The Art of Writing No 10
Having a writer’s block is like having a terrible on-going organic ailment to the writer, particularly to the artist whose self-value is almost totally and inextricably tied up with the need to express himself or herself in words. How we live and how we die is a conundrum we try to solve (or evade) throughout our lives and the writer attempts it by giving birth to poems, novels and short stories which allow the reader glimpses through to vast panoramic insights into his or her existence. It can act as a tombstone (albeit one with rather a long epitaph!).
So not to write for such people is akin to a disease. Let’s call it stultification. Everything from the mind to the pores in the skin and the various other orifices of discharge, appear bunged up. What to do?
Here are one or two solutions for this, in no particular order, for the more major issues in blockedness (I dealt with incipient writer’s block in the last blog):
1 Ignore any thought about the entirety of a piece of work and just write, write write whatever, drivel through to well coined phrases. Every day. Perspiration eventually leads to inspiration. It is astonishing how you can suddenly find yourself in the groove and all you have to do is dump the meandering introductory riffs. It is also astonishing how themes emerge this way and your apparent discrete elements become cohered.
2 If the block is in the middle of your work, write the ending. Or write character descriptions for later. Don’t allow a silence to grow between your tapping keys and the screen, or pencil tip and paper. Stay with it. Trust it and your brain will come up trumps.
3 Organise your desk so there are no distractions. I always do this at the end of one project and the beginning of another. A spring clean, including the desktop on the computer.
4 Attend to outside constraints (relationships, jobs, friends, environment can all lead to lower self-worth and a sense that you have nothing to say. You MUST give yourself the licence to do both write and sort out. Strike a bargain with yourself. Sorting out elements in your life will give you the reward of writing. Sort out writing and the joy of fulfillment spreads into your every day life.)
5 Take a notebook everywhere. Allan Ahlberg, the children’s writer, a life long close friend, makes notes everywhere he goes. Snippets of conversation. Paradoxes in adverts. Phrases used by writers he admires. Malcolm Bradbury, once my writing supervisor, wrote much of The History Man and Eating People is Wrong by ducking into the toilet and scribbling down what academics were saying at parties. Never forget to write down an idea as it happens to you. Afterwards it could turn from diamond to paste in your memory, if not.
6 Think small and allow the big idea to materialize as a book progresses. In Azimuth, I wrote a short story about the birth of an extraordinary child in pre-Buddha days. Then another. Then I began to realize this was a biography of an early thinker…920 pages later, full of strange fables, adventures, illuminations, the book is out on show…
After writing Azimuth a lot of people asked me what I was going to do, knowing that the book had taken ten years to write. What I did was take my own advice. I began writing whatever came into may head. Suddenly I realized why I was writing and what the story actually was. A neat (I hope) novella emerged with a satisfying kick at the end, called Through a Mirror Clear: a Gothic Love Story. The title is a quote from The Lady of Shallot… and will be on Kindle shortly.