OK, so let’s not go into too much detail but I have been suffering from blockages lately. After the holiday season, too much food took its inevitable toll. Medicinal remedies were on hand to sort that one. However, to compound my misery, last night, my neighbour knocked on my door to inform me (gloat about) a nasty blockage somewhere in my back yard. Then there is the dreaded writer’s block.
This time of year, my garden is rarely visited, except by our hopeful resident robin (pictured helping me do some digging), a field mouse we call Brian and some pigeons the size of aircraft carriers, so myself and my lady wife were blissfully unaware of the impromptu effluent water feature which had developed.
Not any more.
As I took a step outside the conservatory door, the rather agricultural smell and significant amount of overflow told me that the case was hopeless and professionals needed to be called. As I write the van is pulling up outside and sharp intakes of breath are resounding around the close. Given a stout pair of gloves and a suitably insistent rod, I am sure he can put paid to that bout of external constipation.
But there is also the other type of blockage which is causing me a degree of grief – writer’s block.
January, a gap between contracts in my day job, was supposed to be my time for writing the main bones of my new novel No Going Back, the third in my Daley and Whetstone Crime Series. Yet, as is often the case, little actual writing has been done. Of course, I could just hmph and put it down to a case of the mysterious writers block, out of my control, nothing I can do.
Now some would say writer’s block is a myth; an excuse invented by writers so they can swoon back in their chairs and declare How can I create in this mayhem that surrounds me? Others would suggest it’s an excuse for laziness. A more considered (maybe even scientific) view may be that we have allowed our minds to become diverted from the task or overwhelmed by other things happening in our lives. I tend to agree with all of these to an extent.
So what’s to be done?
Give up. That’s probably the best plan. Jack it in. It’s insoluble. I was never meant to be a writer anyway. Everyone is better than me.
Well, maybe not.
Here are some of the tips which I have tried.
- Stimulate ideas. Use music or TV in the background, read books. I have put up a whiteboard in my office (it’s a box room really) and I can write anything as it occurs. Have a notepad and pen (or several dotted about) available at all times.
- Block out distractions. Try white noise or natural sounds. Switch off the TV and radio, let the voices in you head be your guide (what? Just me then?). An alternative is the radio and TV on together. It creates a noise which fills the space but because the programmes interfere with each other, it’s just a background.
- Tell people about your project. Not in a negative way ( I can’t get this b****y book written) but the story itself, the development of characters, the idea behind the plot. This stimulates the neural pathways, re-immerses you in your project.
- Set your brain a task before you go to sleep. Barney is teetering on the edge of a cliff with the locomotive steaming towards him and certain doom. Brain – what happens next? On more than one occasion I have woken with an answer. Often not the one I expected. Rewrite the situation to get Barney out of it, no locomotive, no cliff, try an airport? As an aside, Danny Watkins has been stuck in a hospital bed for almost a decade waiting for me to write him out of it.
- Set some deadlines. Maybe not for you but for me, I work best when there is a deadline. In my career as Business Analyst, I could take a long time thinking and considering without finger touching keyboard. Then as the deadline approached, I would type fast enough to suffer third degree burns.
- Just flippin’ write. You are going to be editing anyway. If you add a thousand words of absolute tripe to suddenly hit on the nuggets of genius, suck it up and edit out the rubbish later.
- Start a different project. Whilst Daley and Whetstone languish in the pit of incompleteness, I started thinking about Dre Magnusson, an assassin who makes contract killing tantamount to charitable work. I see a series of short adventures on the horizon.
- Blog. Why not write that blog, or add a new post like this one. (see what I did there?). Seriously, combining experiences and thoughts takes imagination, again stimulating the neural pathways.
- Don’t try too hard. As Leon Haywood once explained – Don’t Push, It Don’t Force It, Let it happen naturally. I know I said deadlines earlier but if you don’t work with deadlines, then mellow and let the thoughts scamper about your head until they form an orderly queue to your hands.
- Take a break. Nobody dies if you don’t write today. There is a reason I put this at the bottom. There are far too many seasons of your favourite show for you to end up a binge watching zomboid instead of an author. Man up, for heaven’s sake.
My Saviour – The Snowflake method
Well, that may be a little of an exaggeration but not much of one. I kinda bluffed novels one and two using my knowledge of analysis and planning and a whole lot of elbow grease. For number 3, I was determined I should do things differently, so I investigated ways to expedite the process. There are many descriptions of the method but I chose this one. In essence it allows you to write the whole book in a quick and dirty way and then expand it in segments adding more and more detail until tada the book is ready to edit them all out again.
What this means to me is that right now, I know the whole story. With 1 & 2 I was stuck trying to get people into and out of situations. With 3 all the situations are mapped out.
In terms of writer’s block, I simply stop expanding one section and move on to a different one, different situation, different viewpoint. At least I am writing something. The book won’t be written top to bottom but rather like a paint-by-numbers picture, it will appear.
Incidentally, there is a snowflake template for Scrivener available.
So, am I unblocked?
Well, partially. Dave, the dude with the van, is still outside and my house still stinks of… but he is getting there. My wallet is also a little lighter. There is a little heaving and movement in the blocks but no real harm done.
And at least my neighbour has had a laugh at my expense, which I can bank for later. Hopefully the smell in his garage will dissipate by the Fall.
Dre Magnusson has started to have a real personality and there are several more sections to novel 3 which have words in them. All in all, rather than remove the block, I have found one or two paths around it.
Let me know what you when you find yourself teetering on the edge of a cliff with the writer’s block locomotive steaming down on you.