Tag Archives: Writer’s Block


by April Bulmer

Are you a poet suffering from writer’s block malaise? Here’s a quick remedy: take five minutes and write down every word that comes to mind. Then link the ideas and images to create meaning. The result can be a quirky and unique piece.

Here’s a poem I wrote using this method:

Eartha: Indian Bands

My spirits come
in good makeup
and little white gloves
for it is the winter
of mine husband.
I wear bust lace,
but outside
the Natives gather
in buck pants.
They have brought
an offering of blood.

It is true I love him
and he has grown
his hair long
through the seasons.
It is the red of autumn
and of snake.

I have smoked
my gown in fire.
My veil I have hung
from a tree.
It bears the breath
of step dance
and Langdon Lake.

I touch his hand
we eat a pretty cake.

All night, the Indians
cry like virgins,
their voices torn like lace.

Previously published in Tower Poetry Winter Edition 2008-2009

April Bulmer has published six books of poetry. The poem above is an excerpt from her new manuscript Women of the Cloth. Her work has appeared in many national and international journals including the Malahat Review, PRISM international, Arc, Harvard University’s Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and the Globe and Mail. She recently placed second in the Trinity College Alumni Fiction Contest and was a judge for the Hamilton Literary Awards.

In a Writing Rut?

Does what you’re writing now seem somewhat familiar? Are you constantly reusing the same words, phrases, or imagery to describe something? Do your characters sound alike? Are you mindlessly producing thousands of words per day? If you’ve answered yes to any one of these, then perhaps you’re stuck in a rut.

This week’s assignment is to try something different.

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • If you normally write on a computer, instead try paper.
  • If you normally write with a pen, use a pencil.
  • If you normally write in solitude, try a coffee shop or write alongside other writers.
  • If you normally write in the morning, write something at night.
  • If you normally drink coffee when you write, instead drink something exotic.
  • Have you ever written while wearing Groucho Marx glasses or clown shoes?

Breaking Through That Dreaded BLOCK

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since no one person has all the answers, we’ve starting gathering around-the-table tips from members on subjects that affect us all. What follows is some of what came out of our discussion on writer’s block.

Lee Anne Johnston:
I journal every day. In my formal writing, I write in the first person so the characters seem to develop themselves and tell their own story. I also am a very slow writer. I write historical mysteries and I just love learning the gritty details about the past that will make my story come to life.

Barb Day:
There you are writing away, the words flowing from you, gushing out, you can’t get your thoughts down on paper fast enough. Your mind is working faster than your pen. And then it happens – you hit a brick wall, your mind closes (more like slams shut.) Your pen comes to a screeching halt. For me- it’s always two reasons – I’m tired of sitting in the same spot for hours or I’m not knowledgeable about the topic I’m writing about. I get up, get a coffee, take a break and come back refreshed and ready to do research. The joys of Google and from the research, ideas pop into my head like crazy just from reading what someone else has written even though it’s dry, boring facts. And then I’m back at it – full speed ahead, refreshed and armed with new knowledge.

Barbara Lefcourt:
The key for me when I want very much to write but cannot get thoughts to flow IS TO NOT SIT AT MY DESK. Rather, I turn my attention to some of the mindless household chores that always get delayed being done: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning floors, hand laundry, etc. etc. etc. It also sometimes help to put favourite instrumental music ( no vocals) on my stereo. That often sets the stage for the magical flow of poetic expression. And it’s good to have paper and pencil handy around the house so I can easily pause to jot down ideas, expressions, particular words that must be captured before they fly from my head.

Marcie Schwindt:

  • I try to write something everyday to keep the muse happy and coming back.
  • I read from something published every day. There’s always something to be learned from someone else’s successes.
  • I critique at least one unpublished work every week. Figuring out on my own what does and doesn’t work for me, and why, is more helpful to me than anything I’ve learned second-hand (through a course, instructional book, etc.).
  • I plot out my stories, then don’t write them sequentially. If I’m blocked on something, I write around it. Once I have the thing surrounded, it usually surrenders.
  • I stop writing mid-sentence or mid-scene. That way I don’t really have to face a blank page the next day. I already know how that sentence or scene should end.

