By Emily Smith
“When she got back from taking Cassie to school Fancy knew that she ought to be working on her wilderness romance. She had promised thirty thousand words to her editor by tomorrow, and she had only written eleven. Specifically:
His rhinoceros smelled like a poppadom: sweaty, salty, strange and strong.
Her editor would cut that line.”
― Jaclyn Moriarty, The Spell Book of Listen Taylor
Ironically, in my attempts to sit and write this article, I have succeeded only in compiling Etsy and Amazon Wish Lists, taking a walk in the pleasant Durham drizzle, and demolishing several bars of chocolate too many.
Isn’t it interesting how writers block consumes us? Despite our best intentions, and our noblest efforts, our minds prefer to roam elsewhere. This is what Wait But Why author Tim Urban aptly dubs the ‘Dark Playground’; a place which may be the most appealing now, but universally results in later suffering. As authors, we want to write, yet we cannot seem to bring ourselves to do so. We might even find ourselves able to write, but we find our work worthy of only the trash.
It comes with some comfort, then, that published authors (such as David Nicholls, who used software appropriated called ‘Write or Die’) face the same conundrum as amateurs. It stands to reason that their different approaches to the situation prove enlightening – or at least reassuring – and with any luck, may exemplify how to escape the swings and roundabouts of the Dark Playground.
Hilary Mantel, winner of two Booker Prizes and novelist of the absurdly lengthy historical fiction Wolf Hall, is surely considered a conqueror of writer’s block. Her recommendation to those of us who have not yet written 700 pages is this:
“Get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling … But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
Wholesome advice. But she does not address how we go back to writing – just simply assumes that we will. Here the slightly more aggressive advice of Lili St. Crow may prove inspiring:
“To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her…and squeezing every last drop out.”
She seems to imply that as writers we have a calling to write every day; not for inspiration, but to ‘catch’ the muse when it arrives. This discipline is admirable and petrifying, but more so is her belief that we all will have times when we are inspired to write – times when the words are easier to find than potatoes in college meals. However, we cannot torture ourselves with either social segregation, as Mantel insinuates, nor by chaining ourselves to our desks.
Perhaps the best course of action is a combination of the two techniques, with a sprinkling of common sense. It may well be sensible to commit to writing for a certain time per day, week, or month. Equally, inspiration does not arise from staring at walls: it is found by going out; by exploring our reality, and immersing ourselves in social interactions and observations.
And if all else fails, Buckowski’s witticism proves as relevant as it is ironic – “writing about writer’s block is better than writing about nothing at all”.
Image Credit: Shawn Campbell via Flickr