The tags ‘inspiration’ and ‘writers’ block’ strike terror into the hearts of writers. However, it is possible to debunk these myths with a little common sense.
It is a fallacy that you sit around waiting for inspiration. If we all did that, no-one would write anything.
The other toxic path to literary paralysis is ‘Writers’ block’.
But just ask yourself a couple of questions:
Do journalists skip deadlines because they have ‘writers’ block’ or lack inspiration?
Have you ever heard of ‘painters’ block’?
The answer to both is a resounding “No!”
In both cases, what we are really talking about is discipline – or a lack of it.
In order to write, you must make time to sit down in front of your PC and produce something. No matter what, no matter how foggy your brain feels (and mine is often filled with cold porridge). Just make the time and you will be surprised at the results.
If musicians or dancers do not practice regularly, their skills become rusty. The same is true of any artist, including writers. We are no different to anyone else.
You may have no idea of what you are going to write before you start but the very act of writing – whatever it is – will unlock ideas. Themes will develop and new characters will step out of the page. Just give them the chance.
Do not be afraid of the blank page. Fear of this is what many people wrongly describe as ‘writers’ block’. Artists sometimes have the same experience when confronted with a blank canvas. They deal with this by covering a fresh canvas with a wash of colour. Writers can do the same with a free-writing exercise. How does this work?
Here are some tips:
- Jot down some ideas. It doesn’t matter what. Just play around on the page. This is not meant to be the finished article. You may even reject it later, but writing something down on the page will rid you of that ‘blank canvas’ feeling.
- I find that it helps to use a different font and always write my drafts in italics. Because it looks less formal, it helps me to relax when I am writing. A voice in my head says: “Don’t worry. It’s just a draft. You can come back and edit it later.”
- Finish the first draft and leave it for several days or weeks before you begin to edit. It will be much easier to spot mistakes and discrepancies when it has gone cold.
- Develop your editing skills. Editing is a crucial and much underestimated part of the writer’s art. It is what makes sense of your ideas, however chaotic they may be in early drafts. Like artists who paint over a section of canvas that they don’t like, you can edit any text that does not work. As writers we have a unique privilege, we can edit as many times as we like. No book is complete at first draft stage. It can take many drafts – at least ten – before you have anything that resembles the finished article.
- Forget the big ideas. Start small. Keep a notebook and jot down events, places or conversations that strike you as interesting. You may not have the idea for a novel, but you may have a scene or short story.
- Stay fresh. Experiment with another genre. Write a short story, poem or article.
- Hone your powers of observation and keep your eyes, ears and mind switched on.
Edna O’Brien described writers as being constantly ‘open’ to what is going on around them. In one case, she used an observation made by her son as the starting point for one of her stories.
Your mission is to cultivate that quality of openness and the discipline that gets you to sit down in front of the PC even when you don’t feel like it.
And please, please forget the myths of ‘inspiration’ and ‘writers’ block’. They are just convenient excuses for avoiding the hard slog.