Monthly Archives: March 2017

7 Ways To Get Past Writer’s Block

Oh me, oh my! My writer’s well has sure run dry. Now what? Suggestions for outsmarting writer’s block.

by  Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. Sooner or later EVERY writer will face the ordeal of the blank page and come up with — nothing! At such a moment, you may well fall victim to malaise, running the spectrum from anxious to suicidal. The longer the seizure lasts, the worst these reactions will be, until one completely miserable day you reckon you can never write another word again… and this can bring on not only sadness but a kind of death from which, like the real thing, there is no escape.

To help you through this situation when it inevitably occurs, I am going to pack this article with one practical suggestion after another. You may not need them now; may not need them for a decade. But keep this article readily at hand for when you do.

First suggestion. Use a special song to raise your mood and get you moving.

Have a song easily available that makes you want to surge. I have a list of favorites, all selected for their proven ability to lift my spirits and put me in the mood to give something to humanity, something like the project I’m currently writing. “Maniac” from the 2001 film “Flashdance” featuring Michael Sembello always works. I indulge myself, acting kid crazy as everything conduces to get you…. your brain…. and your prose flowing again. You’ll find this song in any search engine… turn it on, let yourself go, until you feel the unstoppable energy that this kind of insistent music delivers.

Second suggestion. The minute you get nervous, frustrated, flustered, hot under the collar, STOP and STOP at once.

The worst thing you can do is force yourself to write. Not only will the quality of what you’re writing be tainted, but you’ll hurt yourself and begin to think the writing game is not worth the candle, the worst possible conclusion.

This particular advice can be very difficult to follow. After all, you’ve been productive before and aim to be productive again just as soon as possible. Surely, if you force yourself to write you can push the blockage to one side and flow, right? Instead, sit down at your writing desk, write as much as you can that flows naturally. Stop when the flow ceases…

… even if you’ve only managed to write a single word. Pushing yourself during a block never works positively and can easily affect your self-esteem and self-confidence when the push doesn’t work.

Third Suggestion. Keep your regular writing hours, even if you cannot write your name on the page just now.

Good habits are the key to good, constant, always flowing writing. Thus, it is important during draught days to do the precise things you did during the fat days. What you produce may not be substantial — yet. But even if you find yourself in the position of Oscar Wilde (“in the morning I put in a comma; in the afternoon I took it out again.”) that won’t matter. Why? Because the most productive writers are like Pavlov’s dogs… trained to write whilst in your sanctified writer’s place.

Fourth Suggestion. Still stalled? Do this!

First of all, notice I use the word “stalled” to describe your current unproductive situation. It is a word that implies you were moving and the problem being solved you will regain your accustomed outcome… and peace of mind.

Thus, when stalled do this… Take a walk around the park (if you’re lucky enough like me to have one right out the front door, so much the better). Find yourself a shaded bench where the view is congenial. Take out the pad and paper every writer must always carry; select an object and — describe it, fully, completely, without leaving anything out of your description… writing not only factually but with as much lyric beauty as you can draw from the “dry” well at the moment.

The simple task of describing the flower bed at your feet starts the productive juices flowing… even if you’re able, just now, to write only a single word (tree) with just one adjective (green). The thousand mile journey starts with the single step; yours starts with a single word… and any word will do.

Fifth Suggestion. Copy a page of another’s prose… to get you moving.

Nothing happening so far to get your stalled skills working productively again? No worries! Take a passage from a favorite book or article, open a file and enter this text. As you do, engaging brain and nimble fingers, you’re performing a function all prose writers regularly do, in my case almost daily, that is entering reference material.

When you’ve finished so entering a block of text, go on and comment on what you’ve entered. What was good about the passage entered, what was bad, what inspired, what underwhelmed? In just a minute or two, you’re writing… perhaps not yet up to your usual level. But what of that? Your creative faculties are working; your imagination is working, your fingers are working… and soon the flow of new ideas, new insights, new observations and new perceptions will be working, perhaps even better than before.

Sixth Suggestion. Read from your own prose.

Far too many writers fail to read their prose aloud. This is bad for several reasons, including to make sure all sentences are balanced, harmonious, with every word the right word. Merely reading your prose cannot deliver the optimum result; reading aloud can.

Thus, pick up the first page of anything you’ve written, not necessarily lately either. When you’ve finished reciting this page, sit down at your computer and write a second page to accompany what you’ve already written and read. Again, by positively positioning yourself and doing your usual tasks, you ease back into your stride and the production and presentation of the right words in the right order.

