In my early writing days I wondered if ‘the block’ was to writers what ‘the wall’ is to marathon runners. I now know what ‘the wall’ feels like, it’s a physical barrier when the body runs out of fuel, and it was only natural to assume that the same thing could happen to a writer when the well of inspiration dries up.
Every writer, great and small, seems doomed to face the dreaded ‘block’ at least once in their writing lifetimes, and sure enough, one day, it happened to me. I was midway through the first draft of a longish – never to be published – novel set in a faraway land, and I froze. The babble of voices in my head were suddenly silent, the keyboard felt alien to my fingertips, and trying to hold the story narrative was like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. I sat and waited but nothing happened, and I kept on waiting for weeks before whatever logjam had been clogging up my brain finally gave way. It eventually did and I eventually finished the book – who knows I may revisit it one day, dust it off and see how it reads, but my experience with The Block left me wondering.
Why had I run into the block? And, how had I somehow got around it?
I realised, that for me at least, The Block was simply my unrecognised unwillingness to write, either through laziness or fear, and it had paralysed my imagination. I’d inadvertently managed to get over it by simply forcing myself to write. Many of those – post Block – words were later discarded, because they were forced and mechanical and by the numbers, but I ground on, word by word, until they started coming to me more easily again.
So, the next time The Block happened, I was ready for it and ready to admit to myself that I was just being lazy. So I put the current project to one side and wrote something different, and I stuck at it, grinding the gears at first, but then with greater fluency until finally the words flowed with ease again. Then I revisited the original project, looking for what had made me lose interest, and I realised I had to cut three lacklustre chapters, and in doing so found my writing groove again.
I had simply lost interest in what I was writing, it was uninspiring, and I had to write something different before I realised it. This is the most common kind of Block I face, where I simply haven’t realised that what I’m writing is dull, and it usually takes a break from the project and writing something else to see my mistake. Once or twice I’ve been paralysed by fear, particularly where an approaching deadline or when I think a little success might be on the horizon, my Block kicks in to delay the inevitable or scupper my chances. Again, the best way I have to get around this is to write something else, particularly something that doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, these small distraction projects are not wasted because they often contain nuggets of ideas I can use elsewhere.
Maybe this doesn’t describe everyone’s Block, and maybe different writers have different ways to deal with it when it happens, but this is my Block and this is how I get over it.