Get seriously inspiring writing tips delivered to your inbox Join my author mailing listJoin my author mailing list

Turn a problem into a puzzle

Advanced tips for writers

How I wrote this post

I wrote this blog post using dictation in Microsoft Word (my computer is a Mac but I think it’s pretty similar on a PC). In Word, go to the home tab and choose ‘dictate’, which is in top right-hand corner. Pick the language you want to use then click on ‘dictate’. The button goes red to show it’s recording. You simply start talking! It seems pretty accurate although it did just hear ‘choose dictate’ as ‘cheese dip cake’ – sounds intriguing! Perhaps it’s my pronunciation.

Word can also add some punctuation like an exclamation mark! And a question mark like this: ? Full stop and comma also work as does new paragraph. It seems to turn itself off if you stop talking, which made me wonder if there were some settings I could fiddle with to allow myself to pause. It would be annoying if I tried speaking a whole short story and found the dictation it turned itself off halfway through. (By the way, it defaulted to spelling ‘story’ as ‘storey’. I had to go in and edit for that, for missed punctuation and paragraphs, so it wasn’t entirely hands-free.)

Could you write a whole story like this?

Could you write a whole story like this? Please let me know in the comments. I would also be interested to know if this post sounds different to my others because of the way in which it was written. Let me know below. The reason I’m writing a blog post like this is because I’m being investigated for carpal tunnel or RSI and I’m trying not to use my right hand. Using the mouse makes it worse. I might have also been overdoing the yoga, especially downward dog.

I’ve been looking into ergonomic keyboards there are quite a lot out there and luckily some of them are in within my price range. I’m hoping those, as well as some exercises, are going to help. In the meantime, this is an interesting experiment. (Although I had to edit, it certainly helped with my dyslexic spelling in most cases.) That’s all very well, Louise, but why are you telling us this? I’m glad you asked!

What challenges are stopping YOU from writing?

Are there any challenges are present in your life at the moment that are stopping you from writing? I’ve recently learned a useful technique from reading a book by the American life coach Martha Beck – actually I kind of knew this technique already but it was good to see it written down and to understand the process. You do a bit of deep breathing and meditation first. Beck calls that ‘dropping into wordlessness.’ You are getting yourself in the zone essentially. There is also a level of mindfulness involved (She’s better at explaining it than me, so in case you want to read her book it’s called Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.)

Anyway, once you are in the zone, you state the challenge you are facing as if it were a puzzle that you’re trying to solve. In fact, write it down, and then ask your brain to mull away to it while doing something else, preferably something that you enjoy. Now the above isn’t Martha Beck’s version of how it works, that’s my summarised version, but hopefully you’ll forgive me because I’m dictating this!

Think happy thoughts

Tap into the good thoughts and feelings that solving that puzzle will give you. How will you think and feel when you’ve solved the problem? Our brains have a negativity bias, so we tend to tap into the negative thoughts and feelings that a problem gives us. Do the opposite. That’s something Martha Beck talks about that really struck a chord with me.

Let’s recap. Think of a challenge you’re facing with your writing. Express it as a puzzle. Set your brain that puzzle to work out. Tap into positive thoughts and feelings. If you have difficulty generating positive thoughts about solving the problem, imagine a snack that you really like to eat or a programme that you really love to watch or someone in your life who makes you smile or a memory generates warm feelings.

My partner and I once slept on top of the boat on a trip that we took from Italy to Greece. It was the first time we ever slept under the stars. That is a beautiful memory and something that will flood my head with positive emotions. If you have trouble getting in touch with positive thoughts and feelings around the challenge that’s facing your writing right now, tap into a memory like the boat from Italy to Greece or your equivalent.

Be curious about the solution

If anything comes up related to the puzzle, investigate it with an energy of curiosity. Hopefully solutions will come to you just like they did for me. Somebody told me how easy it was to dictate into a Word document! There was a solution to at least part of my puzzle that I already knew about in fact – functionality built into computer software – but I wasn’t yet using that software to full effect.

I’m going to have to investigate dictation further. It’s not going to work brilliantly straight away. In fact, there will probably be plenty of frustrations, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good solution. (It also doesn’t mean it’s the full solution or entirely the right solution for the problem that I’ve got, but at least it’s something.)

A Caramel Macchiato and a chocolate muffin

One of the more New Age techniques Martha Beck suggests in the book is ‘manifesting’ something physical in your life. She doesn’t take this lightly, i.e. she doesn’t suggest that you can sit down think about an Armani handbag and somebody will bring one to your door, but she does suggest that ‘manifesting’ physical things can work. I’m on the skeptical side when it comes to things like that, but I gave it go.

Beck suggests starting with something that you kind of want, so there isn’t loads of emotional baggage around it. I kind of want a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato and a chocolate muffin. I’m still waiting for that to manifest (maybe the universe is telling me not to eat so much sugar), but I’ll let you know what happens. Thanks for being part of this experiment with me.

In the meantime, try getting curious about your own writing challenges and treating them like puzzles in the way that Martha Beck suggests. It definitely worked for me. I plan to celebrate with a Caramel Macchiato and a chocolate muffin as soon as lockdown is over.

More soon. Until then, happy writing!





Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.