Skip to content

Tag: writer’s block

Colouring between the lines

11698522_10153006448063333_4658290866483854477_nI’ve been sucked in by the new craze for adult colouring. It’s so soothing. Someone else has drawn all the patterns, created neatness and order, left pretty spaces for me to fill with colour. Some of the books even colour in some of the picture for you, providing clodhopping hints as to how you should proceed. Mindfulness they call it, though it is, of course, utterly mindless.
And while I’ve been colouring in between someone else’s lines, I’ve created nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. And – when I’m not soothed by the de-stressing activity of colouring in – I’m quite angry about this. I’m angry with myself and I’m angry with all the tossers who drew the lines.
We spend our whole childhood and, maybe, most of our lives, being commended for being Good. We agonise over the Right Thing to do, the Right Thing to wear, The Right Thing to say… Not being Good is Bad. Where’s the space to just be?
I don’t draw my own pictures because I’m no good at drawing. It doesn’t come out right. It looks bad. And I’ve not been writing because I’ve been busy being neat and good and colouring between the lines.
If you’re reading this then you will have noticed the huge gap between this post and the last. There have been other starts and mis-starts. This might be another. The only thing I can tell you is that what follows may not be neat. I’m going off piste.

My head is full of pre-fiction

In my head right now is a crowd of people clamoring for attention. No, I am not going public about some kind of personality disorder, well not a medically documented one anyway. What I mean is that my mind has presented a number of character outlines to me, some have names and some don’t, all are ghostly in their half-formed state, drifting and hard to bring properly into focus. All seem to be trying to say something. All have their own point of view on the world. Most are holding on to an unresolved pain that seeks expression and resolution. Not one has properly defined physical features.

This last point seems to chime with an idea that has been suggested to me: they are not fictional characters – not yet at least – they are parts of me.my mind is not a tangle of fictional story lines. These strands that I am struggling to unknot are not plots. It’s the raw material for fiction, but not yet fiction.

What difference does it make? It means that I’ve been handling things all wrong. I’ve been thinking about how to tell the story, how to find the right words, the right structure. All wrong. Too early. That’s why it’s been sending me mad. I’m still digging out the clay, shearing the sheep, whatever metaphor for pre-art that suits you. I need to slow down. I can’t finish before I start. I’m lucky; this is one piece of pre-writing research for which I don’t need to travel too far.

Getting back to the bish bosh – and a question of personality

Yesterday two fabulous women helped me chip away at the wall currently standing between me and the blank page. With their help, this is what I discovered…

I need to write like I bake. I am no Nigella, but I make good cakes. I find the process so easy that I am genuinely shocked if someone tells me that they can’t make a cake or I taste the evidence of their ineptitude in a particularly dry piece of sponge. How can you not bake a cake? Chuck in a few ingredients according to a very basic recipe, mix it up, shove it in the oven, bish bosh, a plate of lovely fairy cakes, crisp on the top, moist and full of vanillary loveliness on the inside. Yum. I made bread for the first time the other day. Dodgy recipe meant a slightly false start when I added all the ingredients according to the instruction in the first line and then read the second line about mixing before adding the water. Water is an ingredient! Still my son and I carried on and the result was some beautifully risen, soft, tasty and a little bit misshapen buns. I take the same approach to making jam and sewing – felt badges, bunting, tea cosies, cuddly toys… The point is that I have no training in any of these creative practices but I love doing them and the results are fine, perfectly acceptable, sometimes even bloody good.

So why don’t I write in the same way? Why do I see a blank page as a threat, not an opportunity, and the idea in my head as a deformed swamp monster? Because I am a fool, that’s why. I need to stop worrying about the perfect first line and the details and what the best friend should be called and whether people will sympathise with my character and what point of view I need and my tone and and and, and write the bloody story. Unlike with a cake, I can edit a story. Writing was a lot more fun when I knew less about how to do it! I need to get back to the bish bosh.

And the second discovery is related to the first. I’m new to this. I am allowed not to be perfect. I can hear you. Of course I’m allowed not to be perfect. There’s no one out there telling me any different. But it’s what I’m telling myself that’s the problem. Writing this was my first step. My challenge to myself now is to start writing my story.

But first a question. I needed to talk to other people to reach a fairly duh conclusion. I think that makes me an extrovert. Is that a problem for a writer? Would other writers out there consider themselves extrovert or introvert, and does it matter?

Breakthrough

I’ve had a breakthrough. I have to warn you that, although this is significant for me, most people’s reactions are likely to be ‘Duh!’ or something along the line of ‘get a grip you introspective nut-job!’
This is it: the part of me that is resisting writing is not evil. It is not the Devil on my shoulder. It is not a manifestation of self-loathing trying to ensure my failure. It is not the noxious black tar poisoning my spirit that I had imagined it to be – at least it doesn’t have to be. It is the part of me that has learnt too well to protect itself. It is annoying – like those terriers that have a jumped up view of themselves as fierce guard dogs – but it means well and I can work with it.
A lovely woman has been helping me to realign my thinking in a more positive way – a bit like Alexander Technique for the brain. She had me visualise the part of me that was stopping me writing and the part of me that was encouraging me to write. Acknowledging the two and actively seeking to reconcile them has helped me to … well… write. I wrote 2000 words in one sitting last week – something I haven’t done for months. It felt great. And then I started questioning the worth of what I’d written. Och well, one step at a time.

Turkey or the egg?

Turkey or the egg
Am I depressed because I can’t write or can I not write because I’m depressed? Which comes first? This blog is becoming more of a non-writing blog than a writing blog. The lovely CF, writing mentor, published novelist and good egg, suggested two possible techniques to overcome the problem. Firstly, set yourself a small task, such as writing 500 words a day or for just an hour. Apparently this is what Marian Keyes is doing to overcome the writer’s block she has faced due to severe depression (not that I place either my writing or depression on a par with hers). However, even that seems too great a hill to climb. The other suggestion was to write some back story or a single incident from the novel I am (was) working on, something that I never intend to be part of the finished narrative. The idea is that this will remove the pressure of carrying on with the novel whilst getting me going writing about those characters and ideas again. Nope. There’s nothing there. It’s as though the creative synapses in my head are dead. Whatever is the source of original words and thoughts, I am cut off from it. Every word has to be pulled from a pit under deep brambles, dragged through sharp thorns, and all you find yourself left with is a squashed, oozy syllable. I hold pen to paper and nothing happens. I have nothing to write. My Beloved suggests, practically, that I get on with it or give up – I’m wasting his time ranting on and on about it saying the same things, apparently. I’ve always maintained that practical writing, like this blog and writing marketing and training materials, comes from a different place from the creative writing. This seems to be further proof. I don’t want proof! I want back in to that other place! (And for my aforementioned Beloved to learn more sensitivity.)