Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Writing Process: The Writer's Block

I promised you all ramblings and musings and that’s exactly what you’re all going to get. When it comes to the writing process there are particular subjects that continue to intrigue me. The most intriguing being the phenomenon “Writer’s Block”. It can happen to anyone, at any time. You can be right in the middle of a novel, and suddenly, despite all the meticulous preparation, and despite being highly motivated, your mind goes blank, and there you sit, in front of your computer screen, scrolling back and forth over what you’ve written, and not one single syllable comes to mind to kick start you into the next phase. Then again it can happen right at the beginning of your novel when you’ve completed your synopsis, plot line and chapter breakdown, and you simply cannot find that suitable opening sentence. It might even happen that you’ve completed your novel, and want to improve on that rough first draft. You know it needs improvement, you know it could be better, you feel it dragging. And yet, you can’t do a thing. You are stumped! I have encountered the block at all the above mentioned phases and have come to the conclusion that all stem from the same problem – fear. That deep rooted fear that you just don’t have it in you. It can crop up at any time. Whether you have just started writing, or are putting that novel to bed, fear can return and paralyse you creatively. If you have followed the whole topic you will realise that we’ve touched on this subject before, and that to move on from mediocre to marvellous fiction writing, those fears must be faced, acknowledged and ultimately, overcome. And in my opinion there’s not a single writer who hasn’t faced the fear. Of course by the time authors appear on television or are seen at lectures and signings, they have managed to move on from their fear and insecurity and appear to us perhaps to be brimming with confidence, but don’t be fooled. These authors too, have known that fear, that ‘break out in a cold sweat’ moment when they have thought they had written their last sentence and that the bubble had burst. Seeing early interviews with J.K. Rowling you can see her fear, her insecurity and her disbelief that her books are selling like hotcakes and this kind of fear might have even prevented her from writing the next Harry Potter. See her in later interviews and she is a lot calmer, a lot more confident. She has overcome her fear and in its place she has found a true belief in her own abilities as a writer. She has the confidence to acknowledge her talent. So how do we go from fear to self-belief? How do we jump that hurdle successfully at whatever stage it confronts us? The first step to overcoming fear, and not only in relation to our writing, but in life too, is to recognise it. No use trying to pretend it’s not there, or disguise it as something else, this will only make it’s debilitating effect on us even worse. When fear is denied it transforms into all sorts of crippling alternatives. Those alternatives range from anger, irritation, obstinacy to depression if it is allowed to continue till it reaches chronic proportions. Ignoring fear or over-compensating will not have lasting effective results on ourselves or our writing. So you’re blocked, and you know fear has reared its ugly head and stolen the words from you. Face it. Say it aloud, or write it down in capital letters. I AM AFRAID. Next, get specific. What are you afraid of, why are you afraid, and what has caused the fear to rise to the surface now? Fear can be of many things. Fear of failure, of success, of criticism. Which of these is it in your case? Or is it all of these? Fear of failure – giving in to this will certainly create failure, and will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do nothing and your worst fear is reality. You will have failed. You will not have completed your novel to the best it could be. Fear of success – giving in to this one is an enormous act of self-sabotage. It is nothing more than a fear of the unknown. And just think about how awful you feel right now with that half-finished novel and know that success can never feel this bad! Fear of criticism – is the criticism of others any more painful than the amount of self-criticism you are dishing out when you sit at that incomplete work and knock yourself on the head about it? I don’t think so. In the three situations the first step to overcoming the fear is to get back to just writing for the hell of it, totally and utterly for yourself, and because you wanted to. If you can do this you allow yourself to write any old rubbish for a while until your body and mind are retrained into the practice of writing. You will recover the Writing Process in the pure form it had when you set out on this undertaking. Know you may be writing rubbish initially, and give yourself permission to laugh at your efforts later. If you are feeling really courageous you might even allow some discerning person close to you to read these efforts. That way you will disempower your fears. Particularly it is important to work on your fears when you stumble half way through your novel. The fear here stems from taking a dive into the unknown, not unlike the fear of success, but add to this, the stomach churning fear that all your careful preparation has been to know avail. Firstly, half way through a novel characters will have developed in a completely new and fascinating fashion, something you could not have possibly anticipated in the planning stage. The fact that you need to change and modify your first guideline is a positive thing. It means you have written with enough courage to allow your characters to take you on an unexpected journey. Have faith, and give yourself permission to turn the unkown corner. And toss aside the notion of the imaginary public, and go on the journey of discovery that your story wants you to undertake, just for you.


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