Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sometimes inspiration takes a little longer

It's frustrating, but there are times you have to recognise a particular story isn't ready to be written yet. You make a start, go through all your usual routines and find yourself sitting there. Staring at the screen. And nothing's coming. No bright ideas, no dazzling moments of inspiration, no clever set-ups you can pay off later. Just bland, formulaic and dull retreads of old stories, old ideas, old tropes. You've run out of juice, it seems.

Some people call this writer's block and go into a blind panic. It can be hard to quell that tiny voice at the back of your head saying this is the day you run out of ideas. This is the day there's nothing left in tank. This is the day the world realises you've been faking it all this time, playing fast and loose, that you have no actual talent and everything before this moment was a combination of luck, flukiness and plain old prestidigitation.

To which I say: cobblers. Writer's block just means you aren't ready to write that particular story. Go do something else. Read a book, watch a film, visit a gallery, take a walk. Come back later and try writing something else instead. Eventually that nagging voice at the back of your head will have an idea or an inkling or a spark, something that can kickstart the tale you've been stalled on. Leastways, that's how it works for me.

Of course, there's another school of thought. [Look away now if you're skittish.] Some singers believe they have a finite number of songs in their voice - let's call it a million notes for the sake of debate. Sing enough notes and your voice's power will diminsh, its quality deteriorate. Singers spend years honing their instrument and their technique, becoming a professional. How many of those million notes must they expend to get good?

Now, imagine if the same idea was applied to writing. How many stories and ideas must you create and write to hone your talent and your technique? How much time and how many years of life will you expend to get good at writing? Because none of us live forever and all careers are finite. [Well, apparently not Tupac, but he's the exception.] My attitude is this: I haven't got time to indulge in writer's block. Writers write. Onwards.


Adaddinsane said...

I'm in the "bollocks" camp. (As it were.)

I spent 20 years in journalism, get "writers block" there and you get fired.

There is a phenomenon that people call "writers block" but I don't think that's what it is. I think it's "not knowing what to write".

laurence timms said...

I'll second the bollocks. I have evolved some techniques that are more or less guaranteed to unblock the inspiration gland. They include washing up, ironing and driving home from work.

Gazing at half-finished paragraphs, biro-hovering over blank notebooks, staring at the ceiling, dramatic strides upon windswept moors with knotted brow: these things don't work. Least, not for me.

Piers said...

On the contrary, I think those things work very well.

Provided your aim is "tortured artist" rather than "professional".

Anonymous said...

Invite your family and friends over to camp down in your office for a few days. Offer to look after somebody else's children (the more challenging the child the better). Have the in-laws to stay for a weekend.

After a few days (or even hours) I'm usually longing to get back to my desk and suffering very unreasonable bouts of churlish resentment at not being able to write.

Having the opportunity to write taken away from me is usually all the kick start I need to want to get stuck in again.