The Thing About Writer’s Block

Not just the scourge of authors, writers and poets – anyone who has ever sat down in front of a blank page will, at some point, have experienced the phenomenon popularly known as ‘writer’s block’. I have come to an important conclusion about this most maligned of conditions and it is somewhat controversial, probably won’t be popular, but I thought I would share it with you anyway.

It doesn’t actually exist.

The natural flow stops not because of some mystical interference from the literary gods, but rather because something somewhere isn’t quite right, the narrative has gone awry or because something just doesn’t work. When the words dry up for no apparent reason and everything comes to a grinding halt, go back and look at it again. Retrace your steps, find out where you’ve gone wrong, look for the bits that don’t fit. There are all manner of things to think about, these are just a few…


Whilst the debate between ‘Plotters’ and ‘Pantsters’ will rage until the end of time, it’s fair to say that if you don’t know what, ultimately, you are trying to say or where the narrative is going, you’re going to hit dead ends far more frequently than if you have a clearly defined objective or resolution.  You don’t have to have all the details worked out, but you do have to know what the point of it all will be.

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This is me having a think about stuff. Or I might have wind, difficult to tell.

You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

They say to write what you know and there are very good reasons for this. Writing from your own experience will always be more authentic than relying on imagination alone. But we don’t always want to restrict ourselves in this way, so research becomes very important. Read, watch, listen, visit, converse –  as much as possible make it your personal experience. You can’t write what you don’t know.

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Research is the writer’s friend.

It Doesn’t Work

Not every idea is destined to become a fully-blown, finished work. It might have sounded brilliant in your head when you thought about it on the bus, it could even have held great promise when jotted down in your notebook. But when it comes to properly bashing it out on the page, it just doesn’t gel. Maybe only bits of it are wrong, perhaps the perspective is wrong, or to could just be that it’s a non-starter all round. Don’t be afraid to abandon these lost causes in favour of more fruitful pursuits.


Consign bad ideas to the fiery pits of hell! Or a wood burner. Whatever’s easier.

It’s You

Not you personally, you are just lovely. But if you’re tired, distracted or simply not in the right frame of mind, it stands to reason that writing will be a struggle. Professional writers have found ways to minimise these effects and have to be able to overcome them in order to produce work to order, often to tight deadlines. That’s what makes them professionals. But even the most dedicated and hard-working professional will sometimes have to admit defeat and either have a break, sleep on it or take a step back.


It’s not you, it’s me. (But actually it is you.)

It’s An Excuse

No one ever said this writing lark would be easy. Good writing takes practice, patience and lots of bloody work. There are no shortcuts – writing is time-consuming and other aspects of your life will have to be sacrificed. This isn’t for everybody, for a myriad of reasons. But if you really, honestly, want to be a writer, these reasons can only ever be excuses. This might be tough to hear, but if writing is what you really want to do then it will have to become a priority (at least, a lot of the time) and little hiccups like ‘writer’s block’ will have to be wrestled down and overcome very quickly if you want to be taken seriously.


Writing is hard. Rolling around on the grass is easy.

Getting Over It

There are lots of oft-repeated hints and tips for tackling those times when pen and paper just won’t get it together; oft-repeated because they are good advice. Going for a walk is my favourite. It gets the blood pumping and a change of scenery can jolt a tired brain back into action. Walking is brilliant for thinking. If I’m struggling with a scene I take myself for a good stomp and let myself think of all the wildest and most outrageous things to write – I mean, really let the imagination go. These things will never make it onto the page but it’s better than thinking about nothing and, eventually, the crazy ideas settle down into something much more sensible and useful.


A nice walk is a good idea.

I am a big fan of tea, although lots of writers prefer coffee. Some even swear by alcohol, but I can’t say I recommend it. Writing is my job and I don’t drink when I’m working. Often I don’t drink the evening before, either – certainly not to excess. You have to treat it like any other job and give it the respect it deserves. Food, too, is very important. The brain needs glucose and all sorts of things to work effectively. Genius is never achieved on an empty stomach.

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A cup of tea is a good idea.

What it all boils down to, is that writing takes time, effort and just a smidgeon of talent. Don’t romanticise it or swath it in esoteric nonsense. Put the kettle on, your bum on your seat and just get on with it.

