I like to write everyday. Even if I have nothing to write about. Doing so helps train the mind, build the writer’s voice, and silence editor’s. But how do you do this when you have nothing to write about?
Over a series of posts, I’ll be sharing some techniques I’ve collected over the years that often help me find inspiration.
Everybody has a way of working which feels comfortable for them. Some writers, such as screenwriters, are plotters and plot every detail out before writing.
For me that’s too restrictive. I like to write and feel the excitement of the plot revealing itself.
The ten minute automatic writing method is my go to technique. For this all I do is put ten minutes on the stopwatch and just write. Don’t think. Just write. And see what comes out.
This method is brilliant for tapping into the subconscious and keeping the editor quiet. I find that if I write fast enough the editor doesn’t stand a chance to interject. Writing from the subconscious is often very raw and exciting. Sometimes inspirational, often nonsensical, but usually a small glimmer of something will emerge. And that is normally enough.
From those sessions I then do around two or three re-drafts until I’m happy. During this process, characters, plot, and themes often reveal (or refine) themselves — it’s a nice surprising feeling when that happens.
This is the way I created most of stories on this blog.
I keep every session I write (even the rubbish ones). I file them away and revisit them later and sometimes they may provide inspiration.
It’s a method that may or may not work for you.
Here are some I wrote previously. As you will see, sometimes a single theme will emerge immediately and I’ll go with it. Other times it might be nonsense until something presents itself half way through.
Don’t judge too harshly! Apart from adding paragraphs and correcting typos, these are just raw, unrefined outpourings written without thinking in ten minutes.
The smell, hot and sour came over me in rushes.
I couldn’t move, I didn’t want to move in case they found me.
I lay there buried beneath years of memory and forgotten desire, under people’s abandoned dreams and hopes. I almost gagged. The smell of despair is one of the most sickening smells.
I sweated, the heat given off by the decomposition of dreams could heat a room in the space of a few minutes.
It’s funny, sometimes you see dreams that for some people would be nightmares, dreams that would be classed harrowing by your normal sane person, and yet to some these were aspirations, hopes to be fulfilled one day but yet abandoned.
The rains came shortly after, slightly salty on the tongue, refreshing and cool to the skin. I let it wash over me as I remained prostrated. Finally they grew fed up of searching through other people’s lost desires and went home.
Slowly, partly not to awaken any sleeping dreams and partly in case somebody was still around, I cautiously freed myself from the pile. First a finger then another, shortly a hand was free and able to feel the cool air pass between the folds of my skin on my knuckles.
I thought I felt the tingle of hairs on my hand as the lightening came. It brought sorrowful thunder with it and more rain. The rain wept, wrung its soaked rag at random places before the wind blew its nose.
The weather was saddened by the abandoned dreams of the masses. The sun tried to free itself from the grasp of black clouds but failed and succumbed, gave up exasperated to try another day.
He came like a fire. Startled, naked at first then, like a fire, rose out of nothing.
He said, ‘I’ve come to know you, to see what you can do.’
I said, ‘I don’t know nothing, I was born out of nothing, I am nothing, nothing needs knowing.’
‘Well,’ he said, stroking his chin, ‘that’s all well and fine and as expected, it really is. What I’m saying is when do you expect to finish this discourse, this complete waste of time, this poor excuse for living. When exactly will you wake up and smell the absinthe. It is all here, around you look.’
I looked around and saw nothing but buildings, tall and grey, like the life had been sucked out of them, dour doorways and whiny windows stared back at me with quiet desperation. ‘I can’t see nothing,’ I said.
‘Exactly!’ He punched the air and stood on his toes. ‘You can’t see anything. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you all this time but you don’t seem to get it.’ He placed a finger delicately against my pre-frontal lobe and massaged it carefully. ‘Stimulation, exercise, mental acrobatics, all you need to do is think, think and feel and you will be everywhere, all at once, in every atom, inside every molecule, you will glory in the vastness of nothingness, you will become nothing and everything at the same time. Come.’ He beckoned my with his gentle arms, the cuffs of his shirt pristine and white against his red velvet jacket.
He led me to a car, a black Mercedes S Class and opened the back door.
‘Please,’ he said with a smile. I sat in and felt comforted by the cushioning seats.
