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Writer’s Block – Fact or Fiction? by Lissa Oliver

Article by Lissa Oliver © 7 November 2019 .
Posted in the Members' Blog ( ).

Does Writer’s Block exist? I could begin by stating my own opinion: no, it doesn’t. I could quote from a multitude of successful likeminded authors. But there would be more than two answers and none of them would be incorrect if I were to pose the question: how do you write?

I personally welcome distraction. I write well in a busy, noisy press room, or sitting on the living room sofa as the family watches TV. And on the bus or train. Let’s not forget the loud, fast – did I mention very loud? – music I generally have blaring out all day. My laptop is plastered with stickers and if my mind wanders to a cheeky chimp smiling from beneath the keyboard, it will inspire something, if not apes and monkeys. And usually a different memory or inspiring thought every time.

One writer I admire must retreat to the silence of an office, first putting Post-It notes over every single book spine on show, so there is no distraction whatsoever. Book spines, for me, are the faces of my friends within and they spur me on to write just as much as monkey stickers. Many writers have a designated creative space where they exclusively write, even if it’s the kitchen table. Some have a designated time. First thing in the morning; last thing at night.

I have no place or time. I write when I want to write. My biggest issue is that I always want to write and seem to be hardwired to my laptop, so conversations can be difficult and I’m a serial dinner-burner. So maybe I would think Writer’s Block is a myth, designed purely for charlatans to sell cures for.

When can I not write? When I am devoid of an idea. When the novel-in-progress isn’t moving forward. When a character is kicking his heels while hanging out with me, awaiting a suitable plot. When the fledgling plot has no fixed conclusion. And therein lies another variable – do you need to know the conclusion before you can begin? I know I do, even though the characters may surprise me a little and have their own ideas, but we do end up travelling in the right direction toward the same destination.

For me, knowing roughly the ending is vital to the beginning. If we go right back to basics: the Beginning, Middle and End, and the Hero’s Journey – who is he, what does he want and does he get it? The drama is in how. Finding the way without wandering depends upon knowing where you’re headed.

And yet Terry Pratchett famously wrote lots of middles and gradually pieced them together into a whole. Did he, however, have the outside edges of his jigsaw already completed before he started filling in his middle chunks? I know of a crime writer who doesn’t know who did it until the end, going back over to fill in the necessary trail. I bet she and Pratchett can do those mind maps and brainstorming, too; something I find impossible.

Give me a task and I’ll think about it first, then write out a logical sequence to the resolution. I’m incapable of random ideas and it irritates the hell out of me seeing them strewn across a whiteboard in no particular order or relevance, littered with connecting lines and bubbles. I like a nice structured list and if I only think of Idea No.2 after Idea No.6, I’ll cross out those in between and rewrite them in their correct order. I also edit my work to the minutiae as I go, so that my first draft is my only draft. When I hit the final full stop, it will be once only; and it’s print-ready.
So here we are with a wealth of writing habits that may be alien to many of us. When can you not write? Because it’s too noisy? You’re away from your creative space? You have other distractions? Anxiety? Pending chores? The wrong time of day? The designated time and space, but you don’t feel creative?

Is that Writer’s Block? Or is it simply an inability to be creative? Or is that inability alone what we call Writer’s Block? Surely, in everyday life, we just call that “too busy” or “not in the mood”? ‘Normal’ people, the non-creatives, never suffer from Worker’s Block or Cooking Block or Cleaning Block, they either do it or they come up with an excuse not to, be it justified or otherwise. Are we being so creative as to create a lovely analogy for “lazy” or “not now” or “I can’t concentrate”? If that’s all Writer’s Block is, we’re the only ones to know the correct cure.

But there is one genuine stumbling block and it isn’t one you’ll want to hear. That story you just can’t progress with, the one you sit down with only to be inflicted with Writer’s Block? Is it because you have no interest? No interest in knowing what happens to the characters, no interest in how it will conclude? As a reader, what do you do when that happens? You put the book down and pass it on to a charity shop, unfinished. There’s no such thing as Reader’s Block.

Maybe good writers don’t suffer from Writer’s Block because it’s just another word for Dull Writing.

(c) Lissa Oliver

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