Some books are easy to write. Whether it’s a character, an idea or a setting, sometimes something grabs you so hard that its impossible not to write it down. In the most serendipitous of these moments, the thing that grabs you is so grabby and so good that you can blast past the initial uncertainty and even flick two merry middle fingers to the dreaded Mid-Book Blahs.
The other extreme is a much more familiar story. It’s the one where you’re just putting words on page without much clue about what you’re actually doing or any real enthusiasm for the wordmatter you’re forcing yourself to excrete, two thousand words at a time. It’s those times when you’re staring at the screen wondering how the pink, frilly hell you got into this state in the first place, when the extent of the upfuckage seems so severe that nothing short of gasoline, a match and maybe a judicious ploughing of the earth with salt is ever going to even atone for the dreadful mess you’ve made, never mind clean it up.
At the very worst extreme it’s the point where everything grinds to a halt and you become that most pointless of creatures – a writer who doesn’t actually write anything.
This is usually the moment where a lot of people start blaming that mythical friend of all pun-inclined forum headers – the dreaded writer’s block. Before I can get into any more of the reasons why your novel might be stalled, we need to talk about writer’s block.
There is no such thing as Writer’s Block.
Look at it. Just look at what I just typed. Look at that fucker sitting there in the heading line like it’s an actual thing. I even gave it capitals. I don’t even give the sasquatch capitals and the sasquatch is more real than writer’s bullshit block.
Writer’s block is a myth. It does not exist. If you want to write, you will write. It’s that simple. There’s nothing stopping you. There is no magical anti-muse working against you. Writer’s block is bullshit. Say it out loud. Say it louder. There – doesn’t that feel better already?
Now, you may be side-eyeing this advice, which is fine. You may be thinking that it took Joseph Heller ten years to write Catch-22, and that James Joyce’s existence was a daily brawl with the written word when he would have much rather have been knocking out farty love letters to Nora. One of Joyce’s friends, so the legend goes, found James Joyce prostrate and groaning over his desk one day and asked him how the book was going. “How many words today, Jim?” the friend asked, only to meet with the despondent reply – “Seven.”
The friend attempted to cheer Joyce up by telling him that seven was better than nothing and that actually seven was pretty good going, for him, at which point the author raised his head from the desk and wailed “But I don’t know what order they go in!”
If you’ve read much of Joyce’s work – particularly Ulysses – you might understand the great man’s frustration. Every word, line and even punctuation mark in Joyce’s work is carefully considered and measured for shape, strength, pun capacity, resonance, texture and wit. It nearly drove him mad on numerous occasions, but the point is that Ulysses is complete. It’s done. If poor old brainstrained James Joyce can get from Stately plump Buck Mulligan all the way to yes, I said yes I will yes, then what the hell is your excuse?
If you’re citing – as the Bukowski poem goes – ‘light and air and time and space’ as the reasons why you can’t write, then maybe do something else. Find another form of creative expression that you like. Nobody cares that you can’t write unless you have the right chair and the right music and all your pencils are sharpened in a very specific way – we’ve all been there. Anyone who has ever put words on a page – either as a hobby or a profession – has at some point indulged in sometimes byzantine methods of procrastination, sometimes to the point of building entire houses in order to have the ‘perfect creative space’.
And it’s all pointless. It’s all utterly useless. If you find yourself tooling around in this way, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you really want to do this at all. It’s not an easy question to ask yourself, and you may not like the answer, but that’s all it is – ‘writer’s block’, procrastination – call it what you will. It’s nothing more than your own laziness and reluctance to commit to a thing that – when you get right down to it – is actually a whole lot of fun.
Once you get past that and the answer is still ‘yes, I want to write’, it becomes much easier to stare down the real obstacles to writing (work, time, family) and make the time to write.
Stripped of its demonic, mythological status, writer’s block is often nothing more than a perfect storm of problems – plot problems, pacing problems, character problems or just outright problems with the entire premise of a novel in the first place. These are scary things to face, but like most problems they can be a) overcome, b) worked around or c) thrown screaming from a precipice into a gigantic pit of fire, scorpions and spikes.
I won’t lie – when it comes to problems, I have a sentimental fondness for option C.
Things You May Have Mistaken For Writer’s Block
- Your main character has suffered a radical personality shift halfway through the book and you don’t know how to deal with it. Relax. This can be fixed.
- You look back at the first half of your novel and realise that it not only has pacing problems but could be used to euthanise coma patients by gently sapping their will to keep breathing. Once again, relax. This can be fixed.
- You have no idea what happens next. Take a deep breath, pull up a notepad and relax. This can be fixed.
- The thing that was supposed to happen next has not happened next and you’ve rambled off wildly into an experimental mess. Calm down. The solution may hurt, but only for a moment. This can be fixed.
- Laziness. Admittedly this one is the most difficult to fix.