Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Writer's Hesitation

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. At least not for myself. I’ve seldom experienced anything stronger than Writer’s Hesitation which usually lasts no more than a few days. If writing doesn’t want to come to you, you have to make it come. There are all sorts of ways to do that. Here’s mine.

First you have to set up a mental process that has the potential to produce whatever it is you want, be it a theme, a story, a segment of plot, a new character. I call that process churning.

Churning involves deliberately trying to imagine what you might write, even if you haven’t a clue. You make the effort and keep making it for a sustained period. Maybe a day or so. Maybe a week. This can be very frustrating but you have to make yourself do it. Then you stop thinking about it on the surface but allow the thinking to continue at a very deep level. Every now and again you bring that process back to surface consciousness to see if anything has changed. You don’t give up even if you don’t seem to be making any progress. It‘s a matter of will power.

At the same time as you’re churning, you have to feed the process. I find it helps to read several different kinds of book at the same time – books that are like your normal kind of writing and books that aren’t, good books, bad books, books from completely different disciplines. I also try to watch movies and listen to music. Personally, I find contemporary minimalist composers particularly useful for stirring up currents in the mind.

The next step is sketching. You sit down and start writing, even when you haven’t a clue what you should be writing about. It’s important not to think of it as something that will necessarily lead anywhere or something that you might keep. I often start by writing about episodes I remember from my childhood since my childhood seems so different from the way the world is now that just remembering it is like visiting another planet. Sometimes I also use my dreams as starting points.

While all this is going on you can get involved in other things, but whatever you’re doing whether it’s painting the kitchen, going to the supermarket or cooking a meal, you still think of yourself as working on your writing. This process I think of as keeping a candle burning on the altar of your writing. You can go away and leave that altar unattended but the candle is always burning.

So you’re churning, your feeding the process, you’re sketching and you’re keeping the candle burning. What’s left? Recognition. You have to be ready to recognise inspiration when it comes. Sometimes it’s not that easy to spot. It may look nothing like you expected but there’s always something about it that makes you look twice, that makes you smile inwardly or catch your breath.

When that happens, you know you’ve got the beginning of what you were looking for. Now it’s essential to make the idea feel welcome. Pay it attention. Listen to what it has to say. See where it leads, how it can be developed, what its friends are like.

Sometimes one idea is not enough by itself. You have to wait for another one to come along. It might seem completely different to the first but if you pick it up and turn it around you suddenly see that they fit together perfectly, they’re part of the same jigsaw and now you begin to imagine what the other parts might look like. You’re on your way to creating a whole new picture.

And that moment when the big picture starts to form in your head is so beautiful that it’s worth all the effort.

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