And if none of this works?

Seventh Suggestion. Close, relax, start again tomorrow.

With the best will in the world and the diligent adherence to these recommendations, your block may not end in a day, a week or even a month. Thus must you continue to implement these suggestions even when they may not be immediately helpful.

Therefore, begin each writing day as you always have, at your usual time, and with your usual matutinal rites. Do not skip a single one. Similarly eat at the usual times; run your usual errands in the usual way. And above all, close your shop at the usual time with the usual activities, such as preparing reference materials for next day usage. Never stay up late forcing yourself every step of the way; that may well have been a contributing factor to the blockage in the first place.

Guaranteed results.

Follow these steps, and I guarantee your days of obstacles, impediments, blocks and absolutely no progress will be history soon enough. Moreover, because you have experienced what is often a terrifying situation, you are better prepared to see it coming and take immediate action to overcome it. Once you do, dance the “Maniac” gyrations for yourself. They’ll put you in just the right frame of mind to produce that Niagara of high energy language, the kind your readers are thrilled you never stop writing and always produce so predictably and so well.

About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 60 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com

 

His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a success. Connect with Dr. Lant at www.drjeffreylant.com

Of Queen Victoria’s Journals

“We ARE most amused.” 43,000 pages of Queen Victoria’s journals posted online… as we dig into royal reality.

by  Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

Author’s program note. In 1979 my first book “Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony & Confusion at Queen Victoria’s Court” was published by Hamish Hamilton in London and Taplinger in New York. It was treated as front page news in England, because it was based on hitherto unknown and unreported papers, including unpublished documents made available to me by Her Gracious Majesty The Queen.

Aside from their undeniably important content, something else was significant about this matter; the fact that it was the research of an American, indeed the very first Yank ever admitted to the treasure trove that resides in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. In fact, so far as I know, I remain all these many years later the only American still.  And so I am uniquely qualified to write this story.

Hear more in my recent book “Happy and Glorious. Encounters With the Windsors.”

“Soldiers of the Queen”.

As every monarch has known, a royal story goes better with a strong, rousing tune, and this one is no exception. Thus I have selected one of the best marches of the Empire on which the sun never set, “Soldiers of the Queen.” It was written and composed by Leslie Stuart in the1890s for the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal. Its lyrics were not merely catchy, they were very gospel to the people who thrilled to their imperial achievement.

“It’s the soldiers of the Queen, my lads Who’ve been, my lads, who’ve seen, my lads In the fight for England’s glory lads When we’ve had to show them what we mean.”

Go now to any search engine and find this pip of a tune which you’ll probably recall from Shirley Temple’s 1939 film “The Little Princess.” It is sure to get your blood stirring if you’ve got even a drop of the old English about you.

Enter by the tradesmen’s door.

To gain access to the sovereign’s private papers, you must apply to the Royal Librarian, in my day Sir Robin Mackworth-Young. The key to entry was being a “recognized scholar.” This meant being a known author or having secured the Ph.D. from a known university. In my case it necessitated being patient until I took my Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1975. As soon as I had it in hand, I left for England, for Windsor, for the papers I needed to complete my book.

Perhaps only a scholar given such access can know and understand the thrill, the giddy excitement as you travel to such riches. But reality entered the picture at once. I was told to go to the tradesmen’s entry where a footman in powdered hair handed me a quill pen and told me to sign in. Me? Tradesmen’s entry? The sage of Cambridge?

More sobering reality.

The footman then picked up a candelabrum and a giant key.  “This way,” he said (“doctor” and “sir” omitted), as if I were the butcher’s boy; leading me the few steps to the door at the base of the Round Tower. He unlocked the massive door and told me to ascend the stairs to the top where another heavy door would be unlocked.The concrete stairs were steep; it was cold. There was no light. I was a prisoner in the Tower, locked in at their pleasure, wondering how to get out. Now I was thrilled no longer; I was in a story that could easily be written by Edgar Allan Poe or M.R. James, both masters of the macabre.

“We’ve been expecting you.”

Then as I reached the top, the door swung open, there was light, warmth and a greeting from Miss Jane Langton. She showed me my room, told me which papers they had laid out and explained the rules, viz that I must take tea with the staff daily and leave for luncheon. I resented both rules; I had come a long way to gather what I needed… and luncheon was immaterial. Still I was logged out then, too, to log in again in 60 minutes sharp.

