Remedies for writers’ block

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By Jade Craddock

The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writers is awarded annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35.

The 2016 shortlist includes An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It – Jessie Greengrass, Physical – Andrew McMillan, Grief is the thing with feathers – Max Porter, and The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood.

The winner will be named on Thursday 8th December but until then some of the past winners kindly share their tips for dealing with writers’ block.

Sarah Howe, won the award in 2015 for Loop of Jade:

Striking little bargains with yourself like, ‘I’m only allowed to put the kettle on after another twenty minutes.’

Telling yourself no one will ever read it anyway.

Going for a walk along the canal to watch the coots building their nests; they’re fantastically undiscriminating, and will tow back any old crisp packet or grimy chocolate wrapper to stuff in among the twigs. There’s got to be a moral there.

Ross Raisin, won the award in 2009 for God’s Own Country:

I imagine that there are as many suggested remedies out there as there are hiccup cures, but really I think different things work for different people, and fundamentally it is always going to be about taking the pressure off yourself, which, in turn, is often going to be about how you use your drafting process.

Naomi Alderman, won the award in 2007 for Disobedience:

Write another bit of the same book.

Write a different book.

Just write something. Anything. Tell yourself you’re going to sit down with a pen in your hand and you can either write or do *literally nothing*. See if your boredom can conquer your block.

Paul Farley, won the award in 1999 for The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You:

Writing demands energy, so if you’re distracted or knackered then maybe it’s time to rethink the day job. Though for some writers, a job is a useful distraction. The late, great Russell Hoban once proposed a condition known as ‘blighter’s rock’. As a general rule, I think if you get rocked, you’re probably worrying or forcing it. Relax. Put the kettle on, and do something else. Try to read the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus again. Go for a long walk. Give your imagination a chance to assert itself and surprise you.

Patrick French, won the award in 1998 for Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division:

There’s no such thing: it’s just a form of waiting.

Sarah Waters, won the award in 2000 for Affinity:

Leave the desk. Go for a walk, go for a run, do some hula-hooping – anything that gets the blood flowing.

Read about how other writers have coped. The Paris Review interviews are brilliant for that.

Watch a film. Films give you a very concentrated narrative experience, and figuring out the technicalities of what works, what doesn’t and why can send you back to your own project with fresh excitement.

Second Home are hosting three of the four shortlisted writers for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award 2016 on Wednesday 30 November. Max Porter, Benjamin Wood and Jessie Greengrass will be reading from and discussing their work. They will be joined in the discussion by last year’s winner Sarah Howe, and Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times literary editor, will chair the event. The event is free but ticketed:

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