Not just the scourge of authors, writers and poets – anyone who has ever sat down in front of a blank page will, at some point, have experienced the phenomenon popularly known as ‘writer’s block’. I have come to an important conclusion about this most maligned of conditions and it is somewhat controversial, probably won’t be popular, but I thought I would share it with you anyway.
It doesn’t actually exist.
The natural flow stops not because of some mystical interference from the literary gods, but rather because something somewhere isn’t quite right, the narrative has gone awry or because something just doesn’t work. When the words dry up for no apparent reason and everything comes to a grinding halt, go back and look at it again. Retrace your steps, find out where you’ve gone wrong, look for the bits that don’t fit. There are all manner of things to think about, these are just a few…
Whilst the debate between ‘Plotters’ and ‘Pantsters’ will rage until the end of time, it’s fair to say that if you don’t know what, ultimately, you are trying to say or where the narrative is going, you’re going to hit dead ends far more frequently than if you have a clearly defined objective or resolution. You don’t have to have all the details worked out, but you do have to know what the point of it all will be.
You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About
They say to write what you know and there are very good reasons for this. Writing from your own experience will always be more authentic than relying on imagination alone. But we don’t always want to restrict ourselves in this way, so research becomes very important. Read, watch, listen, visit, converse – as much as possible make it your personal experience. You can’t write what you don’t know.
It Doesn’t Work
Not every idea is destined to become a fully-blown, finished work. It might have sounded brilliant in your head when you thought about it on the bus, it could even have held great promise when jotted down in your notebook. But when it comes to properly bashing it out on the page, it just doesn’t gel. Maybe only bits of it are wrong, perhaps the perspective is wrong, or to could just be that it’s a non-starter all round. Don’t be afraid to abandon these lost causes in favour of more fruitful pursuits.
Not you personally, you are just lovely. But if you’re tired, distracted or simply not in the right frame of mind, it stands to reason that writing will be a struggle. Professional writers have found ways to minimise these effects and have to be able to overcome them in order to produce work to order, often to tight deadlines. That’s what makes them professionals. But even the most dedicated and hard-working professional will sometimes have to admit defeat and either have a break, sleep on it or take a step back.
It’s An Excuse
No one ever said this writing lark would be easy. Good writing takes practice, patience and lots of bloody work. There are no shortcuts – writing is time-consuming and other aspects of your life will have to be sacrificed. This isn’t for everybody, for a myriad of reasons. But if you really, honestly, want to be a writer, these reasons can only ever be excuses. This might be tough to hear, but if writing is what you really want to do then it will have to become a priority (at least, a lot of the time) and little hiccups like ‘writer’s block’ will have to be wrestled down and overcome very quickly if you want to be taken seriously.
Getting Over It
There are lots of oft-repeated hints and tips for tackling those times when pen and paper just won’t get it together; oft-repeated because they are good advice. Going for a walk is my favourite. It gets the blood pumping and a change of scenery can jolt a tired brain back into action. Walking is brilliant for thinking. If I’m struggling with a scene I take myself for a good stomp and let myself think of all the wildest and most outrageous things to write – I mean, really let the imagination go. These things will never make it onto the page but it’s better than thinking about nothing and, eventually, the crazy ideas settle down into something much more sensible and useful.
I am a big fan of tea, although lots of writers prefer coffee. Some even swear by alcohol, but I can’t say I recommend it. Writing is my job and I don’t drink when I’m working. Often I don’t drink the evening before, either – certainly not to excess. You have to treat it like any other job and give it the respect it deserves. Food, too, is very important. The brain needs glucose and all sorts of things to work effectively. Genius is never achieved on an empty stomach.
What it all boils down to, is that writing takes time, effort and just a smidgeon of talent. Don’t romanticise it or swath it in esoteric nonsense. Put the kettle on, your bum on your seat and just get on with it.