Writer’s Block – Does it exist?

Writer’s block used to be fashionable – a diagnosed condition. That’s always suspect. If you write, you might have said, ‘I’ve got writer’s block’ out loud to friends who ask you how the novel or short story is going, as if a disease has infiltrated your being, like a cold virus.

My mother used to say starve a fever, feed a cold. So, following that advice, if you can’t write, feed your writing self. These days, there is so much online, the poor, blocked writer, might indeed become feverish under the onslaught of ideas. All those tips, all those prompts, all that writing advice, all those tweets urging you to submit work to magazines or enter competitions. Endless hours can be spent reading them, having good intentions and nodding in agreement. If nothing else, it’s good neck exercise.

To combat the  fever, there are those apps which cut off  internet distractions and post you a picture of a kitten if you manage to write for a while. More punitive ones delete all your work if you don’t get to target in a certain time. To help her write, I bought a friend a posh version of an egg timer for a birthday present recently. Not three, but fifteen minutes to watch the sand drain through.

Let’s get obvious – if you can’t write, you have to overcome deep reluctance, and just do it, create a regular habit. Most people say write everyday to get in the zone, or if not that, at least some time once a week, when you can reward yourself with cake. Writers are never blocked, they are either not physically writing, or being over-critical. Anyone can put down the words of a first draft. It’s only in Steven King’s The Shining that authors are taken over by some other phenomena. Remember the film version and  Jack Nicholson typing the line “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over?

The first draft is not going to be brilliant but the critical voice forgets this and says, why bother? The work will never live up to something marvellous that you’ve written before, or someone else has already done better.

I captured
Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist father who suffers from a financially crippling writer’s block.

A few fictional authors have this ‘be perfect’ script. I love these lines from “I Captured a Castle’ by Dodie Smith.

Cassandra: “Father, ‘Jacob Wrestling’ was a wonderful ground-breaking book. There was never going to be a sequel over night.’

Father: “Meaning?”

Cassandra: “Meaning, it will come”

Father: “How old are you?”

Cassandra: “Seventeen.”

Father: “And you still believe in fairytales?”

(Note the book description copied in here under the cover picture on the left suggests the father  is ‘suffering’ from  writer’s block).



Taking The Writing Cure

If writing is a pond, mine is stagnant. So, how to get an oxygenating stream of words? The answer of course is to write – the only cure. Fortunately, writing isn’t like downing a glass of medicinal minerals, like those foul tasting spa waters that claim to revitalise the system. Once you begin, it’s pleasurable – even after a single sentence.

In the last weeks, I’ve persuaded myself that all sorts of activities support my writing when I’m not putting words on the page:

Sitting in cafés – no, it’s not about eating lovely Sicilian pastries and drinking Italian coffee with cream – the purpose of frequenting cafés is for people-watching to find characters and situations. Of course it is.

Reading – I’ve the Fish anthology to finish and the rest of Stinging Fly and it is good to learn from others, isn’t it?

Tweeting – There are great competition and submission opportunities out there and I like to read and retweet those links. But summer competition deadlines have passed me by and the autumn ones are fast approaching…

Talking about not-writing to writer friends. Stirs the pond and can bring activity but also more sludge. Especially if I compare myself adversely to them.

Organising writing events for one of my writing businesses. I run Writing Events Bath with my friend, Alex Wilson. I love this activity.  I get to attend all these events and learn from them. We’ve a great workshop coming up on October 6th at Mr B’s bookshop Bath, with author and writing tutor, Trish Nicholson on writing a non-fiction book and one on October 19th at The New Oriel Hall, Bath with marvellous novelist Lucy Christopher on writing young adult fiction. On November 29th, literary agent, Lucy Luck who represents writers Kevin Barry, Colin Barrett and  rising star, Danielle McGouglin amongst many others is coming to give feedback to writers pitching their story collections or novels. But I don’t need to wait for these inspirational occasions to write

Giving feedback on writing. My husband writes poetry and listens to my suggestions (sometimes!) I should write something and show him. He gives great feedback.

Organising The Bath Short Story Award with friends and writing companions, Jane and Anna. This year’ s anthology of selected stories is at the printers and we have a wonderful new judge for next year’s competition which is launched on 1st November. We set up the Award to encourage writers, but it should encourage us too!

But hey – it’s a good writing day so far. Only 7.00 am and I’ve already taken the blog-writing part of The Cure. I’ve a writing prompt book next to me and opening at a random page, I found the following: Write a fragment of a story about a character in a desperate situation…They have to talk themselves out of the situation like Scherheraszade  – 600 words. Begin now …

p.s. 11.35 am. I did it. I’ve written more than 600 words of this fragment and it does have the makings of quite a good story. And I’ve done ironing, responded to several emails, eaten breakfast, had an argument, pulled up some weeds and now it’s sunny out there…