I’ve been fighting my way out of a writing rut recently; wrestling with intangible ideas, struggling to shape words into sentences. I find myself procrastinating, sitting in front of my computer idly searching the web, knowing that the best way to break the block is to write, no matter how awful the result. And yet…
Time slips by painfully slowly when your mind is empty. Negative thoughts creep in; you start to question your ability, wonder how you ever managed to form an articulate sentence let alone a gripping piece of fiction. But emptiness isn’t really the problem. My mind isn’t blank, but mining potential storylines from the mass of information in my brain has become a skill I’ve inadvertently forgotten how to master. Practice is the real culprit here; or – more accurately – a lack of practice.
In my quest to reassert my skills, it helps that I’ve recently acquired a bag full of writing prompts; a bag that I can dip into at will, that forces me to think of something other than the blank page in front of me. What are these prompts?! I hear you cry.
In the twenty-first century postcards seem outdated. Why write to your friends and family when you can upload your holiday photos to Instagram straight from the beach? Why squeeze your daily activities onto a small piece of card when, poolside, you can wax lyrical about your trip on Facebook? Postcards are now cosy items of nostalgia transporting us back to our childhoods, their practical functions almost entirely redundant.
For the writer, however, there is still much to glean from the humble postcard. I’m not talking about the ones you see nestled between inedible sticks of rock and inflatable beach balls in coastal towns across the UK, but the ones you might find in flea markets or car boot sales or wedged behind the back of your Nan’s fridge. Used postcards. Postcards that have travelled, postcards that have their own story to tell.
To Mrs W. Renwick in Edinburgh from an unknown sender in Lisbon (although the card itself is from Lourdes). The year is 1969:
Hello from Lisbon, Portugal
We are having a nice time though hectic. We got out of Paris fast, the prices are ridiculous. Good luck with your baby.
Please say hello to the other girls. I did not bring my address book and cannot remember addresses. What a time to get used to eating and drinking in the car.
Now, when I’m searching for a new storyline, a decent plot, a unique character, I rifle through my bag of postcards. I wonder (as all good writers do) how, when, why? I take these people, their stories, and I mould them into my own. I no longer suffer from the frustration of creative emptiness because there are new characters close at hand all the time.
If you are also suffering the unfortunate effects of a short bout of idleness and you fear your imagination has gone on extended leave, why not hunt around for an old postcard? You never know where it might take you.