Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lessons I have learnt about writing novels: Writer's Block

With anything you work at over a sustained length of time, there are going to be times when it is more difficult to do for all kinds of subtle reasons. Writing is no different. Writer’s Block is no different from any other funk people come to in work which requires concentration, creativity and self-motivation and I believe the mythology around it to be dangerous on two counts.

The first is that there is a point where you become incapacitated for work by emotional events, physical or mental health and this may kick in long before you lose the ability to hold a pen or type. Regarding your inability to write as some sort of metaphysical breakdown or a personal betrayal on the part of your muse, is likely to add to your suffering. If you are not well enough to write or life has taken over, you can but wait out the crisis.

The second problem with the concept of Writer’s Block is that, failing such an all-consuming crisis, creativity can be and must be stimulated. Any artist who expects inspiration to dance in through the window on a sunbeam to enable the masterpiece to be produced is never going to achieve anything. Any artist who is solely interested in the masterpiece is not really an artist at all.

Those people who have produced masterpieces along with others who have produced great inventions or revolutionary theories have almost always produced a great deal of other, not quite so fantastic work. That quote about the ratio between persperation and inspiration is very apt. The great thing about writing is that writers can claim to suffer for our art, whereas folks who have proper jobs have to make do with having an off-day.

In fact, it is not quite as simple as that, because writing does take more discipline that most nine-to-five jobs. You set your own hours and only have yourself to answer to if you don’t stick to them. At least before you become successful, you are either juggling writing with a proper job or else writing whilst unemployed. Most reasons a person is long-term unemployed besides hideous personal wealth present their own challenges; the stress of poverty, the pressing need to get a proper job and/ or the many and varied effects of ill health and disability.

Apart from this, you have a great deal of unanswerable questions about the work you are doing; is it any good? Will it get finished? When will it be finished? Will it be any good when it is finished? Will anyone want to read it? Will I get published? Will I get enough money to live on? All of the above call into question whether the entire exercise is worthwhile. To put such questions aside for the amount of time it takes to write a book requires bloody-mindedness tantamount to madness.

So well, it isn’t quite the same as a normal work…

I was going to include my Goldfish Guide To Self-Discipline here but that'll have to be another day.

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