The Block – A Guest Post

large (11)“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.” – Charles Bukowski

So, to take Charles at his word, let’s give this a go, with the aim of overcoming The Block.

Before we start, yes, I am aware of the obvious irony of writing about writer’s block. However, as my writer’s block is currently consuming any creativity relating to anything else, it seems this is the only topic about which I’m actually qualified to write about at present.

All my life, I wanted to be a writer or some sort but never really got off the ground in that respect (career wise), until now, where I have become a content manager for a digital brand and am responsible for writing nearly all their content. It is not exactly writing a best seller but it is at least a start! It is a horrible coincidence therefore, that I seem to have hit a creative quagmire and can’t seem to write anything particularly inspiring, at the one time my job demands that I do.

Perhaps that is the problem? Being creative on demand is often the challenge of writers and designers in corporate situations around the world. Creativity, by its very definition, is not constrained by the 9 to 5, by office regulations, by sitting at the same desk every day, making that kind of role an automatic challenge. The regularity of my job could be the reason why my copy is coming out so uniformly uninspired and repetitive.

I have tried to shake it up a bit, as much as possible, within an office environment. I have locked myself into various different rooms around the office to try and remove myself from the distraction of colleagues and to get away from the desk itself, to somewhere new. I have also discovered I write much better with an actual pen and paper, (I know, I’m old school!) not a blank page of MS Word. I also write better in the afternoons. It’s been interesting to find out my own personal preferences that I’d somehow never even realised before, like I’d been keeping secrets from myself.

However, at present, I still feel a sense of dread when I have to write, like my creativity has disappeared behind a cloud as soon as I put pen to paper. This is not right. I became an English student because of my love of words and my love of writing, and I wanted a job where writing was an integral part of it. I used to write for pleasure when I was a little and well into my teens, disappearing into stories of my own making. Where has that gone? I am determined to get it back. I miss it.

I tried to start a blog, to force myself into writing, but I couldn’t even get past the sign up process as I was utterly stumped as to what to name the blog in the first place. Yes, I write for work, but writing content for a market research website is not half as fun as writing for yourself, and I’m also convinced my current output is not nearly as good as it could be without writer’s block hanging over me, taking away any originality.

I have Googled the answer. Everyone has different advice, but the most comprehensive I found came courtesy of an American writer, published author and (from what I can tell) self-help guru, Jeff Goins. His points that spoke most to me were about how you prolong writer’s block, not how you overcome it:

  • You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.

I realised I was guilty of all of these. I had found ways to avoid writing, to keep it out of my life, waiting to be inspired, expecting for creativity to walk right back into my brain, for a fully formed novel to just appear, clamouring for me to write it down if I just gave it long enough – in much the same way that JK Rowling says Harry Potter “just strolled […] fully formed” into her mind.

This is obviously not the way. Unless you’re incredibly lucky (or awesome) like JK, you have to work at it. As [my new guru] Jeff says: “The fail-proof way to overcome writer’s block is one you already know. In fact, you’ve been avoiding it this whole time […]. You overcome writer’s block by writing.”

Thanks Jeff. Obviously in our heart of hearts we all know this, but the simplest answer is often the hardest to execute. However, this small essay is testament to me giving it a go!

With that in mind, I am also taking up a 31 day challenge, to write 500 words (or more) a day for the next month or so, to break the wall, to disperse the cloud, to throw off the shackles, get the creative juices flowing, whichever metaphor you prefer; to shift the writer’s block and do what I love again.

Maybe this time I’ll actually get past the WordPress sign up page too?

I feel better already…

Written by Laura Watkins

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Writer, creative and all-round lovely lady.

OUR CRISIS OF PASSION – A GUEST POST

ConnorHerb-at-Woodstock1I have developed a thesis over the past couple of days. It mainly concerns the younger members of our society, but is certainly not exclusive to them.

I have come to the conclusion that we, as a nation, are currently in the grip of a crisis of passion.

It is not fair to say that “people (or the young) don’t care about anything anymore,” because they do. The problem is that what the majority of them care about makes no fucking sense whatsoever, and we’ve had several news stories recently which have brought this message home.

