I chose the word page rather than screen in the title, even though the majority of writers today use a computer, because those words ‘the blank page’ are evocative. They summon the picture of a writer, head bent, scribbling/tapping away, filling up that space in front of her/him. Words have associations, and the correct word summons images – you don’t have to describe every detail – the reader fills in the rest with their version of your story, because they already have a mind full of their own associations. I find these aspects of writing fascinating.
But back to today’s topic.
Do you see that empty page/screen as a virginal expanse waiting to receive your creative output, or is filling this arctic vastness, a task you fear you’ll never complete? Yet even the most accomplished of writers bump up against hindrances to their work on occasion.
Such complications can be straightforward ones such as finding time and energy to write before, during or after work. William Golding wrote parts of Lord of the Flies while his pupils completed English exercises in his lessons; Tom Clancy was an insurance agent while writing his first novels; and P. D. James, author of the Adam Dalgliesh crime novels, starting writing in her late thirties, worked till she retired, and is still writing at 93!
I mention these, not to daunt, but to show that when someone has a story to tell, it’s an irresistible compulsion that nothing prevents. Information like this inspires me when I get lazy, because sometimes the flow isn’t going anywhere near that pristine surface waiting patiently to be covered with exquisite prose.
Writer’s block can be a more problematic difficulty to overcome. When Janet Frame, the New Zealand writer, wrote her first novel, she started her day writing ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog', repeating and interchanging it with ‘Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party'. She was a guest of another writer, and felt obliged to look busy, but as time passed, her awkwardness disappeared and the automatic words turned into writing.
One notion to purge yourself of, if writer's block does occur, is the demand for perfection. The poet Louise Bogan used the phrase ‘the knife of the perfectionist’ and this attitude will kill your darlings before they’ve had a chance at life. Honing your work comes later.
Most writers develop particular routines around their writing practices, as habit is a powerful invitation for inspiration. Virginia Woolf wrote about discovering the diamonds of the dust heap, so don’t, whatever you do, sit and stare at that blank page.
My advice is free write, continue with your work in progress, start another project – maybe something different – poetry if you normally write prose or vice versa, but keep your writing muscle limber. When inspiration does come calling, you want to be ready!
I’m chugging (my favourite word for my progress) along with my WIP, working title: Vance, the Vamp. I wanted to write a supernatural tale and this name popped into my head - the story followed the name. I do have a more serious title I’m considering, but leaving that decision till later. I’m up to chapter 18 out of 25, and life is suspended till I finish this draft. As I head into the climax, events are starting to heat with a tragedy or two sprinkled with a fair amount of angst and anger.
My other novel, An Unstill Life©, awaits a cover – it’s next on the list of preparation for publication - after I finish the current draft of Vance. Watch this space!
river rises high
greedy waves lap at stone walls -
the bus speeds onward
Read about the writing habits of successful authors:
An interesting, and informative, post on writer’s block – with techniques for overcoming it.
I’m participating in the 100 Happy Days challenge (100happydays.com/), which I find a genuine mood lifter, so please check out my happy pics on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku
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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.