What is writer’s block? We’ve all bandied the words around some time or another. We tell it to other writers and they just nod knowingly and sympathetically, it gives us a sort of glamour when we we moan about it to civilians. If only we can break down that block we tell anybody who wants to listen, we would be writing that blockbuster novel, or that fabulous feature article or that memorable poem. If only.
Stephen King wrote about writer’s block in his book ‘On Writing; a memoir of the craft.’ Graham Green is said to have written 500 words a day, every day. PD James said: ‘Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing and not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.’ Everyone who is anyone has an opinion about writer’s block; everyone who isn’t ‘anyone’ also has an opinion. Like PD James I’ve always said, don’t talk about it, do it. But now that I’ve discovered that PD got there before me, I can’t claim it as my own (even if I’ve only just found it out). Darn.
Everyone who is anyone has made a mint writing about it so that we can read about it. I must admit I very much liked Stephen King’s book and found it informative. I doubt I’ll ever be as famous or as prolific as he is, but I’ve discovered for myself that in the end there comes a time when you have to stop reading about how other people have done it and find a way to overcome it for yourself. My sister who is a teacher tells her students that what sometimes works is to write the ending. Even if the ending gets changed later on, that might free you to get going with the rest of the story. I think that’s as good an idea as any.
I can’t accredit it because I’ve read so much advice myself about writer’s block, but here are some ideas from others I’ve come across over the years: find a comfortable spot, find an uncomfortable spot and don’t leave it until you’ve written something. Be inspired by Simone de Beauvoir and write in a café, go for a walk with your trusty note book and pen by your side. If there’s a beach nearby, sit on the sand and watch the waves roll in. That last is mine. There’s nothing so freeing and hypnotic as those waves and the neverending screech of seagulls. The famous and not so famous all have an opinion about overcoming writer’s block. Mine, like PD James is get started and stop agonising about it. Worry about the language or the revisions later, don’t worry about the sense it does or doesn’t make.
One of my own lecturers told us students that you should know your characters as well as your closest friends or family. Whether or not you write about it in your story, you should know what is in character for this, er, character. What would he or she do given any situation? How they like their coffee? What side of the political divide are they? If you’ve come to a stop in your story work on your characters. Sit in a café and imagine a life for the people you see sitting around you.
I hope that I haven’t disappointed those of you who are despairing of getting it right and who wanted more concrete ideas. But if we get back to PD James (and me), just take this bit of advice to heart, stop talking about writing and write.