Writers block is a term commonly used and understood by most people, whether they’re in the writing/publishing industry or not. It is generally understood to mean when a writer has trouble either coming up with new work, or struggles to work out where their story is going to go next. But some high profile authors have spoken out about the concept, to say that in actual fact, such a thing does not exist. Take this quote from Philip Pullman:
“Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?
The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. “
I really don’t know what I think about this. Firstly, I would describe myself as having suffered from writers block, and I have written posts about it fairly recently. I have started short stories in a blaze of inspiration, before coming totally derailed from the track and virtually abandoning it half way through. And then there is the third part of the trilogy I have been working on for some time now, struggling to visualise certain scenes. It’s not that I don’t know where I want the story to ultimately go, but there are certain parts of it that seem like a bit if a blank at the minute. I have been struggling with how to overcome this, and as the weeks have dragged on, I have written very little, and what I have written will no doubt take some serious editing to make it fit.
However, I suppose the bottom line here is this – I have actually written something. There are still several frustrating factors, i.e. perhaps what I’ve written isn’t very good, I haven’t written very much in comparison to other periods in my life when word after word seemed to effortlessly flow from my pen, and I cant quite see how the scenes I have written will fit in with the ones I haven’t. But, I have written something. In one of my previous posts I have discussed this very technique for overcoming writers block, or whatever you want to call it. Basically, I have just tried to write the scenes I can actually “see.” For example, I know some of the characters will make a voyage by sea to an unknown island. On this voyage, a long kept secret will accidentally be revealed, and major decisions will be made. This, I can see clearly, so I have written it.
But when they reach their destination, my mind goes blank. I know what the purpose of their journey is, but I am having difficulty setting the scene and directing the characters to do what they need to do. So, I have not yet written this part of the book. But what I have done is to move on to something else; another part of the story that comes a bit later on.
I suppose this could be described as writers block in the traditional sense. But I haven’t sat back and let it take over. As Pullman says, it might be difficult, but I have made the effort and motivated myself to work in a different way. So perhaps it is a question of motivation more than anything else. If I sat down and really thought about why I was struggling to some up with certain scenes and not others, it might at least help me to understand why the motivation is lacking in some areas and what I can do to overcome it. Perhaps, in the example I have used here, I need to spend more time visualising the place that the characters have travelled to, rather than think about what they are actually going to do when they get there (because really, I already know what they’re going to do when they get there). But I have to put the effort in and actually do that, rather than just expect the words to come. If I don’t bother, it will be my own fault.
Perhaps, then, Pullman is right, in a sense. No one ever said that writing would be easy, and I know for a fact that on some days the words flow more easily than others. But maybe what we call writers block is really just a case of motivating yourself to do what needs to be done. If you put the time and effort in, you will get the words back.
What do you think? Have you suffered from the so called writers block? Do you think it exists?