Monday, March 24, 2014

Writer's Block is Good for You

I was so interested to read the posts from Hannah and Donis last week about writer's block, which really struck a chord with me.

Whenever I've finished a book I've always started straight away on the next one, even if it's just thinking out the general lines of the plot and what a writer friends calls 'the clever bit at the end'. More often than not, I'll have something germinating even while I'm polishing the previous one.  I may not make a start for a bit while I do research but the wheels will be whirring as the plot takes shape in my mind.

 Last year, when I had finished Bad Blood, I found I didn't have the next book lined up at all.  I'd had an idea, but it was refusing to get up to flying speed.

I've been writing books for a very long time; it's what I love to do and I can't imagine not doing it.  For the last few years I've been producing a book a year and it completely fills my life.  Without the new idea to work on I was lost; I felt jaded and empty.  I would wake at four in the morning, panicking.  When I forced myself to my desk and made myself write, my characters wouldn't talk to me.

Perhaps, I thought drearily, the well was simply dry.  I wasn't even sure I had the appetite for writing any more.  Pilates would be better for me than sitting at a desk and I had Clive James's translation of Dante to stop the brain cells from curling up at the edges.

When  my editor mentioned a contract for the nest book, I played for time. I said I wanted to have a holiday for three months, though the way I felt I wasn't sure that that would change anything.  She was very understanding (thank you, Susie, if you're reading this) and agreed we'd go back to it then.

The result was little short of miraculous.  I'd said to my husband that I was taking a holiday and three weeks later he said, 'Er - how do I tell?'  I was back at my desk again.  With the pressure lifted, the ideas started to flow again and now I had time to play with them and develop them.  I even wrote a short story for the new Crime Writer's Association anthology  Guilty Parties - out soon, look out for it -  and had fun with that.

By the time my three months were up I was really eager to settle down to the new book.  My characters were speaking to me again, indeed positively  chattering, and I've got ideas for not only the next book but another couple after that.  I was rested; my mind had had a chance to breathe.

As Donis pointed out, we're not machines.  Because so much of our work is carried out inside our heads and not merely when we're using the computer, we don't realise how little time off we give ourselves and then we burn out.

I've always avoided mentioning the dread words, 'writer's block' for the same reason as golfers never talk about shanking but I won't shy away from it in future.  It's like the pain you get that stops you walking on a broken leg.  Writer's block is nature's way of telling you to slow down.


Irene Bennett Brown said...

A very helpful post. Thank you!

Aline Templeton said...

So glad you found it helpful, Irene. Hope you find yourself with lots of new ideas soon.

Donis Casey said...

I go through this same darn thing EVERY TIME. Yet somehow the muse always returns on her own good time.