Tales & images from life as me…

The write time – Writer’s Block


I always thought writer’s block was a total myth. One of those arty excuses for floating about and being aimless whilst you wait for inspiration. A writer must have made that one up! I mean come on – I never have no ideas, plus I usually have something I have to be writing – an article for someone, or my blog, or a bit for the home study course I’m working through – so it’s not possible to have nothing to write. And if you’re writing something, then you’re not blocked, are you!

Well, it turns out that all that is true, but writer’s block is a far more subtle mess than the classic image of the writer at the keyboard of an old-fashioned type-writer ripping useless pages from the roller and crumpling them into balls which are scattered around a waste paper basket, or simply staring at a blank page. When writer’s block tiptoed into my life and stubbornly sat itself down, it wasn’t that I couldn’t write, it was that I couldn’t write the book. On the surface I was getting on with all the work that was coming in, but when it came to the one fiction (and thus creative) project I’m doing I couldn’t form a thought, let alone a sentence.

‘You’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe’ said the voices of doubt in my head, disguising themselves as realists and settling back to enjoy a good bitch.
‘Chances are a million to one – you’ll never get it published, what’s the point?’
‘People might hate it, then you’ll feel silly. Can you really face all those rejection letters or critiques?’
‘You haven’t got the motivation or the focus to manage to actually get through an entire book – maybe two thirds is enough. You gave it a go.’
‘You’ve set yourself a mountain here – what were you thinking, inventing an entire world in the future, with a wide range of characters, new technology, different problems? – You’ll never make it all coherent, never make it believable. Give up now before you embarrass yourself.’

They go on… and on.

Up until mid-way though last year I had them gagged and bound at the back of my head, but all it takes is one set free and that one releases all the others and they don’t give up.

For those of you who now think I’m a weird schitzophrenic with multiple personalities, well… I’ll admit I was starting to worry about myself! But, when you finally run out of excuses for why you can’t possibly write today, you realise that what you actually do want to do… is write! So I had to get myself back on the path to doing just that.

I have begun several activities that have helped me to do that (summarized below in case any one else is feeling stuck, skip this bit otherwise!).
1. Talking! – for those of you who know me you’ll laugh at that being top of my list. But it’s true that talking to family and friends who care just makes you feel better, but more than that I have been able to start to understand this whole experience and, even better, when I finally got to really tell one particular friend the story I was writing and speak about the ending it suddenly became sharp in my mind and writing it seemed far less daunting. (Huge thanks to Sue who gave so freely of her time and helped me do this – asking lots of good questions and prompting lots of great stuff).
2. I’m doing a daily home study course that forces you to understand what stops you and what gets you started again so that you manage your time and energy more positively. (It’s called The Artists’ Way in case you’re interested).
3. Living! It sound silly, but by paying attention to the moment you are in, by planning a mix of activities to enjoy and by taking joy in as much as you can, the light can be put back into the world. Tromping through the daily routine, head down and teeth gritted is not living!
4. Setting goals and deadlines.
5. Reading books and articles by writers, editors and publishers.

Anyway, the upshot is I am writing again and really trying to push through to get a finished first draft by the end of next month.

There I’ve said it.

Now that I’ve said it ‘in public’ it has become a real deadline. Please help me to meet it by adding your expectations of my completion of the manuscript to this blog! If I feel your pressure then I know it will help me do what I said I was going to do!

It is both exciting and terrifying to think of having a completed manuscript. I think I’ve been putting it off because that is the point where you have to really dive in. It’s time to show it to someone, to put yourself out there. Little me amongst all those experienced professionals – how ridiculous! But (if I can maintain this new frame of mind – and I have no idea if I can, it’s my first time through this whole process!) I have decided I’m going to try.

I had to laugh when I began, last week, to read a book written by an experienced fiction editor. She opened with a chapter on first time authors and the fact that they: A/ often get stuck around two thirds of the way through their novel…I’ve done that on both my books – the first time I gave up completely! B/ they always want reassurance from agents and editors and frequently write to ask if these exceptionally busy people will review their work and tell them if they are wasting their time or actually have something worth completing… I had just sent a very high level publishing friend of a friend an email basically to that effect. How embarrassing! I am clearly typical in every way – how pathetically needy of me! As the writer of this book very clearly states, ‘if you are a writer you will need to write’. Even if this man told me to give up now, don’t quit your day job (oops too late), never write another word… I couldn’t! I’d miss it too much. I’d be back to random acts of scribbling in my spare moments. I suddenly realised that this poor, very busy man (who I’ve been badgering for a response once a month for three months!) does not need to tell me to get on with it (or not!) – it’s down to me to finish it and polish it until it’s something I can be proud of.

My course has a whole chapter on the fact that is not arrogant to want to put yourself out there, in fact it is the ultimate level of humility. I know exactly what it means now, but I think perhaps I have been struggling with not wanting to seem too big for my boots – after all, who am I to write a book? I’ve been searching for validation or a great big ‘GO’ sign. But then there is that fantastic and very famous quote:

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ Marianne Williamson

So, my mission is to try to shine. I might run out of power sometimes, but hopefully not as often as Tanesco (our TZ power company!), and this time when I do at least I’ll know some strategies for re-charging and I’ll know I’m not alone. Perhaps I really am an ‘artist’ after all – I’ve just survived my first Writer’s Block! (Or should that be writers’ block? – oh I don’t even know the lingo properly – maybe I shouldn’t… just kidding. Whatever. The lingo can wait until after I’m a published writer!)

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9 responses

  1. Geraldine valente

    Yay…I am cheering you on, can’t wait till its finished, published and your face is on posters in the bookshop windows!

    February 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    • Thanks Gerry – what a good visual goal. Like it! x

      February 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm

  2. shane grantham

    Just keep writing! You are brilliant. Miss you

    February 27, 2013 at 6:37 am

    • Any chance of you guys managing an Africa trip this year? Or next – I think we’re planning on staying a while! x

      February 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

  3. Hope you got to read the book I got you years ago, the one about creative writing! Hopefully it’s inspiring. Also you need to write the ‘Survival Scriptures’ as I’m due a signed copy 🙂 I read a great tibit years ago which I think was based around scriptwriting which easily applies to any writing- it goes “scriptwriting is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration” Rather interesting is that I might be having a trip to Tanzania in October, or more precisely climbing Kilimanjaro for charity. The funny thing is I have to write a 500 word proposal as my work is going to pick two people from UK to go out and climb it – so it basically all comes down to my writing skills and possible interview after that. Good luck meeting the 1 month first draft dealine

    February 27, 2013 at 7:57 am

    • Yes, thanks I’ve pulled that book out many times. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever received. Really hope you get to climb Kili – no doubt you can write something really powerful about why it should be you – there are about a hundred good reasons why you should be picked after all! My next challenge is to squeeze my novel plot into 500 words as a synopsis to submit to agents! I very conscious that 500 words is very few!

      February 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm

  4. Hilly

    Really good article, Mel. most impressed. Loved the MW quote and was reminded of Carl Jung ‘s similar words about us always rejecting the ‘gold’ in ourselves whilst enthusiastically embracing the ‘black’. Carry on carrying on, can’t wait to read it!
    Much Love, Hillyxx

    February 28, 2013 at 11:08 am

    • Thanks Hilly. Another chapter complete today! The messages are really helping 🙂

      February 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm

  5. Jeremy David

    well done Mel. Keep going – you will get there.
    jeremy

    March 14, 2013 at 6:16 pm

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