Battling the block
May 20, 2012 3 Comments
I’ve broken through. I faced it, fought it and won! But not before cursing it, kicking it, and banging my head against it. I’d been despondent and despairing and wondered if there was any point to continuing. I’d thought that maybe the wall was too high, the block too strong; that maybe this was the end and I should just forget about ever finishing the novel and move on to other things.
And then it happened. The breakthrough—that glorious moment when the words began to flow again. And I knew I’d won. I’d beaten the dreaded block. I’m writing again. After months of not being able to squeeze out more than a few words at a time, I wrote 2500 thousand in a sitting. I will finish this novel.
Battling writers’ block is something every writer will face at some stage or other throughout their writing lives. This was not the first time I’ve had to do it, but something shifted for me this time round. Most writers know that writers’ block is an internal battle. It is a battle with the self rather than a battle with a dried-up muse. And the more we fight the tougher it gets.
The first time I experienced writers’ block, I was stuck for about ten years. During that period, I let other things get in the way of the novel I was writing. It was easy to walk away from it then. There were legitimate reasons I stopped writing. I was working full-time, raising a child, studying. Life got in the way, as it often does. I told myself I was prioritising. And I was. And no one could fault my logic.
But this time it was different. I’m still working and studying (though not in the same job or for the same degree), so it would be easy to justify the block; my jobs are too demanding, my health isn’t fabulous, my life is too stressful, I’m too busy, too tired, too…
Bottom line is — writers’ block is not about the loss of muse or creativity. It is about fear. The fear of not being good enough, the fear of putting your work out there, fear of rejection. Fear is the most destructive force in the universe and writers are not exempt from its impact.
Sylvia Plath once said that ‘the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’ She was absolutely right. For writers it’s a killer. But we are still human and it’s inevitable that the dreaded block will hit, so how can writers get through it?
Discipline and perseverance. Easy to say, not so easy in practical application. But here’s how it worked for me. I write at home most of the time. It’s easier that way. I have a study into which I can retreat, away from distraction (well, external distraction anyway) and work. I often sit at my desk in the study, in front of the computer for hours each evening.
It would go something like this: open manuscript doc, read the last chapter to orient myself to my own novel, make coffee (don’t want to have to distract myself by having to make coffee halfway through an important plot point), check email (just in case I missed anything or received an important one in the half hour since I last checked), check Facebook fanpage (notice that my writer friend is also on Facebook so have a little chat), check blog stats (good to know how many people read my blog, or have read it since the last time I checked), check Twitter (just in case I need to reply to an @ mention). Read back through tweets that arrived in the previous 60 seconds…15 minutes later… Write for a while. Ten minutes and three words later, make coffee….
This ritual tends to take place several times over the period of a few hours. At the end of it, I’ve deleted the words I’ve written (all 25 of them), and promised myself that tomorrow will be better. It never was.
It wasn’t always like this. I wrote the first 62 000 words of my current novel at the steady pace of about 3000 words a week. It wasn’t much but it was comfortable. And consistent. And the book was progressing. Then. I’m not exactly sure when it stopped. It was gradual. One day I realised that, despite only having a few chapters to go, I hadn’t written anything for weeks. And then months. And months.
Every day I sat in front of the computer. Every. Single. Day. And nothing came. I was getting desperate. I knew that something had to change. First, I had to rid myself of distraction. I tried switching the wireless off so I couldn’t waste time on the internet, but it was too easy to switch it back on when I couldn’t stand it anymore. It had to be easier.
I started scheduling writing hours in another location. I decided I would go to the local library a few afternoons a week as part of my normal routine, and write there. So for two hours, two days a week, I sat in front of my computer at the library. Of course, libraries have free WiFi and I logged on the first time I went there, but it was soooo slow I couldn’t stand it. I spent the rest of the two hours staring at my screen. No coffee, no Facebook chat, no Twitter, no phone. Nothing. It was awful. It felt like such a time-wasting exercise and I kept thinking of all the things I could be doing. But I persevered. I stuck to this routine, however painful or inconvenient. For the first few weeks, I spent most of the two hours staring at the screen, maybe getting a few paragraphs in toward the end of the time slot.
A few more weeks and I’d still stare blankly for the first hour and a half, but find myself writing solidly for the last half hour. I’d want to stay and continue but I didn’t, I stopped at the scheduled time. Eventually (after what seemed like months) I trained myself to utilise this time. For two hours, twice a week, I’d write uninterrupted. I wrote at other times as well but the most productive period became this scheduled time.
The process of getting through the block that held my novel up for so long was frustrating and painful. But the relief I feel now that it is flowing again was worth every maddening moment.
Believe you can do it. Use discipline and perseverance, and have faith in your ability. And you will beat writers’ block.