Blocked…

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I spent most of December in Cuba. Apart from the usual fun aspects, my intention was to read for a week, write a few blogs and get on with my novel. The first draft of the novel was complete. I had to go through it and tidy the whole thing up. I significantly changed the plot and finished the whole thing quite easily. I knew the end of the novel but couldn’t quite decide how to write it. With a few days left I decided to leave ending the novel until I got home.

 

Five weeks later I still haven’t finished it. I tinkered a little with the earlier chapters but have not even looked at the ending. For the first week, and then two, I thought it was just jet lag or being back at work, but work has been easy and jet lag only lasts a few days. It is very strange; I am forcing myself to write this, trying to get myself back in the mood, back in the writing mood. Writing is never easy, but sometimes it flows, and the writing I’ve done during the past year suddenly seems to have been very easy (it wasn’t), compared to now. How did I do it?

 

I have written one blog since Cuba, the one about an argument in the street and the heavy police response. It said something about crime in Havana, about crime in Cuba – I was pleased with it. Although it didn’t get much response, I thought it neatly summed up much about Cuba: the nature of their arguments, quickly over and forgotten, the temperament of the people and the fact that crime is almost non-existent. It was a short piece but I felt I could return to it in more detail, explain it more fully. But since then – nothing. Blocked.

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Blocked. It’s over two weeks since I wrote anything and I have not even looked at my novel for three weeks. At first you look for excuses, but now I must admit that blocked is what it is. Writing this is like swimming through treacle or going into work with the flu – I really don’t want to do it. Norman Mailer described the difficulties well:

Writing every day is a depressing activity. Sometimes after two hours of writing I feel as if I’ve done seven hours of manual labour.

Of course Norman Mailer is referring to the general difficulty of writing, not being blocked. He was an incredibly industrious writer and didn’t always find it so hard. Throughout his life though, despite enormous success, he had to keep working, mainly to pay for his five ex-wives and his numerous children.

 

Writing this does feel like seven hours of manual labour, but I feel that I must get back into it, and perhaps writing about being blocked is as good a way as any of removing the block. And as Norman Mailer put it:

One must be able to do a good day’s work on a bad day, and indeed, that is a badge of honour decent professionals are entitled to wear.

I feel I have had too many bad days (in terms of writing) and must, if I want to be a writer, continue, even though it is the last thing I want to do. I still want to earn that ‘badge of honour’ that Mailer neatly applies to professionals – you simply must be willing to work on a bad day.

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Life is fine apart from the writing. Most things are going quite well. It is at times like this that one echoes Hemingway, when one would rather be anything but a writer, when any other occupation or pastime seems enormously attractive:

I would rather have a good life than be a bloody great writer.

There is a strong temptation to feel like this, that any occupation is better. Hemingway managed to make his life startlingly unhappy, but as he said about his friend F Scott Fitzgerald:

Scott took literature so seriously. He never understood that it was just writing as well as you can and finishing what you start.

And Hemingway’s unhappiness was more to do with his personal life than his writing. He ruined his talent and lost his friends. Writing gave him the means to be happy; his character made him unhappy, and probably would have made him unhappy whatever he’d done.

I haven’t returned to my novel for a long time. I’m not sure why that is: if I think it isn’t good enough or if I think it is good but am nervous of the reaction – I really don’t know.

Writing was not always a chore for Norman Mailer. When he was working on a book his routine, which he kept to, was seven hours of writing a day, at least four days of the week. And it wasn’t all suffering; on some days he was:

…manic, alive, filled every day with the excitement and revelation of everything I see.

He apparently always had an aura ‘that projected a love of life’; one of his admirers said she was:

…amazed to see how jolly Mailer was; most of the writers she knew were anxious and unhappy.

I suppose I would like to follow the Mailer model, not exactly, but certainly in his love of life. Too many writers are miserable, see everything as an unpleasant task and write negatively about life. I may be blocked, but I’ve started again with this, poor as it may be. I will get to my novel again soon and finish it. Who knows what the response will be. I hope it’s good, but if it isn’t, well at least I will have completed it. And there’s plenty more where it came from. Well, there will be, just as soon as I rid myself of this writer’s block.

And ultimately I know there is only one way to do it. As GK Chesterton said:

 

“Apply the seat of the pants to chair and remain there until it’s finished.”

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4 thoughts on “Blocked…

  1. Interesting post, Chris.

    Here’s my opinion for what it’s worth. I don’t think ‘writer’s block’ really exists. What gets referred to as such is an amalgam of problems. Sometimes, we subconsciously realise that what we have written has reached a cul-de-sac but don’t want to admit it to ourselves. I’ve been there, more than once. Similarly, we may recognise the huge amount of work that a text requires and be avoiding embarkation on the project. Douglas Adams could be a brilliantly funny writer but he spent much of his writing life ‘blocked’. He’d simply run out of ideas. You shouldn’t force yourself to write. If you’re short of ideas, do something else until inspiration returns. This doesn’t seem to apply to you, though, Chris, as you have lots of ideas.

    I wouldn’t be too concerned by what you are going through at the moment. A few weeks is nothing much really in relation to the time a novel takes to write. In any case, it’s good to put ‘distance’ between yourself and your work when revisiting it. The time to worry is when years go by. If the idea is good enough and you have the desire to write it, you’ll finish it.

  2. I do agree with you. I know why I’m not writing, I just use ‘blocked’ as a way to describe it. Thanks for the advice. It’s very wise and no doubt comes from bitter experience. I hope to get back to my novel soon, but find I’m still resisting and finding excuses. Soon, I hope – as you say: there’s no mad rush. Thanks for the response.

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  4. I agree with Paul – ‘writers’ block’ doesn’t exist. I think it’s just something of which some (not all!) people who write speak, in a harrassed sort of way, to make it all sound more glamorous and mysterious, and to excuse lack of imagination, or simply not being arsed to sit down and tackle a difficult bit (I realise you have spoken of it in a sardonic way, and that you agree with this!). Which IS what you sometimes need to do – make yourself sit down and do it, in the same way as I make myself go and clean the kitchen when I don’t want to. As indeed you know – Chesterton was right! There were two DIRE bits in my last novel. I dreaded when each redraft got round to them, but I rewrote and rewrote until they worked as well as I could make them – they’re not the high points of the book, but the test readers didn’t pick them out as needing a rethink, so that was okay by me. As for lack of imagination – well, if you can’t think of anything to write, so be it! I was like that before I wrote my 6th novel – I just couldn’t think of a story. Then I happened to watch a documentary about stalking, and the idea arrived. Sometimes I think it is better to go off and live for a while, yes. I didn’t write for 9 years at one point – much of the material in my 9 novels on Amazon comes from those times.

    I think anything good sometimes requires work you don’t want to do. When you’ve finished it, you can move on to the next project – and that’s a lovely feeling!

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