Friday, 7 September 2012

Writer's Block: Like A Unicorn, But Not As Pretty

Well, it's now official; in the past three days I have only written about another 800 words of my 'Avalaff' children's novel; that works out at about roughly 1.5 hours of writing. About a third of the output I set out to achieve for my weekly writing schedule. Pititful. Lazy.

What can I say? It aint coming, it's not working, it just doesn't seem to be flowing at all... now, where and when have I heard myself say things like that before? Oh yeah, I remember...Those times when I fell victim to that curse of all writers. The dreaded malady that no writer ever wants to catch, because it can be crippling, life-destroying - even fatal to the fledgling writer if left untreated for too long. I'm talking, of course, about Writer's Block.

Now even as I speak those two words, I can picture half of you fellow writers out there coming over all funny and having to go for a sit down. And then I see the other half getting a twitchy eyelid and fighting an urge to punch a wall. (I'm not suggesting for a moment that you're all lunatics, that's just the crazy, over-dramatised way my brain works. No offence meant, believe me.) Because, as we all know from all the Writers' How-To books and courses and whatnot, opinions about Writer's Block can be neatly divided into two camps.

Firstly, there are those who know, with sharp, icy fear in their hearts, that it is completely real, it does exist and anyone who says it doesn't is lying through their teeth because they think denial is the only way to fight it, the poor, deluded fools..! These are the ones who have known the pain of sitting in front of a blank page/screen for what seems like days, weeks... hell, hundreds of years sometimes... waiting for something to bubble to the surface in their brain, and getting precisely nothing. Or, worse, a load of bubbly brain farts that are about as welcome on that blank page/screen as they would be floating around in the air. There's no way of knowing how long they're going to suffer from it, and there's nothing medicinal they can take to make it go away (although popular 'home remedies' include junk food, nicotine and alcohol.) All they can do is hope that it will go away eventually, and their mojo will return once more.

And then there's the other camp, who say that Writer's Block is a big, fat myth, a lie, and a conspiracy. There's no such thing, they cry - it's just procrastination and laziness masquerading as some kind of giant mental fog that threatens to engulf your creative brain! These are the ones who get angry with themselves and go straight into full-on Fix It Mode whenever that stream looks like it's running dry; "Too many distractions, that's what it is - I'll shut down my email... and my web browser... in fact, I'll come off the computer entirely, hah! Yeah. In fact, I won't even write here at my desk, where I can keep getting up to make coffee and go to the toilet and stuff, 'cause that's more distractions. Yeah, I'm gonna go and lock myself in the broom cupboard with an A4 pad and a biro! And I'm not gonna let myself out until I've written at least two pages of something decent! Right, here we go then, get myself comfortable, let's DO this... Damn! Where are my Jammie Dodgers? I can't write a word without my Jammie Dodgers... I'm going to have to go out and buy some more before I do anything else... Damn, damn, DAAMMNN!!!"

(Again, the above is likely to be a mild exaggeration of Real Life. I can't help it, my brain just does that, okay?)

I would like to propose a third theory, if that's alright with everyone. And that is, that Writer's Block is like a unicorn. Most of us at the very least suspect that it doesn't exist and has never existed - even if we can't actually supply conclusive proof - but for those who do believe in them they are very real indeed, and they don't need to gallop across your telly screen with Clare Balding commentating in the background to justify their existence, thank you very much. If you believe in something, it's real for you - and if you don't, it's not. Simples. So let's not fight about it, and instead try to think of ways to cure those pesky bouts of Writer's Block/Procrastinatitus, shall we?

Well, perhaps it helps to first define what the 'Block' is in the first place. For me, at the moment, it's this blimmin' Avalaff novel. Don't get me wrong, I'm very fond of it and feel it has potential as a 'keeper' work... but I've hit a speed bump with it now, and my creative stream has dwindled to a sad little trickle over the past three days. But does this stop me writing anything? Well, no... I'm writing this Blog right now, for starters. So, if it is a Block, it's only with this particular piece of work. Which automatically doesn't make it Writer's Block - just 'Writing Avalaff' Block.

So, maybe the answer is to just acknowledge that, and instead work on something else for a couple of days. After all, the important thing to keep yourself going is simply to write - to come to the page/screen regularly and keep those writing muscles toned, like athletes do when they're training. (Although I don't think they're allowed to scoff junk food, nicotine or alcohol at the same time, so that's one-nil to the Writer's Life already - woohoo!)

So, however much I may want to adhere to my 'schedule' of sticking exclusively to writing 'Avalaff' until my six-week stewing period for 'Renegades' is up, I think I may have to cut myself some slack on that. Switch to something else for just a day or two - probably something completely different in feel - and give the 'Blocked' work a little time to breathe.

I suppose it's a bit like crop rotation really. After a field's been used to grow crops in for two or three years in a row it needs a period of time to 'lie fallow,' where it's left to rest and replenish its nutrients ready for the next planting session. But the farmer still grows crops in the other fields - one of which will be a field that lay farrow last year, and is therefore ripe and ready for planting new stuff in.

Yes, I know - I can hear you saying it out there, and you're right; it is alright for me, I'm not on a deadline, having to finish a piece of commissoned work that someone's screaming at you to get done. Well my answer to that is that I think it's good to have an alternative bit of writing to do anyway - even if it's something that's never going to see the light of day - for just these 'Block'-y periods. After all, surely the alternative is sitting in front of a piece of work for hours and not getting anything done anyway? Might as well fill your time up with the equivalent of 'writer's star-jumps' - it's got to be better than 'non-inspired writer's facepalms.'

And, while you're about it, why not have some more junk food, nicotine or alcohol?*

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*Disclaimer: Yes, Mr. Lawyer-type, I  will of course stress to impressionable writers that indulging in any of the above substances may be harmful to their health, no,  I am not under contract to endorse Jammie Dodgers and yes, other biscuit-related products are available.

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