April 10, 2013 § 5 Comments
In my line of work, writer’s block is seldom a problem. Or at any rate, it’s not a viable option. As a freelance journalist, I am commissioned to write a story, given the relevant brief, which includes the length and scope of an article, and off I go.
There’s a deadline, and it must be met – there’s no room for drama. You don’t get to hold the back of your hand to your forehead and cite “writer’s block” as an excuse.
As a result, I never thought it existed. Until, that is, I tried my hand at fiction. Yes, like every Tom, Dick and Mary out there, I decided to attempt writing a novel. And then, for the first time in a decade and a half of having to write daily, I understood what it meant not to be able to write.
Sure, I’ve sat staring at a blank page trying to find the right words for an introduction to a story, but that’s usually for ten minutes at the most. This was so bad that I would avoid even opening the file that held the novel for days, weeks, even months. Just the thought of working on it would have me tidying my desk and filing papers, even washing my hair – anything except writing the damn novel.
But actually, I’m still not sure actual writer’s block exists. Or at least, I think it’s badly named. For me, it feels more like “writer’s fear”. Fear of failure, fear that I’m useless at fiction, fear that what I’m writing is absolute crud and no-one in the world is ever going to read it, fear that people will think I’m writing about them, or me… the list is fairly long. And if I start thinking about all of those fears, they can be pretty paralysing.
And then I decided that I also needed to blog regularly – once a week – and designated Wednesday as blogging day. It’s amazing how quickly Wednesday comes around and suddenly I have to think of something to write again. And some weeks it comes very easily, but sometimes I struggle to come up with something to write about.
Tonight, after a plea for ideas on social media, the idea for his post came from Twitter friend Samantha Perry (@samanthaperry), a fellow journalist who says she struggles with writing a monthly editor’s letter. (And I can well imagine how difficult that is.)
Once she’d given me the idea, though, putting the actual blog post together wasn’t that hard – because it was a bit like getting a brief, I suppose.
But it occurs to me that it’s not dissimilar to the dilemma I face every evening when I have to cook dinner for the family. The cooking’s not the hard part – it’s deciding what to cook that is the problem. Have I cooked this recently? Will everyone eat it? Do I have the correct ingredients? If someone just told me what to cook every night, it would make the process much less stressful.
And those questions are similar to the ones I ask myself when I’m writing a piece that I have had to generate myself – whether it’s the blog, or the next chapter in my novel. Am I writing something that someone else has written about? Will everyone enjoy reading it? Do I really have something to say, and the right ingredients to keep people reading?
It’s a path laden with self-doubt for me, and self-doubt in general just happens to be my superpower. I am very, very good at it. So for me, it really is a case of writer’s fear, not writer’s block, even though the mechanics of writing – putting the actual words together – come very easily to me. The fear very easily overrides my ability to express myself through the written word.
And that’s why this quote by US writer Gene Fowler has always resonated with me: “Writing is easy – all you do is stare at a blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.”