Thursday, August 17, 2006

Writer's Block

Prefect SlogAllow me to get personal for a bit. It doesn't happen often here and the fact that I've generally frittered away blogspace on trivialities like TV shows - and especially trivial ones such as Doctor Who - will no doubt make 'personal stuff' feel like something of an intrusion. For which, I apologise for any discomfort in advance and would just like to reassure my regular readers that they're perfectly free to look away now and I won't take offence. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible - in a sense, that's the point of this exercise.
There is no such thing as writer's block, I've heard it said. But that would seem to run counter to my own experience and it's possibly telling that most of the writers who make that argument frankly aren't especially good. To an extent they are right - there is no barrier whatsoever to *writing*. We can all sit down to do it, once we've mastered the art of stringing a word or two together. The problems only appear to arise when we care - perhaps too much - about the results. When there are blocks to writing *well*. Then it comes down to whether you'd rather write anything at all - and can stand to look at your work on the page (which can be like having to meet your reflection on the worst mornings in the most crystal clear Hi-Definition mirror ever). Or whether you'd rather avoid the disappointment of seeing what has - temporarily - become of your God-given gift.
Against these dry spells, I am fortunate in that I do have these bursts of incredible creative energy and entire books pour out of me in such a constant stream that I occasionally have to remind myself to take breaks, sleep, do all that sort of purely functional stuff that goes to make up real life in between. It's a better feeling than I've possibly made it sound and it amazes me to think that works like Emotional Chemistry came about as a result of just that kind of intense, on-a-roll drive. Unfortunately, the roll is a rollercoaster and there are dips and troughs and other words to generally suggest lower ebbs.
Like insomnia, they're an affliction I'm familiar with and, like a sleep-deprived, nervous Van Helsing, I'm well versed in the techniques for combatting such evils. Writer's block - we may as well call it that, since that's what we know it as - is a similar breed of demon to insomnia in that they are both about the lack of a basic need - one being sleep, the other being words - and the desire to fight it works against you and exacerbates the situation. Indeed, I find that as often as not one comes hand in hand with the other: nights spent lying awake with unwritten ideas and anxieties competing for attention, chronic tiredness undermining your ability to work, which further troubles your sleep pattern and so on.
But, as I say, as much trouble as they are, I've defeated both these demons plenty of times before. It's just these past two months that I've really been struggling.
To tell the truth, I've struggled to write anything here. I merely applied myself and forced myself to stick with the weekly habit of posting my thoughts on each episode of Who after it was broadcast. But the full truth is, that was prinicipally an exercise in maintaining some sense of normality and even, dare I say, banality during exceptionally difficult times.
The fact - the inescapable fact - is that on 24th May this year, my Mum died. In the first week or so following, I dove into my writing and honestly relished it, producing some of my best material in a while. Even if I was far from happy, I was at least happy with what was emerging on the page. It was a distraction, a diversion and, as it turns out, just delaying the inevitable. The effort floundered and here I am, two months on, taking the time to consider why that single event should have so much power to so effectively send my creative drive skidding into the nearest ditch.
You would think - well, I would - that I would welcome any chance of escapism, running away from reality to create fantastic worlds, spend some quality time with my favourite characters etc.
There are, as it happens, some fairly obvious, glaring reasons. Quite apart from the shock and the grief which I have to assume are no different to anyone else's under similar circumstances, there is the entirely selfish realisation that my Mum died while my publishing history was still limited to works of Doctor Who or related fiction. She was incredibly proud of my achievements, but they're far from being the limits of my ambitions and it rankles - no, it *depresses* me that when I make the break into mainstream original fiction, she will not be there to see it happen. Or read it. And she would have loved some of the books I'm going to publish when I eventually break out of this current slump. (Although not all of them, obviously, but she would have been that much prouder to see me a real success.) And when I cast my mind back, I know there is a history to this - which I needn't go into here - that makes that more important to me than is helpful. Because, of course, there is nothing anyone can do about it other than live the cliche - that 'life goes on' - and file away the regrets somewhere they won't get in the way.
Still, it also occurs to me that another possible factor that has stood between me and my writing is that I am, quite simply, tired of pretending. By attempting to press on regardless and assure myself that I'm doing okay, I have been inhabiting a fictional world that wasn't - at least not entirely - of my own making. It's a coping mechanism, but that's all it allows you to do: cope. Anything else will apparently require something more.
So, bringing this around - at last - to some sort of positive conclusion, it's my hope that by airing and sharing here, no matter how inappropriate it may seem next to all the stuff about TV - I'll have availed myself of some much-needed therapy. Perhaps by allowing these words out, the rest will follow.
Next time, some more stuff about telly.


Site Owner said...

Hang in there, while as yet my parents are both alive, my grandparents who brought me up with my mum died while I was in my second year at university, and I know how it can punch a hole through the nomalcy of things.

Simon BJ

Site Owner said...

When I get depressed I write unpublishable utterances uterlising U.

SAF said...

Thanls, Simon. Much appreciated. Of course, I would take up your suggestion, but I think all the good letters have been taken and I could never compete with your 'alliterary' masterpieces. ;)

I'll probably go ahead and write some unpublishable utterances though.

TimeWarden said...

I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Only yesterday I was talking about my Grandad, who died 20 years ago, and sharing remembrances of him.

Worldly success is only relative, if it exists at all, and I bet your Mum was already as proud of you as she could be. She, of all people, would already know of your full potential.

SAF said...

Thanks, Timewarden. Wise words and, like many wise words, I'm sure it's something I already know - I just have to fully realise it.

Stuart Douglas said...

Ah Simon, I'm so sorry to hear about your mum. Julie's dad died eighteen months ago and it's been a horrible time for her, a rollercoaster on which for a long time it seemed that the only direction was down.

It's getting a little better now though - less raw, possibly - and while I think she's right in saying it'll never be anything approaching OK, she - like I strongly suspect you - knows that her dad was immensely proud of what she had done with her life and knew that what she had done up until now was merely a starting point for all sorts of amazing things she would do in the future.

Take care and lean on Zoe as much as you can - I've no doubt she'll be happy to have you do so.


SAF said...

Thanks, Stuart. Much appreciated. I think part of the struggle comes in realising that it's never a case of getting back to normal; it's more a case of adjusting to and accepting a new definition of what 'normal' is. Thankfully, Zoe is a blessing and I hope I'm wise enough to know I can lean on her, even if I have enough of a conscience to feel guilty about doing it too often. I will get there. I am at least writing rubbish, which is a step up from writing nothing at all - I think ;)