Writing Tips: Break That Creative Block – The Hat Game

blank computer screen surbiton writers group

The screen flickers back at you blankly, goading you to write something. Your fingers twitch with half formed thoughts, but nothing comes. 

All you want to do is write something, but your mind is a wasteland. You tell yourself: “write something, Goddammit!”

We’ve all been there with the dreaded creative block – the feeling you get when the flow of ideas dries up completely.

When it strikes fiction or creative writers it can stall progress because the words are all their own.

Non-fiction writers find the creative block can happen because they struggle with organising factual information in the right way.

But The Block can strike anyone while they are writing no matter what genre it is!

What can you do about it? 

One idea is to try The Hat Game. You don’t need a hat or a even a cat, but you can use a bowl or a table.

How to play The Hat Game:

Get 3 pieces of paper:

Paper 1 is for nouns.

Paper 2 is for verbs.

Paper 3 is for situations or settings.

Now use paper 1,2 and 3 to type out, or write down, examples of each thing.

For instance. A noun could be “table.” A verb could be “running,” and a situation or setting could be “trapped in a locked railway station.”

piles of paper surbiton writers group

Write as many examples as you like. 

When you’ve finished, cut out each example noun, verb and situation or setting so that they are on one strip of paper each.

Next step. 

Put them into piles of nouns, verbs and situations or settings.

Fold them over so you can’t see them. No peeking!

Here’s where the fun begins. 

Pick one example from each pile.

Open them up and look. Then write as much as you can using each noun, verb and situation or setting.

You can write anything you like, but you must use each example.

Doing The Hat game is a really good way of getting words to flow, when you think the river has dried up. 

It distracts the mind from The Block and frees up your creative juices to flow again.

Having fun is essential when you are writing – your readers sense it when words are dry and forced.

The Hat Game is great for reinstating that creative flow!

Let us know what tips you have for breaking The Block too!

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com


Baroness Gail Rebuck at Kingston University: On Publishing and Success

Baroness Gail Rebuck, pioneering chair of Penguin Random House and House of Lords peer talked about her career at Kingston University this afternoon.

The publisher, who counts titles such as Susie Orbach’s ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’ and the erotic novel ‘50 Shades of Grey’ on her list of successes, shared stories from the start of her career in the 1970s into the digital age.

From her humble beginnings in the “dark ages – I couldn’t type” and a pivotal job at Robert Nicholson Publications she was certain she wanted to be an editor.

From then onwards she carved out her niche. It was an error with the London map book Streetfinder that imposed the importance of making mistakes and also of “creating a culture of openness” to learn from them.

You are getting it right if “you make more right decisions than wrong ones,” she said.

In 1982 at a time when women were under-represented in the boardroom, Rebuck established Century Publishing with Anthony Cheetham. From an base with 1 phone to share they “were determined we’d publish a list that September and we did.”

Throughout the changes in the publishing industry she notes that a major shift happened “because of Waterstones. Their chain of over 100 meant that publishers had to get books out there in a different way.”

More recently social media has influenced the success of ” ‘50 Shades Of Grey’ as well as Dan Brown – ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and John Green with ‘The Fault In Our Stars’”, she said.

Asked about breaking the glass ceiling and maintaining work life balance she said: “know about it, but don’t worry about it.”

“Express yourself – say what you think, don’t wait to be spoken to. If someone asks you a question, answer – make sure it’s a good answer. Don’t try and think about what that person wants to hear or you’ll never be noticed.”

Apt advice from the winner of the 2009 award for Business Woman of the Year.

When asked how to approach someone to publish work she offered this advice:

“You have to figure out who is the audience, what it’s like, why it is different, who you are, why you are the person to deliver it. “

“I think the best way to do it is via an agent,” she said, “they give lots of advice, pre-editing etcetera,” but if you are sending an unsolicited script “don’t do an email.”

“You have to get someone’s attention in the hundreds of submissions. Be professional, don’t send a script with marks on it, send a photo and a leader that will make you stand out.”

“Ultimately it’s down to the quality of the writing,” she said.

What of her future.

She was made a peer in October 2014 in and sits in the House of Lords. An experience she describes as “a maelstrom of ideas”  and “bizarrely it works.”

She would like “more people representing the creative industries” there, she said.

She is also passionate about literacy and inspired by neurological research about reading. She is particularly engaged with promoting literacy for woman because of it’s empowering nature – it mediates against social exclusion in disadvantaged groups.

These interests were secured in her House of Lords maiden speech which centered on women, violence and social exclusion.

Perhaps her most personal comment of the talk was in answer to a question about strategies to keep calm:

“Look as if you aren’t panicking. Look as if you know what you are doing. Always come up with a solution,” she said.

Speaking with an ease, friendliness and equanimity, she personified her advice.

© Carrie Henderson / The Subiton Writer’s Group 2015

email: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

You can find the details of public lectures about creative writing at Kingston University here.

Is It Just Fantasy – Tom Pollack, Kim Curran and Amy McCulloch at Waterstones Book Shop, Kingston


Kingston’s Waterstone’s book shop invited the public to attend a Q and A with fantasy fiction authors Tom Pollock, Kim Curran and Kingston Upon Thames born Amy McCulloch on Thursday.

This event launched a series of discussion panels at Waterstone’s running between now and February that center on the fantasy writing genre.

The authors fielded questions from Waterstone’s staff member Neil, who is hosting the events and also answered questions from the audience.

Talking about how they build the worlds within their books, the authors explained how their imagined worlds take shape, what their writing process is and how character, setting and plot are constructed in this fantasy-lead genre.

The panel argued that every writer creates a new world although there are hidden pitfalls  in writing about magical or fantasy lands. McCulloch reflected on how one of her characters couldn’t describe a desert as wave-like if they hadn’t seen an ocean, for instance.

Choosing the right language was also important in an international market. Curran said that she hoped the description of a long drop to the ground from a pylon was enough for her USA readers to understand what it is. In the US a pylon is more like a bollard.

Engaging, enlightening and entertaining, the authors left the audience with images of vast Mongolian deserts (McCulloch), the menace in everyday cranes and barbed wire (Pollack) and the impact of inventions that are within 5-10 years of reality (Curran).

Waterstone’s next talk is on Thursday 19th February with author Mary Lawson. People can reserve a place with one of the booksellers in store. Confirm details here.

© Carrie Henderson 2015