Disbelief, hysteria, devastation – am I talking about the freak weather that hit Vanuatu? The tragic plane crash in the Alps? The prospect of an ancient civilization being forced to go bankrupt and ejected from Europe? The continued violence in Syria / Iraq? No. I’m talking about the reaction to the news that 1/5 of a group of young men who can tenuously be described as a band had decided to call it a day. He had dramatically retired at the age of 22.

Now I do not doubt that young Mr Malik’s life could be pretty stressful at times; hounded by the media and fans alike, it’s a wonder that any of those boys retain any semblance of sanity. But the scandal is that this news caused widespread pandemonium amongst our younger generations. If you want to see passion and emotion, people who are fully informed on all the latest developments, just question a 14 year old 1D fan on Zayn’s exit and what it means for band, the future of music, and the universe as we know it.

We also saw a posh, rich, rude, lanky, relatively funny man being fired from his high profile job for attacking a colleague over his selection of cold meats. Read that back and try and find the flaw in the story. Correct, there isn’t one. It may sound funny, it may sound bizarre, but it certainly doesn’t sound unreasonable. And yet apparently in some quarters of our scary and wildly unpredictable society this was considered further evidence of a grand plot to persecute the ‘normal (white) bloke’ and in doing so adhere to some kind of alien and thoroughly unwelcome sense of right and wrong. This time it wasn’t just the youth in revolt, no, here the great troglodyte legions mustered themselves and dusted down their keyboards / smartphones. After numerous failed attempts to “turn the shitting thing on” they unleashed waves of support for the poor millionaire perpetrator and vitriol for the bastards who had dared to discipline him. “But he makes a show that I like, and somehow makes me feel like it’s ok to still be a bit racist, a bit sexist and generally a bit of an old tool – in bad jeans – so how dare you fire him?”

What do these stories have in common I hear you ask? I’ll tell you what – they both involve a scary number of people who have absolutely no real connection to the events or individuals concerned, experiencing such emotional turmoil that they simply had to flood ‘new media’ with their concerns, worries and opinions. They genuinely cared about what had happened. They (wrongly) felt that these events had an effect on their lives, and they knew damn straight that they didn’t like it.

“Ah well what’s wrong with that?” some of you cynics at the back are asking. There’s a bloody election on, that’s what. Our country faces an important juncture in its contemporary history – will we embrace the politics and economics of ‘us who count’ and ‘those who don’t,’ or will we take a punt on a man who offends every sense of leadership that we have, but might, just might, have the guts to stand up for those who have been trampled on (with relish for the last five years, with disdain for the last 30)?

But ok, let’s not be narrow minded here, there’s more going on in the world than an election on our small island: Nigeria – the most populous and economically powerful nation in Africa – has just experienced the first peaceful transition of democratic power in its history; the major world powers are currently engaged in negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme which could dictate the shape of politics in the middle east for the next generation and prevent a thermo-nuclear conflict (yawn); Saudi Arabia has chosen to invade Yemen with the world’s backing because ‘the rebels’ have got a little too successful; the scientific community is united in declaring that our planet will be permanently broken if we do not dramatically change our behaviour within a scarily short period of time; oh yeah and mainland Europe appears to be on a path to political polarisation that hasn’t been since the inter-war years (see UKIP, the Front National, Golden Dawn, Liga Nord on one side and Syriza, Podemos, the Greens on the other).

But screw all that, what really gets my goat is when a Romanian builder comes over here, punches Dermot O’Leary in the face, barbecues a swan, gets a boob job on the NHS and then retires on his fat state pension to a 5 bedroom council house (villa) in West Hampstead.

Welcome to 2015 – you can ruin our economy, you can price us out of our neighbourhoods, but woe betide the person who comes between us and our shallow popular entertainment.

Written by Nick Yandle – a gentle giant.

