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Tag: Writers Block

Your Best Will Always Change

Probably the most frustrating aspect of writing is following up on an easy story. Chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about, or you soon will. That story where the research was a pleasure, your characters eloquent and obliging, and the first draft needed little improvement. You never know when these ‘gifts’ are going to occur, or how to summon them into being, so you just enjoy it and keep writing.

Only your next story isn’t a gift. You have to drag it onto the page. Characters that were warm and three-dimensional are now cut out of a cornflake packet. You’re so baffled and bored by the research that you end up spending four hours on a single paragraph’s detail. And the most unpleasant part? You need to keep going. If you stop in the midst of all this, even for a moment, then the truth will catch up to you – you’ve lost it. Whatever divine intervention or lucky accident that enables you to write is no more. Logically you know this isn’t true. Every writer has bad days, days where all you have are bad words; the good ones stuck between your teeth like popcorn kernels. Usually you just work through that, but when it follows something that showed you how good you can be? That’s another level of pain.

My biggest fear is that I only have so much. There are a finite amount of good scenes, exciting moments, and funny remarks stored in my knowledge box. It’s the kind of fear that leads to bad habits like squirreling away a piece of great dialogue, saving it for your next piece because this one has already had its quota. The truth is that writers do draw from a well, and finding out what replenishes your well is vital to future scribblings. Sometimes we have an uninterrupted connection to that well, for who knows what reason, and it’s easy to drain it dry. Trying to deny that, trying to portion out your best writing, is like trying to hold back a river with your hands. If your work was of a consistent, unwavering quality, then you’d be one of many writers in the neighbourhood. What often stops people from writing isn’t that they lack talent, but that they’ve sampled how monotonous it can be to create something coherent with that talent.

Is there an amount of self-delusion here? You bet. A less cynical person might call it faith. Personally, I try to remind myself that some bad writing is a good sign. It means you’re still paying attention. Self-publishing has a bad rap because too many of those writers think they’re pretty great. We all get those ‘Yeah baby!’ moments now and then, of course, but that’s usually just before ‘Oh God, what have I wrought?’ That kind of mind-set may not feel best to the writer, but it leads to better product for their reader.

The Grit

Every writer has been plagued by interruptions.  Either they’re stealing time away from their family, juggling work commitments or listening to nearby roadworks and saying the same thing: “I just know if I could get some peace and quiet then I’d come up with something great”.  For me it’s listening to the family in the upstairs flat on their half-term break; single mother with four kids on laminate flooring.  I’m afraid to write anything in the belief that it’ll turn into some thinly veiled fantasy ( all I’ve got so far is a character venting a few people into space. My mind keeps lingering on that one, delicious image ).

It’s grit, you tell yourself.  Gets in my eyes, makes it difficult to see properly.  But it’s also life.  It would be lovely if life came in these little, packaged moments which summed up a meaning or emotion before buggering off and leaving you in peace, but is that going to happen?  Imagine yourself in an idllyic country cabin; a pile of logs for the open fire, soothing sounds of nature, perhaps a babbling brook nearby or the soft patter of rain on the roof.  Ah, serene, but would you get any writing done?  In my experience, no.  You need fuel, and while that fuel may occasionally be pure and smooth, it’s just as likely to be wood alcohol that makes your brain cramp and your hands yearn to strangle.

The irony of writing is that it’s an introspective art which quickly dries up if you don’t expose yourself to life every now and then.  Writer’s block is just as often the sensation of having used up every bit of fuel you have.  So yes, the irritations are good for me, they’re good for you too, if you can get past yourself for long enough to fire that emotion at the page.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to vent some people into space.