Diane Attwell Palfrey:

  • I get a lot of inspiration from news stories or articles I read via different search engines. I like to research a topic and then write about it. So when the idea train has left the tracks – I head for the PC. I like to write about people and relationships, the human condition etc. News is full of items that can be turned into poetry.
  • I also get ideas from Facebook. I’ll read my homepage and that will inspire me. Sometimes I can’t quite believe the kind of things that people blog on a public forum. But then I think – well – it’s giving me a subject to write about.
  • Sometimes I ply myself with chocolate and listen to music. It soothes and helps the ideas flow.
  • Most of my writing is done after midnight. That’s when the house is quiet, the phone has stopped ringing and there are no more e-mails to deal with.
  • I’m not above asking others for ideas. I’ll often ask someone to give me an idea. I’ll just say, “hey, I need to write a poem – do you have an idea for me – tell me a story and I’ll turn it into a poem for you”. My mother is a great source for that.

Have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? How did you overcome it?

Scribbling Away Writer’s Block

by Jean Selinger

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I scribble. Yes, I admit it. I am a scribbler. Not in the scholarly sense, but in the I have a scrap of paper and a writing implement and an idea. Or a word. Or a phrase, that is worthy of being in a story or a poem I may someday write.

This past year, I have been searching fearfully and fearlessly for a place in the world. It’s been like living in a country and western song. My beloved dog Howie died early this year, my husband had another surgery to repair his annoying dislocating hip, I lost my job, my daughter went through a series of hospitalizations for an undefined illness that nearly did me in with worry, and, more recently, my mother had a heart attack, and now has stents in her arteries. This week, I am going to the funeral of a dear friend, who fought cancer for four years and passed on Sunday. She died about two hours after arriving at the hospice for care in her final hours. She fought death right to the end. I also have my own health and spiritual issues that are just now starting to heal. It’s been a tough year, and I didn’t write any of it down. My soul wasn’t able to feed the words to the pen, and actually use a notebook. Creativity was not at the top of my list of priorities.

However, recently I have become determined to write again. There is a spark deep inside me that is trying to ignite. The CWC BLOG is a treasure. I can keep up with everyone’s ideas, and have a few other websites that I can get ideas from. So for now, I scribble, on the back of receipts, grocery lists, scraps of paper, and it’s a start. Maybe tomorrow, I will do a five minute writing exercise. Writers Block, be gone! Has anyone seen my pencil?

Jean was born at a very early age, in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. She immigrated to Lower Canada in the early seventies and never looked back. One of her proudest accomplishments was being published in Legion Magazine. They published a story she wrote about her father in World War 2. Some of her poems are published and some not, but she enjoys writing them anyway.

Get Fuelled by a Workshop!!!!!!!!!

by Diane Attwell Palfrey

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Due to many circumstances this year, it has been very difficult for me to find time to write.  During those periods of wilderness, I feel like something is missing.  Words are pent up inside until I feel like I’ll explode.  But often the busyness of life prevents me from getting those words to paper.  If the sabbatical goes on too long, I feel stuck – my illusive muse is nowhere to be found.

A great way to break out of writers block and time constraints is to have some wilderness busters scheduled.  That way, it’s in your calendar and will get some attention.  One of mine favourite things to do is attend a workshop or a retreat.  There is nothing like a well-presented and interactive workshop to awaken creativity.  The quest for knowledge, information, or just being in the know has always been important to me.  So when a special invitation came my way, I couldn’t pass it up.  A select group of writers/professional communicators & bloggers were asked to participate in a trial run of “Timesketch” A Memoir Development Program.  This comprehensive program was created and facilitated by businessman and aboriginal rights advocate Peter Smith and cohosted by Crista Renner, Director of Communications, Juice Inc.

