Having a regular place to write is a good thing. Being able to settle into the same chair, with the same view and familiar surroundings tells your brain that you’re now ready to write and helps it switch into ‘writing mode’ quickly and easily.
When I want to concentrate on my writing I go to the desk in the spare bedroom. The view is fairly ordinary (a beach with crashing, foamy waves would be ideal but that’s quite hard to arrange in Surrey) but its familiarity automatically reminds my brain that I want to get creative, I then find it easier to get started than if I was just sat at the table in the dining room, staring at the wall (with my cats staring at me).
And, if I stop to think about it, the scene I’m looking out over may not be a Cornish seascape but there’s still a lot of inspiration out there. My garden is split into three different areas, separated by trellis and bushes. There are wild, sprawling plants scattered throughout – not an innovative feature, just the by-products of a lack of time and a husband who doesn’t know how to use secateurs – and huge, beautiful oak trees at the bottom.
It’s home to a community of squirrels who like to taunt my cats by sitting just out of their reach, a young fox who likes to patrol it during the early hours of dawn and all manner of birds. The vivid colours of this time of year also spark my imagination.
But it is the same view, day after day, and sometimes that can end up stifling original thought.
After sitting there, for what seems like hours, chasing a plot line for a short story round and round in getting nowhere circles I recognise that I need a change of scene.
This doesn’t have to be somewhere exotic. You don’t have to visit the Caribbean, climb a mountain or live with a tribe in the Brazilian rainforest to find inspiration (although, if funds allow then by all means go for it...), sometimes just moving to a different part of the house is enough to provide new stimulus. If not, then you have other options.
My ever-increasing Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Out of the House has a number of cafes in the Surrey area where you can take your laptop or notebook and hunker down with a coffee. If you’ve never tried working from a café before then this might sound a little counterproductive; how can sitting in the midst of other people chatting and clanking cutlery possibly help you concentrate?
I’d love to blind you with science here but, actually, I have no idea why it works. I just know that it does. Obviously I try to choose venues that aren’t hosting the toddler equivalent of Happy Hour or deafening you with their choice of discordant music but there’s definitely something in the hum of gentle background noise that aids concentration.
(If you don’t have the option of going to a café, try Coffitivity; it brings the café noise to you instead. I use it a lot and find my focus is considerably improved when I do.)
Fresh air can really boost fresh thinking too – this is weather dependent, clearly – but sitting on a bench in a park, watching a river meander its way past you or crunching though leaves in a wood can also help you unlock any brain freeze you might be experiencing.
In fact, going for a walk is a simple, free and brilliant option. There's so much out there that we never really see as we rush about our busy lives, so slow down and take time to really observe what's around you. Explore roads you've never been down before, look for interesting buildings and architecture and immerse yourself in nature. Take a camera and a notebook and keep a note of every little detail, either for something you're working on now or for reference purposes in the future.
Finding somewhere new can often be the trigger for original perspectives on writing you’re struggling with. Observing people (discreetly of course – you’re likely to offend if somebody clocks you staring at them and then scribbling in your notebook) or 'borrowing' snippets of a stranger’s conversation can be fantastic for creating new characters or dialogue. And the wonders of the natural world can help you conjur up magical settings for your stories.
If you're still struggling with the terror of a blank page when you really want to be writing then check out my Writing Workshops - they're designed to teach absolute beginners the techniques of free writing through simple writing exercises and prompts. Starting at All Things Nice café, in Ewell Village, more are being planned in different locations, so even if you can't make the advertised ones, register your interest with me now!