April 20, 2014, by Eve
Laptop plonked on desk, enjoying the friendly company of a cup of tea and a biscuit. Fingers poised above the keyboard. There’s just one thing missing. The writing. No matter how hard I stare at the page. Change the font. Underline. Bold. Underline and bold. Inspiration, the fiery muse, ain’t gunna sing anytime soon. Unlike Milton, I’m no closer to being raised and supported by inspiration than I am to inventing a refillable coffee mug.
Writer’s Block. The kryptonite of literary invention. A couple of strategies I’ve tried have included 1) making another cup of tea; 2) moving laptop, tea and biscuit into a different room; and 3) singing along to the Frozen soundtrack. Results have not been positive (although I do now know all the words to ‘Love is an Open Door’).
But Writer’s Block hasn’t only affected the common student. Twain, Hemingway and Fitzgerald have all suffered from the bug and survived. So I turn to these literary giants to find answers to this frustrating complaint.
Twain’s advice is: ‘the secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.’ This is a sound comment and relates to everything from creative writing to exam revision.
So, I get out my coloured pens, rulers, post-it notes and another cup of tea. I like writing by hand. It has a soothing quality – the physical exercise of forming those odd little symbols calms me. Particularly because nowadays writing by hand is sadly a rare treat. Getting away from the mean white dazzle of the computer screen is refreshing – I do recommend it. But, at the end of half an hour, I have a beautiful plan but, when I return to the alphabetical monster… nothing. It’s the detailed articulation of words – coherent sentences! – which I’m having trouble with. Thanks Twain, but sadly no luck.
I turn to Hemingway: ‘Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day’. Great advice guy, but I haven’t even got to the ‘going good’ part yet.
It would appear that Fitzgerald’s coping strategy was simply to copy what he’d already done in the past. Compare ‘The Great Gatsby’ to ‘Winter Dreams’ (a short story he wrote some years before), the latter was the beginning ideas for his later masterpiece but in his transition from story to novel he supplants chunks of the first into the second. No wonder ‘Gatsby’ only took a few months to write! No, I must stop there. I am being over critical of one of my favourite writers. It’s this Writer’s Block – side effects include cynicism, reckless assertions about better writer’s work and itching.
Perhaps a writing master who expresses this condition most adeptly is Pullman: ‘The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it’. Enough said.
Writer’s Block is a thoroughly irritable problem but… now I think about it, it makes for a pretty good topic to write about.