Hide & Seek – Part Five

The heat of the afternoon sun was unrelenting, broken only by the occasional zephyr of coastal breeze gasping across the terrace as Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings politely sipped tea with Lady Bottomclutch. Poirot noted that the tea set at Somersby Hall was very different to that of the tasteful Wedgwood found at Queens’ College in Cambridge; this was a gaudy gilded affair, probably originating from China and purchased, no doubt, by the family in order to portray an air of exotic stylistic leaning. Hastings, meanwhile, noted that, although the tea was very good, a small gin or similar would be more preferable at this juncture. Lady Bottomclutch had received them both with good grace and had turned her attentions directly to the dashing Captain in a most unexpectedly warm manner. Whilst Hastings was initially delighted to be the focus of proceedings for once, the Lady’s familiarity was becoming unseemly at an alarming rate and he didn’t quite know where to put himself.

Pardon, Lady Bottomclutch,” began Poirot, hoping to deflect another attempt at the pawing of Hastings’ knee. “But did your butler Derbyshire not mention the purpose of our visit?”

“Hmm?” Lady Bottomclutch retracted her wandering hand and hid her blushes behind a tea cup. She was an elegant woman of a certain age, clearly past her best and rather like an old oil painting in need of refurbishment. “About the maid, wasn’t it? She’s very busy at the moment, I’m afraid.”

Oui, madame, so I am given to understand,” Poirot retained his usual charm but his moustache had an edge to it. “We do not wish to intrude on your formalities, merely to pass on the message most important from Cambridge, oui?

“Oh, I say, the good Captain can intrude on my formalities any time he pleases!” Lady Bottomclutch  descended into ribald giggling that caused the sharp rise of Poirot’s eyebrow and a mild terror in poor Hastings.

Just as Poirot began to think that the afternoon was lost entirely to farce, onto the terrace burst a tall and gangling young woman, dancing and spinning and throwing her tapering limbs in every direction. She was a curious sight, dressed as she was in an over-sized tweed jacket that had seen better days and a battered flat cap upon her chestnut curls. She looked to be about twenty-two or so, but she sang and capered like a small child, her guileless eyes limpid pools of pure innocence and joy.

“Clara! My dear girl, can’t you see we have guests?”

Clara ceased her windmilling and hopped into position before Poirot and Hastings, hands clutched before her, bobbing her knees in what she expected was a formal greeting.

“Hello, gentlemans!”

“Good afternoon, mademoiselle,” replied Poirot, raising a tea cup in salute.

“You have a peculiar voice!” retorted Clara, suppressing an embarrassed chuckle.

“Clara, this is the famous detective, Hercule Poirot,” Lady Bottomclutch said gently. “And his assistant, the ravishing Captain Hastings!”

“Oh!” Clara gasped. “Have they come for the party? I do hope you will stay for the party – it’s fancy dress! You can borrow one of my costumes, if you like. I have a great many.”

“I’m sure they would love that, my dear,” soothed Lady Bottomclutch, patting her daughter’s hand. “Why don’t you run along now and see to Pippin? I’m sure that he must be missing you.”

Clara nodded and, offering a little wave to her guests, skipped away back towards the house.

“Pippin is her little dog,” explained Lady Bottomclutch. “She won’t have children of her own, poor thing, but she is a very affectionate girl and don’t we all deserve a little love in one way or another?”

C’est vrai, madame. She is a charming young woman.”

“And she is right, you know, you must come to the party this evening,” Lady Bottomclutch said, with quite some enthusiasm. “My youngest son is returning from the army for a few days and I do like to make a fuss. He will arrive on the train from London this evening. Perhaps you will be able to offer him some career advice, Captain? And I know my guests will be delighted to meet the famous Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot!”

Poirot shifted a little in his chair, repressing a mutter and reaching for his tea cup.

“I’m not sure we’re properly prepared for fancy dress,” replied Hastings, warily.

“Oh, don’t mind that,” Lady Bottomclutch waved a hand. “That’s just Clara’s way. She has a predilection for dressing up, I see no reason to suppress it.”

“And we will have an opportunity to speak to your maid Maggie, when she is perhaps not so engaged with the preparations?” asked Poirot.

“I dare say,” replied Lady Bottomclutch, her lips stretched into a tight line of vermillion. “But if you want to know anything about the maid, I suggest you speak to my husband. Lord Bottomclutch is very attentive to certain members of the staff.”

Tea With The Professor

Upon the Professor’s instructions, I follow him to his rooms. He offered no elaboration as to what this private conversation might entail, but it very much reminds me of being dragged along to the Head Of Year’s office when I was at school. There would be any number of grounds for these summonings; slights and mischief were very much part of my everyday life back then, as I am sure you can imagine (please all take a moment, if you will, to consider my dear mother, who during this time came to know the inside of the Head Teacher’s office almost as well as I did). But the uncertainty of not knowing quite what was about to be presented to me was most agitating. Why, it gave me no time to formulate a decent defence. Pah. That was their ruse, of course.

