, topped by delicious blue mud. He was then given seven spiked hairy ears, pink pointy punky hair and a large pink moustache. Finally two of the children added some facial hair and suggestions from the children lead him to being named ‘Silly Bogey Rudra’. A poo tree was then added to the picture.

Pencils and pre-printed sheets with the original body shape were then distributed to each child who took to drawing their own alien with help from their teachers the festival volunteers. I was on pencil duty until everyone had them so I joined in providing limb suggestions.

Sarah then moved on to drawing a spaceship which she did again with initial suggestions from the children, allowing time for the children to draw their own on the reverse of their sheets while she continued hers.

Mentioned briefly at the start, Sarah’s other books include ‘Morris and the Mankiest Monster’ and ‘Vern and Lettuce’, and all three were available for sale at the Oundle Bookshop stand.

Once the spaceships were drawn, it was time for a Q&A session:

She was first asked whether she enjoys drawing, to which she asked the children whether they had enjoyed drawing your ship? (a resounding yes) and replied “Well, that’s the fun I have all day”. Next Sarah was asked whether she draws flowers and she showed us a mouldy flower she’d drawn in one of her books. She was then asked what it’s like to be an author? She said, “it’s really fun – I get to go places like this and I get to work with other authors, she then mentioned that one of her friends draws for the Beano but then said that sometimes it’s hard work.

To the question of what her drawings look like, Sarah explained that the initial drawings often look quite different to the finished version, as we had seen earlier with the Princess and King pictures. She was asked how much did she have to pay?

First of all I had to pay for printing, ink etc but then when you get successful people pay you. The final question was ‘How do you make the front cover?’ to which Sarah explained that she sometimes has to paint (ink and watercolour) the cover two or three times, although she said the ‘You can’t eat a princess’ book was right first time.

After the book-signing the children were then escorted back to their coaches and I was incredibly impressed at how organised they were, walking hand-in-hand, in pairs, out of the Great Hall in small, but uniformed, regiments.

Thursday 17th March: Literature quiz

I arrived back at the Great Hall after spending three hours wandering around the town (including a trip to Oxfam where I bought a notebook and DVD) and found that the hall was filled with tables in preparation for the evening’s literature quiz. Events Manager & Committee Member Simon Price, some of the other volunteers, and I then covered them with tablecloths while Community Events & Committee Member Paula Prince covered the main top table with a variety of wrapping paper, shoe boxes and other oddities. With a few minutes to spare before people arrived for the quiz, I was able to chat to Paula which was recorded as the first half of special episode no. 12, released on 22nd March.

As I was there in the capacity of paying member of the public, Paula wouldn’t let me in on any of the secrets (rightly so) and I’m glad she didn’t as not knowing made it all the more hilarious when she gave us the instruction to make her a present and wrap it in the shoe boxes. Two of my team mates were artists so made her a fantastic pair of biscuit and wool earrings, beautifully wrapped in a bowed box. In between the tasks we had rounds of questions on a variety of themes, during one of which we could play a joker. We decided to play it on the children’s round which turned out to be our strongest and I learned the next day that although we’d not won (the team who had, had won the previous year) we had in fact come second.

So, that’s what happened on day 2 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days will put listed on when they’re posted.

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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in events, LitFest, podcast, writing


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