Friday, July 11, 2014

BLOCKS AND DISTRACTIONS

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The topic of "writer's block" comes up pretty regularly in any forum or discussion group about writing.  There are always some who claim its a fiction (even some very famous authors such as Terry Pratchett who quipped “There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write”).

Yet anyone who has written knows that there are times that arise when you have a hard time thinking of what to do next or even start working.  The reasons for this can be quite varied, and I've written about the topic of writer's block in the past, but there's an aspect of it I'd like you to consider.

I'm going to assume you're really a writer, not someone who pretends to be one but has written nothing, not someone who wants to write but has never finished a project, but one that actually writes and has completed works.

If you're sitting and looking at a sheet of blank paper or empty screen and nothing is coming to you, sit back a moment.  Writing isn't only about words on the page.  To write, you first have to know, to feel, to experience, and to think.  What comes out of you onto that page comes from within, and that stock of ideas and feelings has to be filled.

A writer is always writing.  There's never an hour that goes by for a true writer where they aren't at some level working.  That work can take a lot of forms, but often its considering ideas, shaping concepts, moving plots forward then rejecting the ideas, and so on.  When you aren't actually at the keyboard or with a pen in your hand, you're still working on your book.

I'm not looking forward to the scene with the leeches
And often, that work can be at a level below your consciousness.  C.S. Forester wrote many novels, including African Queen and the Horatio Hornblower series.  He wrote a little book called The Hornblower Companion which has maps and information on the series, but it also has essays and thoughts on writing and what he was going through as he worked on the books.

In the Companion, Forester compares his book ideas to a log thrown into a bay.  He wrote that he'll come up with a concept - say, Horatio Hornblower the incredibly competent but self-doubting captain - and then pushes it to the back of his head.  Then later on he'll dredge it out to see what has grown on that log thrown in the bay.

Weeds, barnacles, anemone, etc will latch on to it, and like those various things the raw idea of the story has grown and expanded in his mind without consciously focusing on it.  Ideas can be like that, and as an author, your ideas are doing that even as you do other things.  While you play with the kids or feed the cat or mow the lawn or work at your day job, all the things you do in your life, impressions and ideas are attaching themselves to your brain.

And as a writer, your brain will direct those impressions and ideas to stories and characters.  That image you saw in the forest as you drove by, the expression on that boy's face as he played with his toy, the smell from that restaurant, the story your grandmother told you when you visited.  All of those things combine to bring new life to old ideas.

So that "writer's block" may not be a block at all.  When you aren't writing, you're still writing.  You are just gathering energy and fuel to drive your creative process when you put the words on the page.  So don't be too overwhelmed when you come to a tough point and have to stop, or have to do other work in your life.  Distractions aren't necessarily bad for you.

In fact, the distractions you face can often bring new life and fresh perspectives to your work.  If all you ever did was type or scribble on paper, where on earth would you learn the experiences and impressions that you use to write your book?  Embrace life, and all it brings, and direct that to your craft.