We only received enough prior information to pique our interest.  So when arriving at the Holiday Inn in Guelph, none of us had any idea how the day would develop.  Tables were covered in notebooks, coloured markers, crayons, cans of playdough and multi-coloured stress balls.  I knew right then that this was going to be a fun-filled day.

It had never occurred to me to write my memoirs.  Who would be interested in reading the foibles and drudgery of my journey?  But after hearing the numerous stories people shared throughout the day, I realized that everyone has something to say – something of interest – funny anecdotes or snippets of inspiration garnered by life experience. Black sheep people (and we all know who we/they are) may have more to say then others and it could be a lot juicier and a very interesting read.  If nothing else, it is a wonderful legacy to leave behind for families.  Consider examining where you’ve been and gather your timesketches.  Capture wonderful family stories and put them on paper before the older generation is no longer here to share it with.  In my spare time (not sure when that is anymore), I ask my mother about family history, attitudes and beliefs etc.  I have learned so much about my family that I never knew.  If you have the questions, someone has the answers or at least some of the answers.  And if no one ever reads your memoirs, it is still a great writing exercise.

Diane was born in Toronto and has lived in Cambridge for the past twenty-two years. She is a poet and prose writer. Diane is a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective and has poetry published by the Waterloo-Wellington CAA, Serengeti Press, Craigleigh Press, Hammered Out, The Ontario Poetry Society, Cruickston Charitable Research Reserve/RARE, & Ascent Aspirations Magazine. Diane is also the first place winner of the Cambridge Arts Festival Poetry Contest for 2009 and 2010.

Blog Entry – Friday, Sept. 9, 2011

by Bill Ashwell

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and in the week that unspoiled before me, I lost my voice. Not my voice voice, although the events of the day did leave me somewhat dumbstruck. No, I lost my writing voice, the voice that took me the better part of September 2001 to regain.

I cannot say that I have ever been a particularly disciplined writer. Teachers, college instructors, newspaper editors and, yes, even certain writers’ blog editors can attest to that. I have always been a fervent believer in “The Last Possible Minute Theory.” Putting that theory to the test has usually provoked a last-minute, caffeine-soaked burst of, if not eloquence, then certainly verbosity, such as right now.

But in the days that followed September 11, a form of writers’ block settled in. I can’t recall how many times I sat at my desk, pen poised, ready to record on paper my thoughts and feelings. The page, however, remained blank. Fear, anger, shock, and outrage. These emotions churned within my brain and fought to coalesce into some sort of coherent, written elegy to the state of world politics or the human condition.

My brain wanted it. The writer in me wanted it and, most importantly, my psyche wanted it. Somehow, though, the words would not form. This chasm between the brain and the pen widened.

As the days stretched into weeks, the chasm narrowed and my writing voice returned. It was a whisper at first, but as I finally put pen (again) to paper, the words in my head found their way to the page, my fear and outrage ebbed and creativity and inspiration flowed.

Ten years later, I have once again found myself at a loss for words. No momentous world event has shaken me; no personal catastrophe has befallen me. I’ve simply become a lazy and preoccupied writer. I can feel that spectre of a missed deadline peering over my shoulder, poking me, prodding, whispering in my ear, “Are you bloody well done yet?”

I have a feeling that none of this makes any sense. I can see you all there, scratching your heads and wondering what has leaked into my drinking water. I can’t say I even know that myself. I do know that I seem to have regained a bit of my writing voice once more and, if I’m not mistaken, I think I even have a touch of writer’s cramp.

So, here’s hoping that this is the start for me of better things literarily.

Image: bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program, and the Cambridge Arts Festival.

The Creative Process: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love My Thesaurus

by Bill Ashwell

photo by Marcie Schwindt

Many of us who consider ourselves writers, scribes, or poets have at one time or another had to face down the demons of procrastination, writers’ block and a lack (or in some cases, an absence) of inspiration and motivation; when we’re just not getting the proverbial it.