It is never easy to judge the mood of the Professor, as he is never quite himself. As we enter his rooms I am alarmed to note that one of the stuffed creatures from the high shelves seems to have made its way down to the battered wooden coffee table by the high-backed red velvet stool. It eyes me with interest, mouth gaping and teeth flashing, as I discretely wander to the opposite side of the room. Professor Duke seems to sense my unsettlement.

“Shirley! You total wicked thing!” He scolds the creature. “You’re not allowed down here, dadblameit! It’s against the professorish code to scare people, don’t you know. Unless you’re in a war, of course.”

The Professor unceremoniously tucks the beast under his arm and pulls out a small set of ladders from beneath the shelves. He clambers up, still admonishing Shirley for her iniquity, before tossing her back into the vacated spot between the other fearsome creatures.

“She likes to jump, don’t you see,” he says, rejoining me. “Now, the important matters, I say. Cherry tea or tea?”

“Absolutely tea.”

Before long, the tall, thin silver teapot is spurting forth steaming liquid of golden brown into the mismatched receptacles so treasured by Professor Duke. Today, I decide upon a splash of milk and dusting of sugar to make my tea complete. Taking a sip from the wide-rimmed china cup, I think that this is quite the most unusual tea I have ever tasted. It has most invigorating attributes, however.

We sit down together on the leather settee, which gives the appearance of having fought a long war in a haberdashery. The Professor puts down his cup and places his hands on his knees. He means business.

“So, here’s the thing: I’ve been having thinks about lots of things. Most of them are important; some are more important than others, and very few are unimportant. It’s that sort of thing, see. So, I’ve noticed you’ve been a bit odd of late. Hope all is spicy. What make you of Head Porter’s love affair?”

“I’m delighted for Head Porter, of course!” I reply, somewhat taken aback. “The Headmistress seems like quite the suitable partner for him. And he has been so much happier in himself, don’t you think?”

The Professor nods emphatically.

“I think that might be the way to think on it,” he agrees. “Is it troubling you? The whole thingy? It might be troubling me, see.”

Head Porter’s pursuit of romance has indeed brought things into sharp focus for me. But certainly not in the manner to which Professor Duke alludes. 

“Nope. Not a bit.” I give the Professor my best smile. “This is the best thing to happen to the old boy, I tell you. But you are right when you say that there is something on my mind. Or, rather, someone.”

“Aha! And a goody. We are thinking the same, then!” The smile is returned in spectacular style. “And I sorta knew we would, see.”


“Thinking on Hershel, correct?” He retrieves his tea and slurps excitedly. “He’s a bit too…you know, too vicious. I mean, not too vicious. Just too unworthy. No, that’s not it either. Too..un-trustable! There’s something wild and untamed about him, don’t you know… Reminds me of me, when I was a youthful beetle.”

“How old actually are you, anyway?” I ask. It is a very difficult thing to discern where he is concerned.

“I’m not even sure anymore,” replies the Professor, nodding knowingly. “Some tell me I’m ageless. I say I’m younger than the stars but older than the mountains. Everyone thinks I’m older than I am, see. Now, what if Hershel had something to do with the Music Professor’s disappearance?”

I give this some consideration. He was behind the notes to The Dean, certainly – an elaborate plot devised to beat a path back to his beloved Penelope. And recent events have indeed placed his lady friend right at the forefront of the prestigious proceedings of the Choir Competition, a coup by anyone’s standards. A competition, no less, that he himself will be orchestrating from behind the scenes with his marvellous plan.

“You make a good point,” I say. “If you look behind the ‘adorable rogue’ facade, there is certainly a degree of rather cynical manipulation going on.”

“Yes, I feel he’s hiding something, too. Something rather wicked.” The Professor thinks a bit. “Well, keep your eyes on him. Make sure he stays righteous. I’d offer to lend an eye or two or three, but I have to organize a party now!”

“A party fit for a Dean, no less!”

“Yes, yes. So, goodbye for now, I say. This professor has so much to do, the sudden.”

Leaving my unusual friend to his endeavours, I decide to take the scenic route back to the Porters’ Lodge by way of the Chapel. This close to the competition, the Choir will be practising around the clock. It couldn’t hurt to see how they are getting along.