Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Removing The Blockage

I have recently started another blog, "New To London", because...well, I'm new to London. Yesterday, I made a post about the Tube, because one of my friends posted about an amazing blog on his facebook page. 

Today, that same friend — a very good guy from my now distant comedy days — posted on facebook again about his experiencing writer's block for a long time. He wrote that he was "brimming with ideas but just can't get motivated", and invited contributions of advice from "friends who have written books". 

Normally, I shy away from giving advice, never feeling qualified to dispense it. Previous attempts to give advice have always caused me great embarrassment (who the hell am I to suggest to someone what they should do?) and fear (what if someone follows my advice and something bad happens?). However, I have written a book and he did ask. So what follows is what I told him, edited for flow and clarity.
Try to get rid of the fear of seeing something on the page that you think is terrible. That was the biggest thing stopping me. I expected my first draft to look like polished prose. It won't, and nor should it - that's what subsequent revisions are for. How you do that is something that I can't tell you, because it will be different for everyone. For me, I just kept reminding myself that I alone would suffer the embarrassment of seeing my own half-formed ideas, clunky and stilted dialogue, and pedestrian descriptions.

The second biggest obstacle for me was hitting a wall in the development of the plot as I wrote. That was why ten novels since the age of 22 petered out after between 15,000 and 30,000 words and went to the recycle bin. I decided to insert "DEVELOP FURTHER" whenever this happened, and just move on. It can be rectified later.

The third main obstacle, for me, was the plot itself. I'd always tried writing and seeing where it took me, because I'd heard a lot about plot-driven pieces being considered boring and stilted, and that was the last thing I wanted to be. But then I learned that, because I'm a structure fanatic, I should work within my limitations. A structure doesn't need to be slavishly followed; all it is is a framework. It's like having a chord sequence upon which to improvise, to use an analogy from jazz.

Try to get into the habit of writing something - anything - every day, but don't beat yourself up if you don't. Simply take each new day as it comes.

I was very lucky when writing my novel. Due to illness (nothing serious), I was in the position of having the luxury of a couple of months free to write, and writing my novel was therapeutic. Writing from the heart was about all I was capable of doing, during this period.

I was also lucky because my wife was, and is, incredibly supportive of my writing - she is my single biggest source of encouragement.


So there it is: my advice on fighting writer's block, with a bit of extra stuff about adequate time and true love. I used to have writer's block myself; in fact, you might say I was a chronic sufferer. I remember searching for remedies, several years ago. Some people suggested writing free flowing "morning pages" every day (in fact, Julia Cameron wrote a book about creativity, in which this was recommended), whereas others' advice was: read. I always find the latter bit of advice unnecessary, since writers are invariably readers (in my experience). I would never suggest to someone that they read, because it seems a bit patronizing. I know Stephen King advised reading in his book, "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft", but somehow, I think people would be more willing to take such advice from him than they would from me. 

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