Writer’s block. More cycling needed?

Photo Tony Russell, CTC Twenty days since I last posted on the blog, the longest break since I started almost two years ago.

I could it put down to a lot of personal and professional disruptions that just consumed my time however I have to muse that there seems to have been something else going on. That is because the blog was not the only casualty in this period. We were in the middle of one of the voluntary sector’s moments of madness – “bid writing”.

I guess it is not an unfamiliar process to anyone who has been through writing professional tenders, teams of people put their best thoughts together in trying to not only second guess the purchaser’s real intentions but also beat an unknown opposition to the prize. And this is a prize that doesn’t just mean jobs, it means you can make real progress on something you are passionate about. For us it isn’t great architecture or an engineering marvel, it’s getting the resources to promote cycling so it matters hugely to us and the whole team is busting a gut for weeks to put together our submission.

Normally this is a process I relish. Call me odd, but I really like bid writing. I have a horrible suspicion that this is the closest I get to being a professional sportsman. Make this a competition, start the adrenaline flowing, mix in some team spirit and a big enough prize and I’m driven. And fortunately my bid writing for cycling is a hell of a lot better than my competitive cycling – which is just as well because my competitive cycling record was pretty woeful. A few tiny minor places in 20 years wouldn’t pay the bills then or now!

But something was horribly wrong with the writing this month, I think I actually experienced what authors call writer’s block. Hearing that some writers go through it for months or years I can imagine the agony, this is almost physical.

Photo Tony Russell, CTCI spent hours facing this very screen with page after page of notes that just wouldn’t translate into meaningful prose. I went back to my tried and tested handwritten formulae, writing by numbers…. Objectives, beginning, middle, end, only to abandon the notes on the page. Life crowded in and I found myself satisfying my need for progress with short term tasks instead of meaningful words.

Only finally as the deadlines loomed did I crank out my sections of the bid, fortunately carried there both other colleagues who delivered their sections and gave me some momentum. Some midnight shifts, a horribly long weekend a family with the patience of saints and we crawled over the line.

And now it all goes quiet for four months while the bid is assessed, a horrible waiting period. At least in the meantime we will hear how we did on a batch of applications we completed as long ago as last May, a ridiculously long wait but apparently a blink of the eye in EU decision-making.

Photo Tony Russell, CTC

In the meantime I have to do some reflection on where the writer’s block came from because it isn’t something I want to experience again.

One factor I am certainly considering is the role of my cycling. Back in February I wrote a post about the role cycle commuting plays in my mental state. I have long realised that a solo bike ride of around 1-2 hours on a familiar route that I can ride without a moment’s thought has enormous therapeutic value for me. Just as scientists have shown that certain forms of sleep are essential to well-being because they allow the mind to reorganise itself I find that only exercise of a certain type and duration enables me to process creative thought. Too short and the mind never gets beyond chaos. An unfamiliar route or riding with companions demands too much attention.

During the past month I have worked from home far more than usual. We had a stunning Indian Summer here in Belgium with a long spell of dry sunny days that would not have been out of place in high summer. But I was dashing out for a quick hour here and there for a ride or to walk the dog, not least because I was worried about my writing. Could it be a coincidence that when I took myself back to the office for the final days of the process I decided to cycle the full distance instead of getting the train and when I did so I was able to start unravelling the blocked thoughts and get them onto the page?

Maybe I overstate it, let’s not downplay the stimulation and support that comes from being back in the team environment. However if I could just prove that cycling makes me a better bid writer then I guess I might have a case for compulsory cycling sessions during bid processes. In fact I could start selling it as a consultancy service to other organisations and companies. You pay me to go cycling and your bid gets written. Now there is a business plan. Who can I pitch that to……..oh dear, here we go again.

Better that I start catching up on my blogging. I do not despair indeed ……

11 thoughts on “Writer’s block. More cycling needed?

  1. Glad to see that you are back on the blog again – I have missed you. Your photo of the bike ramp was interesting – have never seen anything like this in the States (we don’t take cycling into consideration as much as you do). Good luck wit your bid.


  2. Thanks Judy.

    The ramp in that photo was taken years ago in York, UK and I believe it no longer exists. However they are not uncommon in much of Europe, or something like them, There is one each side at my local station here to enable us to get bikes through an old underpass.


    • Judy, down under in Kensington, Melbourne (nothing like Kensington London!) we have a ramp exactly like that on the stairs down from a railway footbridge. Gets a lot of use as it connects to a local bike path.
      But I actually wanted to comment on Kevin’s writers block post. Last week, I started coming down with a cold in Tuesday. I struggled through the week, including Saturday, when I had to teach all day. Sunday was the Round the Bay in a Day ride and I had signed up with a group of women riders (Wheel Women) for the 50km ride (the full distance is 210km). I had slept only four hours each of the previous nights and was physically and mentally tired out. I’m a very occasional rider, so 50km is a reasonable distance for me, and I’m no spring chicken (even older than Kevin!) so it was tough. Especially as my saddle kept slipping down to its lowest position and I wasn’t smart enough to work out how to fix it.
      I finished the distance and hung out with the group, but my muscles seized up so badly I had to catch the train home, where a combination of pampering by my other half and large doses of peppermint oil, gradually let the muscles loosen their tension.

      The remarkable thing was that next day, after only a moderate night’s sleep, I was physically pretty much normal, but mentally incredibly more focused. It really did feel as though the extended period of being “in the present” did some sort of reset f my brain. I think you’re on to something, Kevin. Probably same as the meditation advocates have been telling us for centuries. Something or me to think about – maybe I should ride to work….


      • Good ride Susan!

        I think the key is duration. It just takes time to sort our crowded brains! Maybe my “long” ride to work once or twice a week is my indulgence, but it seems to work for me.

        Probably helps that I am a “morning person” too, I don’t mind early starts.


  3. I also think that going on a reasonably long solo ride along a familiar route either clears the mind or allows it to focus on thoughts that are difficult to sustain at other times. There is an 88 km loop that I now find utterly boring but keep returning for this reason.


    • I realised that my comment got posted as anonymous. Did something change in your set-up? It appears that being logged into WordPress generally does not automatically log me in as a WP user on your blog, which now requires me to tell your blog that I want to post as a WP user. Not sure if I’m making any sense…


      • I have not knowingly changed anything. But hey, I am set up on WP because it is blogging for dummies and if anything changes I can easily get thrown.

        I have to do the same as you describe when I comment on blogs that are not WordPress, but in WP itself I only get the prompt when I am not logged in automatically.

        My guess is that something changed in your browser settings and it is not showing you as logged into WP.


  4. Isn’t it odd that a “charity” now “bids” for government work? Why doesn’t the ECF simply represent European cyclists for twelve months of the year.


    • I think that is a long debate we might have had in another life!

      For a short answer I can say from the EU perspective is that it is quite different to national funding. Any work done under EU funding becomes part of the EU’s official evidence base so this sort of work places cycling at a much higher level in the political sphere. Effectively we can get paid to do more cycling representation.

      And you should see the car industry in the lobbies trying to get research funding for e-cars!


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