All writers suffer from a block at some stage or another, and all of them suffer in different ways, and for different underlying reasons. Here’s how mine goes:
I go to bed thinking right, I’ll get up early tomorrow and get going with my new story. But even as I’m lying there, I’m thinking, ‘Why am I actually bothering to make a start, when I haven’t got anything to put down?’
Then the next day I’ll start bright and early, and suddenly my emails take on a massive importance. Then there’s Facebook to keep up to, and a photo I’d meant to upload for ages. And don’t forget Pinterest. I really need to click through the next few boards, because those pictures are amazing. Before I know it, a couple of hours have passed and I haven’t written anything.
By then my eyes are sick of looking at the screen, and so I get a cup of tea and I sit with a pad of paper. I write a couple of sentences and decide they’re rubbish. I draw a line under them, and keep them anyway, but by now I’m absolutely devoid of all energy. There seems nothing I’d rather do than lie down again. What is the matter with me?
When this first happened to me, I thought, well maybe I’m just mentally burnt out, and should just take a break from writing for a couple of days. And so I just gardened and did some mindless household chores, hoping my mind would free up. But when I went back to my computer, there was still nothing. I had a few ideas, but nothing that came and grabbed me by the throat. The days when I had a story I was burning to tell, when I rushed through all the boring jobs I had to do because I couldn’t wait to sit down and write, seemed to have vanished forever.
And so in desperation I picked up one of my vague ideas and thought, OK, just sit and write this one out. And every day I tortuously wrote out how these two people met, what they looked like, filled in their backstory. Doing all this was agony, because I just didn’t care about these characters. Ever been in a meeting at work where everyone is just talking round and round, and the conversation is so pointless and witless you’re staring at the clock, wishing you could either run out screaming or just shout ‘Will you get to the point?!’ This is how I felt about my own imagination when I was in this black mood. It felt like battling against a wall of deathly boredom and lassitude.
Then all of a sudden I find one of my boring characters actually has an impassioned speech to say in my head, that I need to fit into the story. This totally dull creature has actually come alive for a few minutes! And before I know it, the heroine, too, has something important to say, later on. So now I have at least a couple of great scenes. Now there’s just the whole of the rest of the book to get down between these two scenes. Another inward groan. What a chore :(
I re-read the last part of my latest completed ms recently, and was surprised by how well it flowed. The whole story came together, all the characterisation neatly dotted and crossed, the conflicts resolved in a satisfying way. Instead of filling me with confidence, this just made me think, ‘Well, I’ll never write another story as well worked out as this again.’
And then I came across my handwritten notes for my last book, which were a jumble of desperate crossings out and random ideas, such as ‘Heroine is divorced and now wary of marrying again’ (this bore no relation to the final story!) and ‘Get rid of the son!!’ (What? That never happened!) My notes were such a mish-mash of utter rubbish, that I had no idea how the final polished story rose out of them, like a phoenix from a bag of garbage!
And then it struck me. Maybe this is how it is for me at the start of a new project. I’m anxious that my muse has totally gone. I’m desperately writing down different directions for the story, none of them making any sense, and all of them filling me with the most crashing boredom. And then by repeated battering away and agonising, eventually something begins to give.
At the moment, my hero and heroine are in a car coming down a mountainside. There’s a grey mist descending, and a soft rain. I want very much to know what they’re saying to one another. I’m so glad I persevered through the thick fog of my own creative process to get to this point.
Last week I wrote a post about Catherine Gaskin, a prolific writer who sold books in the millions. She described writing as ‘a slog’. Her words gave me hope that I’m not alone!
Are you a writer, and do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you combat it? If you have any tips at all, or any stories to tell from your own experience, I’d love to hear from you!