Chapter Eighteen - Writer’s Block24 August 2010
I suspect this is the chapter that many of you will jump ahead to first!! Most people have a morbid fascination with disaster, and writer’s block draws attention the same way a flame draws a moth. If you’re a young writer and you DID come to this section first, you need to pause and take a good long look at your reasons for doing that. Is it because you’re looking for an excuse to fail? Many wannabe writers are—it’s easier to quit than it is to push ahead and work hard. And if you can read a piece by an established writer in which he moans about having problems with writer’s block, it’s easier to justify quitting to yourself. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint any train-wreck fans out there, but I think writer’s block is a vastly over-reported phenomenon, and while I’m sure it CAN strike writers for real in very rare cases, I think most of the time it only happens because writers freak themselves out by thinking too hard!! For more about that, check out this blog entry which I wrote a while back…
I returned to editing duties on the first Mr Crepsley book today. I started re-editing it last week, but had to stop for a bit to deal with other stuff. Today I got back to it, and started to add some new material. As I said in an earlier blog a few months ago, the first book was shorter than the next three, and while I don’t have any problems with short books, each time I came back to it, I felt like there was something missing. So I thought hard about it, and I realised there were a few blanks I needed to fill in, which would require the addition of 3 or 4 new chapters to the book. I launched myself into the fresh material today.
This is the part of the writing process I find the most hard to get enthusiastic about. Every writer’s different. Some hate the first draft process but love editing. Some love editing but hate having to slog through a first draft. Personally I don’t have any problem with doing first drafts or editing the books later. When I’m working on a first draft I “get into the zone” and patiently work my way through the story, a day at a time. When I’m editing, I fly through the books—I love tinkering with them and teasing them into final shape.
But this sticky middle stage always annoys me. I don’t have to do it very often. Normally I write more than I need in a first draft, which means from that point on I have material to work with and hone into shape. It’s a mental thing—I see the first draft stage as the “hard work” part of the process, then the editing stage as the “easier work”. But when I have to add new chapters to a book while editing, I get confused. It’s silly, but part of me keeps growling, “I shouldn’t be doing this! This is meant to be the coast-along-on-the-wings-of-an-edit time! The hard stuff is meant to be behind me!!!” I do my best to ignore that unreasonable voice, but I can never block it out entirely. It’s never stopped me from going ahead and completing the new work—I always goad myself on—but it has slowed me down from time to time.
I guess working on new material during an edit like this is the closest I’ve ever come to having the dreaded Writer’s Block. To some extents I think writer’s block is a myth—I don’t believe any writer is ever physically incapable of doing a good day’s work. There are so many stories to tell, and so many ways to tell them, that I don’t think any writer has a REAL excuse to let themselves be derailed, to claim they’ve run out of ideas or inspiration. What I think happens is that writers psyche themselves out. They fixate on a problem, or something they dislike, until it gets so big in their imagination that they can’t see a way around it. If I’d kept putting off the writing of the new material in this book—if I’d gone ahead and edited the next three books, and then moved on to something else, and told myself “I’ll fixx it NEXT time,” the problem would have magnified and I’d have found it even harder to deal with. It might have even got to the stage where I started to believe I COULDN’T do it.
A lot of writing—indeed, most things in life worth pursuing—is about self-belief. You can’t afford to stand and stare at the things which scare you most. If you don’t think you can do something, you need to crack on a launch yourself at it, to prove to yourself that you CAN. I’m not talking about attempting the impossible here—I mean, if I wanted to run 100 metres in 10 seconds, I couldn’t, no matter how hard I trained! If I wanted to be a ballet dancer, I couldn’t. A professional footballer. A rock star. Etc. Etc. I’m not talking about chasing unrealistic dreams here. But each of us has unique talents, things we’re good at, things we KNOW we can do. I think that most of us are aware of our talents. We know our limits, but also the places where we can stretch those limits, where we can excel. Failure in life isn’t being unable to do the things you idly dream of doing—it’s failing to do the things you CAN do. It’s looking at a problem you know you can solve, but not solving it because you’re afraid to try.
Life’s full of hurdles, and the hurdles are different for each and every one of us. But we won’t ever get over those hurdles by standing and staring at them and worrying about how high they are and what’s on the other side and if we have the power to clear them. To get over our hurdles, we need to take a deep breath, narrow our eyes, take a good run up at them ... and jump.