There’s a familiar trope that will stop me reading a book or watching a film as soon as it appears, and that is the author who is struggling to write.
You wouldn’t show a mechanic rearranging his spanners when he should be changing spark plugs. We never see a baker juggling eggs instead of kneading a crusty bloomer, so why do writers think it’s okay to show a struggling wordsmith in their moment of pain?
There’s nothing noble about it, no major insight. A writer who has ground to a halt is no more interesting than a bus driver stationary at a green light. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to beep their horn and tell them to get out of the bloody way.
And that leads us to the question about what to do when you get stuck at the lights in front of your screen?
Common advice is just to write something, anything, that gets your fingers tapping on the keyboard. Write about not being able to write if you must, but it’s not meant to see the light of day.
There are three things stopping us from writing.
Reasons, excuses and lies. It is important not to confuse the three.
What starts off as a genuine reason, can soon become an excuse and grows into a lie.
At school I was renowned for not doing my homework. There were genuine reasons to begin with. They then grew into excuses and I spent so long crafting lies about it, it would have been less effort to do the homework in the first place.
I went a whole year of Maths before the teacher twigged on that I hadn’t done a scrap. Quite the achievement.
The difference between writing and homework is that I enjoy writing, love it even. Why deny myself the pleasure by lying to myself?
I’m in the middle of editing my fifth novel. At least I should be.
I’m at the dull bit. I’ve done all the chopping and changing, moving chapters around and massacring huge chunks of text. Now I’m at individual word level.
I’ve used the word ‘bus’ twice in a thousand words. Is that too much? Is there a better word for bus? Does anyone care?
And I feel that if I open up my writing app, I should be editing. It has to be done. Writing is a luxury I can’t afford.
I’m lying to myself again.
At the moment I’m doing neither writing nor editing, so there’s nothing lost if I do some writing. Otherwise I’ll be doom scrolling through Twitter looking for someone to hate.
I haven’t been completely fallow. I’ve written a couple of short plays when there have been deadlines looming. Blogs were written when someone offered to pay. I’ve even written a few lines of a song. (Anyone who calls it a poem will be taken out back and dealt with).
2020 has been a strange year by anyone’s standards, and most of my creative friends are finding it a struggle. There are many valid reasons why people haven’t been able to write. But we’re all guilty of looking for excuses, and the lies are lurking around the corner.
So why don’t we treat ourselves to some writing? Not for anybody else, not to be read by the outside world. Just words on a page to make us content again.
That person you hate on Twitter. Write about their unfortunate demise at the hands of a bear they’ve disturbed shitting in the woods.
Find a scene in a film with a struggling writer and redraft it with someone shoving their dormant typewriter right up their hoop.
Write about the one person you are missing most during lockdown and how much you would give for a single hug.
Or write about the freedom you will feel when you realise that you are a writer again.
It doesn’t matter what you write about, nobody is going to read it.
And, for this exercise, you’re the only person who matters right now.
Don’t worry if there’s something else you should be doing. If you need a good excuse, I know a man who can help.