Tuesday, 22 January 2013

When Writing Feels Like Constipation

With a title like that, you'd be forgiven for suspecting that there may be a lot of toilet references in this entry. I will try not to use them gratuitously, but use them I must, as it is the best analogy I can think of for those certain times when the writing is going... not so well.

I know people who are massively preoccupied with their bowel movements. They have decided, a long time ago, exactly how many times a day they 'should' do a Number Two, and even what time of day it 'should' make its presence felt. They hold this view regardless of what they may have eaten, drunk or done during that twenty-four hour period - to the point where, if they have a bowel movement at a time that does not comply with the schedule they immediately decide they must be ill. For such people, a poo arriving without a scheduled appointment is something to be feared - and being stood up by an expected poo comparable to the end of the world.

It's easy for writers to feel the same way about their craft sometimes. Most of us who try to keep to a regular writing schedule gradually develop natural ways of self-tracking our progress. For some it's to write for a certain number of hours each day. Others prefer a word count - "I cannot leave the page until I have written at least a thousand words" for example. Whatever the chosen method, when we hit or exceed the target all is well with our writing world and everything is working as it should. If we miss the target once or twice - well, that's unfortunate, but nothing worth worrying about, because we'll just catch up another day and it'll all work itself out. But if the failure to hit the target runs into days, weeks... well, just as people who dread the thought of constipation worry that the condition will cause their entire bodies to fill up with poo, until they are nothing but a big, fleshy balloon of poo waiting to explode, the writer can worry that they are becoming nothing more than a big bag of literary poo. And that, should they explode all over their work, it will become obvious to the world that, as writers, they're actually... well, 'poo.'

But in the same way that constipation can be caused by blips in a person's normal lifestyle - eating something different, not drinking enough fluids or having a few couch-potato days, for example - Writer's Constipation can be caused by blips in the writing lifestyle. Stress, for example. Unless you're already a successful writer (and in many cases even if you are) the chances are that you have other things to do in your life besides writing; running a house and/or holding down an unrelated day job, for example. Roles like that will occasionally throw curveballs in your direction that demand your attention, be it physical or mental. If those curveballs are big and emotional enough, that can disrupt your natural writing rhythm.

I have been getting to know this feeling very well over the last few weeks. What with family members in hospital, a sick child and various other incidents paying unexpected visits, focusing on getting on with Draft Two of The Renegades seems almost selfish. Today, according to the nifty piece of software I'm using to write it, I had written minus 173 words at the end of my scheduled two hours. Yep, minus.

It's enough to make a girl think she ought to just give up on the whole thing. But if you have genuine constipation in your body you can't just give up on the idea of ever performing a successful dump again; you'd end up in a pretty bad way if you took that approach. You just have to keep going off to the toilet and sitting, and trying, and hoping that eventually there'll be a breakthrough. After all, if you're still putting food in the top end, it all has to come out somewhere eventually, doesn't it? And this, I've decided, is the approach that's needed with my writing. Keep turning up at the page and sitting and trying, because eventually it'll work its way out.

Oh - and in the meantime, try and banish all those mental images of spontaneously exploding in a big shower of literary poo.

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