There comes a time in a writer’s life, however, when it does come together, when those great cosmic forces of creativity, perception, introspection, laws of grammar, and that great warm tidal wave of inspiration all converge in time and space, and the writer…gets it.

Picture this, if you will. It is 3 a.m. and fuelled by glacial day-old coffee, Our Struggling Writer sits alone at his writing table, illuminated only by the anemic glow of the desk lamp. He slaves over a hot keyboard, awash in great, chilly puddles of flop sweat as he struggles to compose that Great Canadian (or American) Novel, that next award-winning screenplay or best-selling volume of poetry. And yet, nothing.

He stares down the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter and loses (he is, after all, a traditionalist, eschewing the seductive siren call of the computer and enticed by the redolent perfume of correcting fluid). It taunts him, mocks his creativity. Its blankness is an artistic black hole, a thumbed nose, a schoolyard gibe.

He reaches for the coffeepot, its stale contents as cold and forbidding as a rejection letter, and pours himself a stiff one. He prays to the spirits of William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, and Barbara Cartland for a breakthrough. For a split infinitive, a subjunctive clause, anything.

Then it happens. It comes to him like an exclamation point in boldface type, a creative taser hit, a metaphysical fist in the face, or maybe just a simple, sudden clearing of his fog-bound mind. In any case, he begins typing and quickly, word after word, line after line, character nuance after character nuance, fills the page.

Pages, hundreds of them, each appropriately formatted and numbered, pile up on the desktop and before he knows it, his masterpiece is complete and once again all is good and right with the world. A triumph of creativity over the baying hounds of writer’s block.

It might all begin with the opening sentence; “It was a dark and stormy night.” “They call me Ishmael,” “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” or “That Sam I am! That Sam I am! I do not like that Sam I am!” This epic journey of a thousand pages, Volume One, begins with the dropped cap of the opening sentence.

It might even come together in the middle. Our Struggling Author, after taking a short break (remember, he did drink all that coffee), returns to the typewriter and hammers out; “Buffy’s fingers quivered as she fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. Her breath came in shallow, passionate gasps as Beauregard, his chiseled features aglow in the moonlight and his eyes aflame with lust, slinked (slunk?) towards her. ‘Hellooo Bayyybee,’ he rasped.

Hey, that’s not too bad.

It may even come at the end, the old …and-they-lived-happily-ever-after gambit: Having won the big game at the last minute, defeated the forces of evil, or saved the plantation’s cotton crop from a plague of boll weevils, Our Fearless Hero and his woman ride, walk, crawl, flutter, sally forth off across the endless sands of the Sahara, the moors, into the sunset, the White House, or a tropical island aboard his trusty steed, motorcycle, skateboard, private jet, Model T, whatever.

Then, and only then, when Our Struggling Author adds that final period and the words, The End, can he sit back, crack his knuckles in satisfaction and bask in that warm afterglow confident that, yes, it did all come together for him and that he, the author, this bright, shining light of the literary world, this Man of Letters, has finally gotten it.

Me? I stare at the blank computer screen. No story or poem has written itself. No epic discourse on the Human Condition has oozed out onto the screen; the creativity elves are on sabbatical.

My mind is an Old West ghost town; tumbleweeds drift on the breeze across a dusty, desolate, empty street; shuttered, weather-beaten buildings creak and moan in the gusting wind; that eerie, melancholy theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly whines from somewhere offscreen. Nary a soul, character, idea, or notion is stirring. Not even my wireless mouse.

Nope, it’s just not coming. I haven’t gotten it, but that’s of little importance right now. I’m going for a coffee, a hot coffee. Period. The End.

A Cambridge native, Bill Ashwell has been a CWC member since 1995.

In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s prestigious Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Communication and Literary Arts. His poetry and prose have been published in several editions of the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and most recently, for the Cambridge Libraries’ 2011 Poem-A-Day Contest. In 2001 Bill published Moments of Clarity, a collection of his poetry.

Bill also volunteers for many community Arts organizations, including FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program, and the Cambridge Arts Festival.