Writer’s block

Writing_Sunset_Roma_Italy_Italia_-_Creative_Commons_by_gnuckx_(4276946305)Special request this week – it was suggested to me recently by one of my regular Twitter pals that a good subject for this blog might be writer’s block.

I hesitated a little because it’s not something I personally tend to suffer from greatly but then, on the other hand, I haven’t written anything much for a while so maybe I have it without realising?

For me the hold ups in writing tend to come, as now, when I’m looking for a project to begin. Writing a book tends to take me the best part of two years to do the whole thing, soup to nuts, so I like to make sure I have something worth pursuing before I make that level of investment in time and effort. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing anything – I have been doing what I often do at this stage: starting something to see how it goes, getting a little way in then realising it’s not really doing it for me and abandoning it.

I see this as all part of the process however so it doesn’t worry me unduly. I’ve never really found myself  paralysed and unable to write mid-way through a book or story as some writers do.

What causes this grinding halt in the creative process? My feeling is that it might be the fear of not being perfect. The feeling that what you write might not be good enough could be enough to stop you writing anything.

In an interview I did recently with a fellow writer for her blog she asked me: “How does a writer keep from being afraid of feelings of inferiority, of being a talentless hack or stupid and just keep at it despite it all?” I think right there we see where the feelings which lead to writer’s block can come from, and if you let them grow so they become paralysing that could bring your work to a screeching halt.

So how do you mentally prepare yourself to avoid this situation?

In an interview I read once an author was asked what she does when beset by writer’s block. She replied: ‘I lower my standards and carry on.’

WriterI can’t remember who said it – but the phrase itself stuck in my mind, precisely because that’s exactly what I do. The point is to get something, anything, down on the blank sheet of paper in front of you. What helps me greatly in this is the knowledge that what I write is a fluid, evolving process. Just because something is written down, doesn’t mean it is set in stone. I know my rewriting process means that everything can, and probably will, change – so there is no great pressure to get it right first time. The pressure I put on myself is to get it right eventually.

Another top tip I think, can be found within the advice Ray Bradbury offered in the lecture of his I blogged about earlier in the year here. His cure for writer’s block was to put down whatever you are writing and write something else instead, because you’ve picked the wrong subject. I suppose that is what I’m doing with my false starts – I’m accepting that part of what we do is to search for the right subject.

I guess what wise old Ray was telling us is that writer’s block might have a valid function in a writer’s life. It might be there to tell us we are on the wrong track and urging us to follow a different path. It’s certainly a thought isn’t it?

Tell me about your experiences of writer’s block, and your tips for dealing with it – in the comments below?

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Words of advice from Ray Bradbury

Here’s a link to a fantastic lecture by the late great Ray Bradbury on how to become a better writer.

Watch Ray Bradbury’s lecture here.

488px-Ray_Bradbury_(1975)_-cropped-Bradbury was, of course, a sci-fi genre writer but he produced work which still resonates and has had a significant impact on the culture. His first novel Fahrenheit 451 is named after the temperature at which paper ignites and presents a future where books are burned and freedom of speech and thought are banned. It’s a ‘fiction’ which is all too real in parts of the world today.

In this lecture Ray Bradbury was speaking to a room full of writing students and it’s a fascinating insight into the mind and work of a hugely successful author. His number one tip for writers who are starting out is this: write lots of short stories to practice rather than spend a year writing a novel which might be no good.

That’s strong advice I would say. Old Ray points out that if you write a story each week for a year then you are going to have 52 stories by the end of the year – and, chances are, not all of them are going to be bad!

“You are learning your craft – that’s the important thing.”

This craft, this habit of treating writing as something which has to be learned and practiced, is so important I think.

An issue which concerns me a little about the current trend towards self-publishing is that, for all the opportunities it brings, it can encourage people to publish work before they are really ready and to release books which are simply not good enough to be published. Knowing you face rejection encourages a writer to have self-discipline. Once you remove the possibility that your work might not be good enough some writers might believe there is no such thing as bad writing – the reader will be under no such illusion.

Ray also says: ‘writing is not a serious business, it is a joy and a celebration.’

It’s not work, he says, if it feels like work then stop doing it and do something else. His cure for writer’s block is simple – put down whatever you are writing and write something else instead, because you’ve picked the wrong subject.

Being true to yourself, and to the subjects which mean something to you, is the important thing he feels. During his lifetime he certainly put his money where his mouth was, turning down lucrative script writing jobs for movies because the subjects did not move him to write.

His advice to all of us writers is clear and honest and something we should all take heed of I think. He says, don’t concern yourself with what is commercial or what might sell, but write what you really ought to be writing.

“Your true self, your true fear, your true hope, your true love.”

Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God. You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.