on writers block, lions and dick dastardly
One of my freelancers asked me for couple more days on a feature they were writing earlier this week… the answer is ‘of course you can’. No editor who has done it long enough will ever hand out a deadline that can’t be moved by at least 10 days.
I’ve never had writers block. I don’t even think it exists - you sure can’t tell your GP about it - but I see how easy it might be to throw it out as an ‘excuse’. It’s a great phrase to pile more negative thoughts into a writers head though… like we needed any more self doubt than we already have, huh?
If you think you have it, all that’s happened is you turned up at the office when it was shut. Simple as that. Great creative ideas don’t line up around the block waiting to be released at 9am and wrapped up nicely by 5pm. They never have and they never will. You can fluff it and sometimes set fire to the world, as proved by huge writing factories like Mills & Boon, the pulp publishers of days gone by or songwriting in Nashville but somewhere along the road of doing it like that, two grammes of your soul will float away on a passing breeze at the same time every week. Thus:
If you want to see a pigeon of an idea, just go outside at 9am.
If you want to see a lion of an idea, you will need patience, stealth and a pen in your back pocket.
Anybody can catch a pigeon (except Dick Dastardly) but a lion will elude you no end and the pay-off for your patience will make you feel like a God.
I assume the whole 9 to 5 idea of a working life was spawned by the industrial revolution and then, as years turned into decades, just became ‘a thing’ everybody took for granted. It’s no way to live but it’s a fantastic way to die if you’ve got a creative bent inside.
Staring at a screen is a horrible way to die. That’s why I write longhand. It was probably OK to stare at a sheet of paper in your typewriter for a while but staring at your screen leads to youtube which leads to facebook which leads to twitter… which leads to you dying slowly in front of all your followers… only there will be nobody there to help you because they are all dying too. Not all suicides are recorded.
For instance, this morning, An Idea With Legs passed through my head but I was out with Hector and the idea was gone before I could catch it. That’s how writing works sometimes and that’s OK. Maybe another writer will fish it out of the sky and do something with it. Maybe it will land on a mountain in Japan and not be found for five years.
If you find yourself unable to write: take the dog out, go do the food shopping, do something Joe Wicks tells you to for 20 minutes. Have a shave, look at yourself naked in a mirror and wonder what happened… but never, ever seek out the company of others. By being a writer, there are parts of your brain that are hard-wired to act like buckets put under a leaking roof. What you don’t want is other people throwing their ideas into your buckets… that’s called being a journalist and is a very different thing.
I guess the best way to sum it up is to steal something valuable from the past. Something like this:
"There's a difference between writing for a living and writing for life. If you write for a living, you make enormous compromises... If you write for life, you'll work hard; you'll do what's honest, not what pays."
Footnote: While I was looking for that pic above for DD&M, I found this:
Brilliant. Nobody sat around staring at a sheet of paper to create that. I guarantee such a thing turned up while this artist was washing the car or putting a wardrobe together.