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Monday, 2 January 2012

On writer's block...

People often ask me if I get writer's block. "Never", I normally reply. What I should have said was "Not yet."

So, I had it recently for about a month, when I couldn't seem to write anything. It may have been longer, because during that time I produced a full chapter (for my third book) which I have since completely re-written, wondering what on Earth I was thinking when I wrote it.

Why did it occur? Probably burn-out, plain and simple. I got my first book out in Feb 2011, and the second one by December 10 of the same year. Mixed in with that, I got half a dozen short stories published, and another half-dozen to the first or second draft stage. If there is such a thing as wrtier's diarrhoea, I had it this past year. And then it stopped. It felt like a water pipe that was running all the time, which sudddenly gurgled, sputtered, and then after a few dribbles, quit. Not good.

Writing isn't my day job, and this year has also been off the scale at work, so that was probably part of it. Additionally, getting both books out - the endless proofing, corrections, last minute pre-publication panics, the few-second euphoria before the difficuties of marketing set in - all these activities (which, non-incidentally, we never signed up to when we thought of ourselves as writers) steal your creative energy, and eventually your brain says 'enough'.

Well, I'm writing again, having produced a couple of chapters in the past week while on holiday, so what did I do to unblock it?

First, I went back to some old stories I'd shelved years ago, dusted them off and re-wrote them. My writer's group was surprisingly (to me, that is) appreciative, saying they were good, and curious as to when I wrote them. That helped restore my confidence, which is definitely part of the writer's block experience, whether cause or consequence or both.

Next, I took a break. Not just from work, but from email, from sms, from blogging, from everything. A few days of total shutdown. Reboot.

Then I saw some people I haven't seen for a long time, and some people I'd never seen, and just listened to them, got outside my writer's head, back into the real world, and engaged with it.

I watched a lot of scifi, which is what I write, and started reading two terrific books (Dan Simmons' Hyperion and China Meiville's Embassytown) and said to myself, shit, these guys can write.

And I slept some.

Then I woke up one morning, with a complete scene in my head, and typed it out on a four-hour plane journey. I woke up with another one in my head this morning, which I just finished, so I think I'm through it now.

So, my advice for anyone with writer's block?

1. Don't force it. You'll write rubbish, dent your confidence more, and just deepen the whole thing.
2. Stop writing - not just writing but everything connected to it - marketing, tweeting about writing, hanging out on writer's websites. Stop all of it.
3. Spend time with your loved ones, time on them, or even with complete strangers. Don't ask for anything, just be.
4. Read good writing.
5. Have a holiday if you can, or at least a change of scenery.
6. Relax. It will come back.
7. Soon as it comes back, welcome it like an old friend, and don't look back.

When I was studying psychology at university, I read a lot about creativity. Liam Hudson's 'incubation' theory stuck with me. It means that sometimes you have to think about something a long time before you get the breakthrough. Sometimes it's beyond thinking, it's like having your head against a wall and pushing, maybe for weeks, maybe for months. But when that wall breaks... Holy Moses! So, if you're really worried about writer's block, don't be. Maybe your mind is getting itself ready, building up steam in order to unleash a masterpiece through your finger-tips...

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