A FOR ANXIETY – A GUEST POST

largeLast October, I fell in love. With a woman. The relationship lasted six hours long and was entirely sexless. However, the lasting effect it had on me was far from forsaken or frustrated. It did what all good relationships do- it taught me about who I am. More specifically, it created a safe and supportive environment for me to learn more about my mental health.

In my mid-teens I experienced bouts of clinical depression that have left me with the delightful legacy of an anxiety disorder. This disorder has been the bane of my admittedly sheltered life.

The woman I fell in love with was my NHS appointed psychologist and I hold her solely responsible for my calmer, braver and ultimately happier 2.0 self. My therapist tryst turned my angst-ridden stress story into a real life rom-com, if you will.

A lot is made in the press of the need to remove the stigma from mental health problems and the 1 in 4 of us in Britain who are affected by one over the course of the year. Undoubtedly, as with countless other issues, understanding how crucial it is for society to ditch discrimination is key to progression. But I have an alternate message.

What many people don’t realise is that mental health disorders can have a detrimental effect on surprising aspects of a sufferer’s life, such as their capacity to complete routine tasks or even sit still for 15 minutes. Personally, I knew it was time to check myself in for a mental once-over when I became so riddled with paranoia, self-doubt and a futile habit of taking every circumstance to worst-case scenario in my head, that I could not sleep. I couldn’t actually do anything. I couldn’t work (leading to relentless aspersions about my laziness), I couldn’t relax (even when plied with my favourite gin), and I couldn’t keep on top of my bills (the council get seriously ratty when you don’t pay tax on time). I also could not stem the bizarre Virginia Woolf style stream of overwrought consciousness my friends were becoming so frequently privy to. I was frenzied and unfocused. It had to stop.

All it took was talking to someone. A professional who could give me some perspective and clear a path toward self-acceptance. An entire specialised gardening and landscaping unit, armed to the teeth with pruning shears and when occasion called for it, chainsaws, was dispatched for that task. No mean feat.

My own issues aside, over the past couple of years I have seen several friends suppress symptoms and signs of an underlying mental health issue. These range from short attention span and lethargy to finding escapism in drink or drugs. As with physical symptoms, left untreated, these only lead to something worse. On the other side, in more extreme circumstances, I’ve witnessed the consequences of not taking prescribed medications for a diagnosed case of bipolar disorder in a bid to be ‘normal’- not for the faint hearted. This is where acceptance must come in. Acceptance coupled with awareness.

So what I’m saying is, absolutely try to be less afraid and uneasy of mental health disorders, definitely wade in to rid society of the archaic notion of freakiness it attaches to mental health problems, which subvert the origins of said problems. Because in this way, we are free to be aware of and undaunted by the state of our own – and our loved ones – mental health.

I’m not trying to scaremonger here. I’m not telling you you’re all as mad as a box of frogs but if you notice that someone close to you is not themselves and might be suffering, or if you recognise something in yourself, do something. We owe it to ourselves to check up on our minds as well as those pesky STIs, even if just to get the all clear.

In the meantime, my top tips for sanity balm would be as follows:

1 – Leave that obsession with the social media platform that so torments you to just once a week. No, checking 73 times a day if he has updated his Facebook to ‘in a relationship’ with the girl in all of his photos won’t stop it from happening. Get on with your own stuff. Oh, and if you’re wondering, all those city slickers who are posting photos at pricey watering holes with unlimited champagne and statuses about bonuses? They won’t be able to afford a mortgage before you because they’re spending all that cash on extortionate booze and questionable ties.

2 – Meditate. Sitting in an upright position and clearing your mind, counting 1 as you breathe in and 2 as you breathe out for a whole minute does not make you a tired, old hippy. It keeps you grounded; away from the sheer drop over the ledge into Frantic Panic Valley, a terrible place rife with insomnia and unappealing sweating. Nobody needs that.

3 – Take charge. Remember that everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. Don’t be afraid of yourself.

And check out Mind.org’s mental health selfies to learn more from real people.

Written by the gorgeous (and ever surprising) Joanna Mackay

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My most recent guest blogger and newest recruit in the quest to understand – and help out – humankind. Find her on Twitter here.