He offered me a drink from the onboard drinks cabinet. I declined but he poured himself a glass of whiskey, 1902 scotch. He tapped the glass to the driver’s compartment and we started off in silence, the car cushioning us from the drab external world I was about to forget and forgive. The world I was about to leave I was about to know better than I ever thought I would.
‘Don’t tell me the things I don’t already know,’ she said.
Her legs swinging over the edge of the bridge as we sat and watched the ducks swimming past below.
‘I mean it’s not like it helps anybody or anything is it?’ she said.
I’d met Lucy back in ’72 when we were both awkward teenagers. From the moment I saw her I knew I’d want to spend the rest of my life with her. It’s not like I’d been with many girls at that point, too shy and awkward to ask any girls for a date but it didn’t matter I knew she was the one person who I would want to stick with and who I want to stay with me.
‘For instance take the Prime Minister right? He’s got all these advisors, advisors for everything, sport, education, crime, health, it’s not like he makes all the decisions himself is it?’
I listened on in silence make the occasional nod or shrug.
‘What if these advisors, say the minister for education came to the Prime Minister and said “Sir, I think it would be a good idea if we banned History from all schools, history teaches what’s happened we need to focus on what will happen. What do you think the Prime Minister would say to that?’
Lucy took some more bread from the bag and threw a handful to a group of grateful ducks. The small one dragged behind hardly managed to get any scraps. Feeling sorry for the little fellow, I took a handful myself and threw it towards him, feeling happy when the little duckling got some.
‘What he’d say,’ Lucy continued, ‘would be “Don’t tell me things I don’t already know”, tell me things I do know, that would be the best course of action. Me and you for instance Liam, I would like you to tell me something I do know, I’m not interested in the things I don’t. I don’t even know if they would be of interest and thus they could potentially be a waste of time, however with things I already know I already know if I like them or not. Anyway we should get going, Mother will be wondering where I’ve been. Let’s meet again tomorrow.’
This was ’73, barely a year had gone past since the day I laid eyes on her. And yet I was still determined to make her mine for the rest of my life. This wonderful woman, sensual, intelligent, witty, and perhaps slightly out of her mind.
Bayer was in attendance at the time of the happenings as we called them, we didn’t know what else to call them at the time.
Lucy and I were all kind of out of sorts after a big argument about nothing in particular, at least nothing I remember.
We were walking back in silence along the jaded bed of the River Soar when it happened, slowly, indistinguishable, but definite.
We changed, she changed, and so did I.
It is still difficult to say whether it is for the better, tiny little changes happened everyday, we would wake up for instance on a Thursday feeling spritely and then the energy would fade throughout the day until we were overcome with irritatiliby and would again argue about nothing that we remembered.
On a Friday we would rage, rage and never see the light again.
I don’t know whether anybody had told Joe. He didn’t know anything and neither did Amy.
The occasion prompted a large, secular train journey and off we went, bags packed onto the Orient Express. The journey was strange. As soon as we stepped onto the coaches and we began to travel it didn’t seem like we were just traveling from country to country, continent to continent we were travelling from period to period.
Charles Dickens, or a sad approximation of him sat in one corner caressing his beard over a cup of coffee, in another corner Virginia Woolf arm wrestled with Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway lost by the way which he didn’t take to very well and skulked off for the rest of the evening taking one of the female staff with him to his bed).
Leaning out of the window, his sleeves rolled up, smoking a pipe was T.S. Eliot, I would have gone up to him to say ‘Hi’ but that seemed too informal, ‘hello’ just didn’t cut it, so instead I imagined the conversation and watched as he slipped out through the window and flew above the towers of Istanbul.
George Orwell walked and mingled and was generally very amiable, ensuring that everybody had drinks or canapés to nibble.
Lucy was in awe that she was afraid to show it. She buried her head in a book occasionally peering above the same page for an hour. When I tried to talk to her she shushed me and told me she was reading.
By the time we arrived in China, all the writers and artists had left and it was just us, we were back in the twenty-first century, feeling just that little more hollow, feeling that we’d left something behind across the centuries. But we enjoyed our holiday and didn’t see the point of petty arguing again, at least not until we came back and then I remember what we argued about.
Lucy wanted the window seat but I fell asleep in it for many hours and dreamed of poets and angels.