Hello, my name’s Chris Long. I suffer from Writer’s Block.
There. I said it. That feels better. I’m susceptible to Writer’s Block. Don’t believe me? Look at the photo at the top of the blog page. Hell, look at the name of the blog page. There’s an unspoken stigma attached to the idea of The Dreaded Block. In fact, many of my writing heroes say it doesn’t exist. They label it as a myth, a writing cliché. They sit comfortably in posh restaurants, doing high profile interviews with expensive magazines, snickering at those of us who get to the computer or page one morning and find the blank void waiting for us with blank, open arms.
For the record, it’s never there before we get to work. Oh no. Writer’s Block is far too clever for that. It waits for the perfect moment to pounce. It lets you get a drink. It lets you put on music and think about what you’re going to achieve. It lets you get comfortable in front of whatever writing implements you’ve chosen and, sometimes, it even lets you get a few words down. Then it strikes. It pulls the rug out from under you and casts you into those endless oceans of frustration it calls home.
Try to remember what you wanted to write and it will all slip further away. Try to start something fresh and you’ll hear the emptiness laugh at you. Sometimes, when it’s in a really foul mood, Writer’s Block will remove not only what you’d intended to write but also tease apart the only safety line you’d left for yourself; the very words that got you into this mess.
Of course, according to the best and brightest, this is all in my head. They chalk Writer’s Block up to laziness. They say it’s a symptom of bad writing or amateurs punching above their weight. They’re not fooling anyone. I think all of them have suffered from The Accursed Block. How could they not? Writing is no easy task.
At the very heart of it, writing involves walking carefully along a narrow tightrope, crossing over a pit of your own paranoid doubts whilst cradling your fragile idea with both hands. This is especially true of a first draft. At which point your idea will become terrified of heights and your tightrope has the ability to turn into cooked spaghetti if you look back over your shoulder for too long.
Write daily and you traverse the tightrope daily. It won’t get much easier for it. Write less often and the tightrope gets narrower, just to teach you a lesson. Plus, to complicate things, you have to pretend that you’re fine whilst you’re doing it. Even when the tightrope strains under your feet or the wind chuckles at your faltering progress.
Many of my heroes have written a lot of books in their time. So, it stands to reason they’ve strung up their own tightropes and crossed the crevasse on numerous occasions. I think each and every one of them has either a drawer in their desk or a folder on their computer that we’re not allowed to see. In there, you’ll find a stack of ideas that was stolen by the greedy fingers of Writer’s Block.
I get why they don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, you only need to name your demon for it to appear. Besides, they’re professionals. Regardless of how scraggy some of them try to look for the cameras.
Magicians don’t talk about the dead pigeons up their collectives sleeves. Writers keep schtum about the days they can’t write more than a few words without banging their fists against their head. It’s the nature of the beast.
Of course, it’s also possible that I tell myself this in order to sleep at night. Successful people who are successfully being successful all the bloody time are enough to drive a man to drive. In fact, they won’t just drive him there. They’ll carry him to the door, hand him a credit card and give him all the time at the bar he needs to really do himself some damage.
If we’re going to be scientific about this, then I’d say your chances of hitting The Block are linked to how you write. There are so many ways to tackle a story and none of them are exactly right or wrong. Some of them just leave you more open to attack.
I have a feeling that those who easily avoid The Block are the planners. The strategists. They map out every moment before they start. They know everything that’s going to happen. They know exactly when and where it’s going to happen. Good for them. I can’t do that. I’ve tried it and it’s not for me. Meticulous notes are anathema to my writing. Speedbumps. Whilst I’ve found stumbling across key story moments organically has the exact opposite effect. The twists and changes keep me thinking on my toes. It feels like the story is doing the steering.
That said, I need some idea of where I’m going. There are some out there who don’t. Insane, reckless, brilliant pioneers. It’s brinkman(and woman)ship of the highest order. They dive straight into a story headfirst. I wish I had the confidence to do that.
So, in short, I suffer from Writer’s Block and I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is, how to beat it or even if it’s real. The problem is rather neatly summed up in High Fidelity.
‘What came first,’ Nick Hornby has his main character ask. ‘Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?’
Yes, he’s talking about music but the principle’s the same. At some point, I heard there was such a thing as Writer’s Block. Now that I’m writing, I suffer from it. So, does that happen because it’s a real thing or only because I believe it’s real?
Of course, you need to be careful here. Thinking like this can lead a person to believe they’re living in a Philip K Dick novel. Now there’s a man who knew how to dodge The Block. He wrote more novels than a librarian can shake a stamp at. Perhaps I should take a leaf from his block…I mean book.