Her Majesty The Scribbler.

Victoria became sovereign by birth, merit being no part of the matter. But she became a writer by hard work, assiduous effort, and the constant perfecting of her craft. I liked that about her from the start, for she knew the burden of the blank page… and she knew the necessity to write regularly, frequently, and follow the writer’s first rule: to write about what she knew. She did, publishing two best-selling books, writing thousands of letters (only a fraction in print) and creating the most important royal journal ever written.

Thus each day I was allowed in the Round Tower, I was in direct, personal converse with the majesty that reigned over a preponderance of the known world. At first, of course, there were her quirks and abysmal handwriting to learn. This wasn’t easy for Queen Victoria was famous for her illegible hand and abbreviations… the text messaging of her day. However, in due course I mastered both to the extent that the staff would bring me papers they were working on and asked for my opinion. Thus, I built bridges with people not keen on my American heritage and became a known master of royal cryptograms, to the extent the staff would often compliment my proven skills… and in truth I earned their regard, though there were frustrating times when the Queen’s execrable handwriting defeated us all.

Now available to the world at.

Now thanks to the generosity of Queen Elizabeth II you need not demonstrate that you are a “recognized scholar” to gain access. No interview required with a pompous minor member of the royal staff; no forced tea or luncheon… just you and the great Queen, from the comfort of your home. All this deserves the highest praise and gratitude and as the complete collection is indexed (a gigantic task indeed), your praise should swell, too.

But now it is time to dip into Her Majesty’s actual words, where you find from the very first a woman of honesty, directness, of strong sentiments, but no pretence at all. See for yourself…

On her birthday, May 24, 1837. “Today is my eighteenth birthday! How old! and yet how far I am from being what I should be. I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study with renewed assiduity, to keep my attention always well fixed on whatever I am about, and to strive to become every day less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wills it, I’m some day to be.”

On proposing to her adored Prince Albert, (October 15, 1839). “My mind is quite made up, and I told Albert this morning of it. The warm affection he showed me on learning this gave me great pleasure. He seems perfection, and I think that I have the prospect of very great happiness before me. I love him more than I can say…”

And this effusion: “I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a nation.” She entered it into her journal the evening of her coronation, June 28, 1838… but she felt this way every day of her life. I felt this commitment strongly as I worked busily in the Round Tower so many years ago! Now this feeling can be yours wherever you are as you dig in to her most private thoughts. God save the Queen… and every word she ever wrote.

About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 60 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com

 

His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a success. Connect with Dr. Lant at www.drjeffreylant.com

Of Fables and Unicorns

‘… Well,  now that we have seen each other,’ said the Unicorn, ‘If you believe in me, I’ll believe in you.’
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. In 1967 the Irish Rovers, a Canadian group audaciously featuring good natured boys from both the Orange and the Green, had a huge international hit. It was called “The Unicorn”, and it caught just the right whimsical note for its subject… and for this article. Go to any search engine and find it now. Then allow the music to do its insidious task… and in a minute, no matter how onerous your cares today, you’ll be smiling. What’s more that smile will grow to a grin when you learn that the unicorn lives…

The Arabian oryx.

Every fable, every legend, every great enduring story, no matter how fabulous or unlikely, has its roots in something real, tangible, actual. And the story of the unicorn, one of the longest running fables on this planet, is no exception. Once upon a time someone, though we shall probably never know exactly who, saw a thing… and imagined more; the tale growing in the telling, embroidered by all, a pleasure to hear, its enhancements eagerly awaited.

In this case, the thing seen was called the Arabian oryx, whose distinctive horns are widely believed to have given rise to the unicorn legend. I have good news about these benign creatures, so much a part of our imagination: they are now classified as “vulnerable”, not “extinct”. Accordingly we should give a cheer, for these days, as one species after another faces oblivion, we must take our good news where we can find it. And this is good news, indeed… for it means the oryx has been given the gift of time…

Extinct in the wild in the 1970s.

The last oryx in the wild was shot to death in the early 1970s… and that, it was thought, was that. But humans, the main predator of the oryx (wolves being a distant second) having wiped out the breed…. then, paradoxically, started strenuous efforts to revive the breed, using stock from zoos, animal parks and private collections. Its enduring legend as the unicorn made these people anxious to help. The objective was to breed enough so they could be successfully reintroduced to their habitat on the Arabian peninsula.

