Nature: a writer’s mirror

Black FeathersYes! This is it!

This is the novel; the one that will change everything. It’s the best idea you’ve ever had. The world is rich, the characters fascinating and this tale of the hardships they must overcome will blow every reader’s mind. Your body’s humming with inspiration and the words tumble from you as though from a fathomless spring. And – OMFG – you’re happy. For the first time in as long as you can remember, you’re actually enjoying writing.

You stop mid-sentence. It’s okay, this is a good pause. The logic of what will come next is rich, you can feel it. Seconds pass. A minute. Your eyes defocus. You glance out of the window and then back at your work. The rest of the sentence won’t come. You reread the first part of the sentence. It’s drivel. You scan the previous paragraph and then go back a couple of pages.

Who wrote this rubbish?

Well, you know the answer to that if nothing else.

The Work In Progress becomes the Agony That Will Only Ever Intensify. You’re not holding a huge uncut diamond, you’re staring at a double handful of shit. And that’s it. You’ve stopped. Project stalled.

I wish I could say this never happens to me. I’d be lying, though. It happens all the time. Fortunately, I have strategies in place to help me.

First thing to remember: if you felt that way about a story, it’s because it really does have merit. Don’t stash it with all the other things you haven’t finished.

Do this instead:

Write a question about your project. A big question. The question which, if answered, would bump you out of this rut. Put it in your pocket and go out for a walk, somewhere rural and quiet if possible but even a city park will work. Set yourself a time limit; whatever you can spare but an hour or more is ideal.

Partway through this walk – you’ll know the right moment – sit down for a while and watch the movement of the natural world. Make a few notes. When you’re done sitting, head home, remaining as aware as you can of things going on around you: trees, animals, insects, the weather, colours and smells, any kind of sensation. When you get in, write down the rest of what you saw, any impressions you had and what that might mean for you.

Leave the notes alone until the following day before reading them. When you revisit your question and the details of the short journey you made in nature, you will have your answer and, most importantly, you’ll be able to work again.

I’ve done this many, many times – shows how often I get stuck! – and it works. Always.

The most significant occasion was when I gave up on a novel about 30,000 words in. I quit because the material was giving me such awful horrors and because I’d lost faith in the idea. When a publisher expressed an interest in the unfinished idea, I took a cycle ride and sat in the countryside for a long time. The things I saw and the way I interpreted them got me back to my desk, enabling me to finish. That was my sixth novel. It became my debut, MEAT, kicking off my writing career and winning me a BFS award. Not to mention garnering some lovely praise from Stephen King.

What we discover all around us is in the natural world is simply this: a mirror. This mirror reveals what’s inside us. The land is the writer’s ally. All you need to do is step outside in a spirit of trust. For me, the power of nature, as inspiration and tutor, is boundless. And, as a writer, the reflections of the land are invaluable.

Who knows what nature might show you?


Joseph D'LaceyJoseph D’Lacey is best known for his shocking eco-horror novel Meat. The book has been widely translated and prompted Stephen King to say “Joseph D’Lacey rocks!”.

His other published works to-date include Garbage Man, Snake Eyes, The Kill Crew, The Failing  Flesh and Splinters – a collection of his best short stories. He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 2009.

His forthcoming novel, Black Feathers, is released on 4 April, 2013.

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