Friday, 13 July 2007

Writer's Block - Your thoughts please!

There's a lot of conflicting advice around about writer's block, from the It's all in your head to the It's all in your head! I wondered what you all thought, especially as I'm to deliver a conference paper on this very subject next week at the annual Short Story Conference.

(Patricia Duncker was there last year, and Al Kennedy, but I was safe last year behind the bookstall...)

Here is what some people have had to say on the topic:

Ayn Rand calls it The Squirms [I like this expression]

Janet Burroway says, Writer's block is not so popular as it was a few years ago. I suspect people got sick of hearing or even talking about it - sometimes writers can be sensitive even to their own cliches. But she reminds us that W H Auden observed that the hardest part of writing in not knowing whether you are procrastinating or must wait for the words to come.

Richard Rhodes says, If you're afraid you can't write, the answer is to write. Every sentence you construct adds weight to the pan,


Toni Morrison says, When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not. But that doesn't bother me anymore. I tell my students there is such as thing as writer's block, and they should respect it. You shouldn't write through it. It's blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven't got it right now.

Hmmm. Who are we to believe? Perhaps each case is individual and unique - to the person, to the process, to the task at hand.

Thomas Mallon says, face the fact there is no such a thing


There bloody well is for me! And an entire conference paper depends on it!

Please - Your starter for 10 - Give me your thoughts. Do you get blocked? Is it a myth? How do you deal with it?


Sabine said...

I couldn't believe reading this blog post - just a moment after I hit 'publish' on my post of today. (Please believe me, this is no silly manoeuvre to get people to read my blog, even if it sounds fishy!!)

Oh yes, writer's block definitely exists. I have it, so there! It's not that I have no idea what to write about, because it is all ready in my head. Getting it to flow into my fingertips is another matter though. And of course escape into more entertaining stuff - like your blog :D - is only a mouse click away!

What I'm trying to figure out right now is whether procrastination is the cause or the result of writer's block...

Helen said...

I too have been having some tricky moments this week which may or may not have been writers block. You have seen my 'to do' list on my blog page and I wonder, for me, if that is the cause of my blockage.

I get completely daunted and lack confidence sometimes that I just daren't write anything. I don't even want to open the file with my book in and if I do I just look at it.

However today (I read the bit in wannabe a writer last night about writers block and saw some of the quotes there from published authors and thought bloody hell, I'd just better get on with it) I actually forced myself to write and even though the words may be complete twaddle and the story isn't going in quite the way I envisaged I have worked through it and now the words are just flowing out of me.

In summary, I think for me, writers block is a confidence issue (and maybe a little bit of laziness). But that's just me and I wouldn't dream of saying that is the same for everyone.

ChrisH said...

Depends where I am. If I'm stuck at the beginning it's a question of confidence and the answer there is to apply bum to seat and write, doesn't matter if it's clunky, get anything down and then there's something to work with.

However, if I'm stuck further into a script the solution for me is always to look back. A block at this stage is a warning sign which says 'Are you SURE you want to do this?'. Inevitably, when I read the earlier chapters I discover that it's the result of making a mistake; a character not fully developed, a scene that doesn't take the action forward and once I've rectified this the block disappears. Hope this helps.

hesitant scribe said...

These are wonderful - thank you so much and keep 'em coming!

Sabine - yes - it definitely exists for me too, and I'll be popping over to read your post after my riding lesson! I'm not sure what the procrastination thing is about - perhaps the two are inextricably linked. For me, today, with this conference paper, it is fear that is keeping me from working, and yet my head is working on it all the time. It's the writing down that I'm struggling with.

Helen - I think I answered you above, too! Confidence. Hmm. It think so. It was easier to write when no one was going to read it!

Chrish - I had a bit of a break through the other day with my novel when I realised one of the reasons I was struggling was becuase I didn't know where I was going - and whilst sometimes that is okay - in a project of this size, it just doesn't feel okay to be wandering around in the dark and risking having to come back on myself. So going to spend a week planning.

Chilli said...

I've just started reading the 'Dark Tower' books by Stephen King and in the foreword he said -

'My approach to revision hasn't changed much over the years. I know there are some writers who do it as they go along, but my method of attack has always been to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible by constant use, and trying to outrun the novelist's most insidious enemy, which is doubt. Looking back prompts too many questions. How believeable are my characters? How interesting is my story? How good is this, really? Will anyone care? Do I care myself? '

It made me think of you and your writing and how self critical you are of your work and how wonderful I think your writing is.

Keep it up, fight off the knives in your head and most of all....keep the self doubt out!!!

JJ said...

Hi there, just breaking my blog break to say hello. I've nothing intelligent to say other than yes, but I know you have my opinion in an earlier email.

hesitant scribe said...

Chilli - thankyou sooo much! Gosh. Why is everyone being sooo nice?! What do you all want?!

JJ - HELLO! How are you doing?! I'm so glad you popped in - and yes - I do have your writer's block thoughts! Hope you're having a great time in Blighty (or wherever you are!)

Jon M said...

I think that there must be something about it. Children certainly have a fear of the empty page which is why we scaffold for them or give them sentence starters etc. I know the likes of Pullman deride the concept, pointing out that plumbers don't get plumber's block (though you try and get one on a Friday afternoon)but I wonder if it is a combination of fear that what you've got to write will be crap if it isn't quite ready and a lack of faith in your ideas? we get more distracted than 'blocked' I reckon.