Friday, 6 July 2012

Word Block

What do you do when the words aren't flowing? For two weeks running now, I've found myself in the same situation, staring at my laptop at midday on a Friday, with a half-finished blog post that I'm just not happy with. Ironically, it's been the same half-finished blog post in each case, although I rewrote a lot of it this week in my attempt to burst through the word block. But to no avail, as you can see by the fact that I'm writing this post instead!

Some authors advocate just writing through the bad times – Stephen King describes the activity as "shovelling shit from a sitting position" and Louis Sachar seems to experience despair far more often than he experiences elation. But other writers will tell you to take a break and not to try to push when you aren't feeling that all important urge. So who is right?

I think a lot of it depends on circumstances. If you're under contract to deliver a book, then clearly you will have to write it or suffer eternal shame (and financial repercussions). However, the unagented, unpublished writer (a role I find myself in nowadays) does not have to write and can therefore choose not to. But do we owe it to ourselves to push through anyway, even if we're not doing our best work? It strikes me that the phrase "unagented, unpublished author" suggests very strongly that I have aspirations to A) find an agent and B) get published. If that's the case, perhaps I should still be hacking away at that difficult blog post right now, just to show it who's boss.

Another aspect seems to revolve around which you consider more important – the journey or the destination. Writers who look only to the destination will of course be motivated to try harder to push through the bad times, aware that they need to take the shortest path to victory. Journey-oriented writers will be happy to meander and digress, and in some cases actively avoid finishing a book (although that can reflect a fear of success too).

I was a journey-oriented writer when I started out and have become increasingly destination-focused as time has gone by. But I've discovered that neither approach works satisfactorily for me. If I focus too much on the journey, I end up with a messy, unstructured book that needs major surgery. If I focus too much on the destination, the pleasure of writing gradually drains away, along with my motivation to do it. The more I push against that difficult part of the book, the larger the difficult part becomes. Certainly, I spent a lot of time on my last book telling myself how hard it was to write, and that quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In retrospect, it's ironic that putting too much focus on the importance of the destination actually sapped my ability to reach it.

So, was I right to ditch the other blog post? I've certainly found the journey of writing this one to be significantly easier, and now I've reached my destination too. I'd call that a big yes.



  1. Nice one, Nick. I totally agree!

  2. The last blog post I had like that I finished it with the amazing "LOOK A TWO HEADED SQUIRREL!!"

    Sometimes I think I should probably try harder ;-)

    If I get stuck I change what I'm doing; Go for a walk, read, drink heavily, look at kittens on the internet. All seem good ways to shift the block.

  3. So I sort of forgot to agree/disagree. whatever works, but maybe think hard about whether it's a cop out.

  4. Loved this! I've been struggling with a particular scene in my novel for weeks now - definitely focusing on the journey rather than the destination. I see now that even major surgery won't save it, so I'm going to let it go and move on. Then again, perhaps I should leave it hooked up to life support for a while and see what happens ...

  5. Great post Nick. I always find a change of environment works for me. If I'm stuck, I leave it (not easy as by mature, many writers are masochists!) and go for a walk visit the library or just do something else for a short while. Then, whatever I'm stuck on often just comes. Simple, and not for everyone but works for me!