The oryx, glad for the help, responded as hoped to this special effort…and in due course began to return to its harsh wild conditions. It returned to Oman first, later to the deserts of Saudi Arabia.. . Israel, the United Arab Emirates… then, most recently, Jordan. About 1000 of these creatures now exist… and are doing what they need to do to survive…. and thrive, living in reality, not just in stories, no matter how enthralling.

But the stories of the oryx ARE enthralling… because people have an enduring need for the wonder of fables. And if you squint your eyes just so… you will not see a beast, no matter how attractive… you will see a fabulous one-horned creature with the power to engage our mind and lighten our load.

Al Maha

The Arabian oryx (also called the white oryx) is known locally as Al Maha and features widely in Arabic poetry and painting. It can smell water from miles away, has wide hooves that let it easily navigate shifting sand, and lives in small herds of eight to 10 animals.

Have you ever been in a desert at midday, where the heat shimmers and the mind plays tricks? In such a place, at such a time, it is easy to see what you have never known before. No mirage… but an actuality that belongs to you alone. In such a moment the fabulous unicorn presents itself for your inspection, bows its head the better to show its horn… then recedes into the shimmer… going, going, gone… now your quest for life. So the unicorn enchants and makes believers of us all… The legend begins.

Perhaps the earliest mention of the unicorn is by the famed Greek historian Herodotus in the third century BC. He called it a “horned ass”. A century later, spurred by the travels into Persia of the Greek historian and physician Ctesias, tales of the unicorn were widespread, losing nothing in the telling.

Ctesias, who admits he never saw one, quizzed local merchants and other travelers for whatever information they had. These folks, Persians and not above hoodwinking a Greek. fed Ctesias the details he longed for. Bit by bit he got a complete impression of the “wild ass of India”. It was the size of a horse, with a white body, a red head, bluish eyes, and a straight horn on its forehead, a cubit long.

It was the horn, all agreed, that riveted their attention… and while no Persiian seemed to know all its attributes… each one added another, turning the unicorn into a beast of awe, wonder, and power.

The horn, the all important horn, was magical, possessing key ingredients for mediaeval medicaments. It offered protection against poisons (no small thing in a world where a pinch of this, a smidgeon of that, could alter a royal succession or remove a pesky husband, or wife). Worn as jewelry, it protected the wearer from evil.

Burgeoning demand, miniscule supply.

There could never be enough of such potency… and, of course, charlatans, all believability, seduced the gullible and credulous, offering everything, delivering nothing. Other charlatans, all sanctimony and solemnity, arose with the means, so they insisted, of determining whether the horn was real… or not.

Place a scorpion under a dish with a piece of horn. If the scorpion dies in a matter of hours, the horn is real.

Feed arsenic to pigeons, followed by a dose of unicorn horn. If the pigeons live, the horn is genuine.

Draw a ring on the floor with the horn. If the horn is real, a spider will not be able to cross the ring.

Place the horn in cold water. If the water bubbles but remains cold, the horn came from a true and real unicorn.

You get the idea.

Capturing unicorns.

Its potency known… ways of certifying its authenticity at hand… the unceasing problem was how to find unicorns… and how to capture them. Here a magnificent series of tapestries made in Belgium in 1500 hold clues. Bought by John D. Rockefeller, the richest man on earth, in 1922, they are now on display at the Cloisters museum in New York.

There are 7 tapestries in this series which portrays, in fine detail and consummate craftsmanship, a unicorn hunt. The men, nobles all, are chasing the unicorn as if it were standard quarry. And, of course, the unicorn easily eludes them, laughing the while.

In the fifth tapestry, however, the unicorn is captured… by the power of a young maid, who represents the Virgin Mary. She needs do nothing but sit in complete tranquility. The unicorn, perhaps knowledgeable of its fate, advances unforced, puts its head in the virgin’s lap…and so becomes, in the seventh and most celebrated tapestry, a prisoner, chained to a tree within a round wooden fence; its destiny sealed.

In the words of Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass. 1871) “… Well, now, that we have seen each other,” said the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.” I feel sure she did… and that the unicorn abides, at peace, his head forever in her lap. May the renewing oryx fare as well.

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About The Author

Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 60 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com

His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a success. Connect with Dr. Lant at www.drjeffreylant.com

 

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