I hear it all over the writerly place: The muse has left me, I have nothing to say, I’m uninspired… I have the equivalent of writer’s pox – all variations of the malady aka writer’s block. When I hear those words, in whatever form they vomit forth from a miserable creative, I cringe. Because I know that the disease doesn’t exist.
However, there are similar conditions which are diagnostic possibilities that need to be ruled out, including laziness, losing the plot, not honouring your characters or the story, losing the plot, a Hemingway headache, losing the plot, and the only really valid excuse – death. Dead writers have writer’s block, make no mistake, and they have my sympathy.
[Unless, of course, they have received the divine promotion to the position of heavenly scribe – which is where I’m aiming. I cannot think of a better way to pass the timelessness of eternity than to sit in the throne room of Almighty God, and write stories to entertain the masses. Surely there will still be art and music and literature in heaven, so I have applied for the post of scribe. I will sit at a little school desk with a pad and a blue pen. And I will scribble away for 10 000 years. Then I’ll mess about with some paint (maybe Van Gogh will give me a few pointers) for a century or two, and I’ll go back to the writing.]
Where was I? Oh, The Block.
I used to think that I had writer’s block until I realised that it was merely a case of laziness or losing the plot. For me, it’s usually a toss-up between the two. And the cure in both cases is the same thing: sit down and write. That may sound circular i.e. how can you sit down and write if you can’t sit down and write? Well, you CAN sit down, so start with that. It’s a really good idea to move onto the next phase of the process, which may entail picking up a pen OR switching on your computer. I write better with a ballpoint pen. I tried doing my first drafts on the computer, but it’s a bit iffy trying to chew the mouse while you’re thinking. And ballpoint pens are a dime a dozen. Literally (which usually means metaphorically, and that’s true for me because I live in South Africa, where it costs more than a dime for one, never mind a dozen – and we don’t have dimes). Computer mouses (or is it mice, somebody – please!) cost a little more, and you won’t find a spare one in the kitchen drawer or under the bed or between the couch cushions or in the car’s glove-box… Well, most people don’t have them all over the place. And if you have real mice in those places, your problem is far more serious than any writer’s block can ever be.
Now we move onto the most important (dare I say pivotal?) part of curing writer’s block – which is quite unlike curing ham. And here it is (ta-da): you write. Yes, it’s that simple. Okay, so you have no idea what to write after the murderous thief climbed out the window with the sack of blood-splattered jewels over his shoulder. Then don’t write about what you have no idea about. Write about something else. Let your imagination give you another scene in the story. Perhaps you have had something tip-toeing about in your brain for a while, but it’s still in the future of the story. Don’t let chronology cramp your style. I can pick a book up and open it anywhere I please and read the page. No one is going to prosecute me or judge me and God is surely not going to send me to Hell. Guess what? That counts for writing, too. You can write any scene you like whenever you like and in whatever colour ink you choose. Scary thought, isn’t it?
You’re a writer, (aren’t you?), which means you are the freest [huh, I don’t think I’ve ever written that word before – it looks weird and I just want to add another ‘e’] agent in the universe. Even the angels don’t do as they please. And painters have to worry about paint drying too quickly. But we get to create worlds as they suit us. Amazing thought just struck me (all the others weren’t so amazing): God made the grass and plants and fruit before He made the animals and man. Otherwise their first day on earth would have been a hungry one. Imagine Adam reaching the first evening and thinking that the grumble in his stomach was just the way life was going to be. So God even does things in order. Phew, makes me a little hesitant to say “Write your scenes in any order”, but I just said it.
Seriously, though, sometimes one scene wants to be written before another, despite the logical chronology. Sometimes we need to gain a new perspective of where the story is headed, or why it is headed in a certain direction. So, forget about Bobby Burglar and write a scene about his wife at home in bed, wondering why he is taking so long to buy the late paper. She might be watching reruns of Dallas and trying to imagine what Bobby Ewing looks like now. Perhaps the dogs across the street are howling while an ambulance siren wails a few blocks away. Now she is scared, and she wishes her Bobby will return, even if he doesn’t look anything like JR’s baby brother. Her Bobby is always so kind and makes her feel safe.
Guess what, your initial scene just found the route it has to take. Bobby is going home to his loving wife. And there are a few logistical issues: jewels, sack, blood, and did he remember the paper? But first he needs to stop off at the fence (dealer in stolen goods – however, perhaps that will be next door to where he lives. After all, didn’t a famous poet say that good fences make good neighbours?)
Writer’s Block? Rubbish! I sat down and wondered what I was going to write about. Granted, I didn’t write about much [although, my goodness, I certainly used enough words to say nothing], but if this wasn’t a blog and somebody was actually going to read this… I could easily slice it and dice it and make it relatively palatable.
What on earth made you read this far? Did you actually think I had the answer, or are you just passing the time while your Writer’s Block mutates into Writing News Bulletins for South African news channels?