Sunday, 3 May 2015

Water and Ice

A post that first appeared on the very splendid Author Allsorts website.

There’s this thing about writing and liquid – people talk about the writing process like we’ve each got some sort of creative plumbing system, and it’s either running smoothly or mis-firing. When things are going well, we say the words ‘flow’, as if all our valves and chambers are flooding beautifully, and when the process slows or stops, we say the words have ‘dried up’ or worse still, that we’re ‘blocked’.

I guess one of the reasons I don’t ever worry about or experience ‘writer’s block’ is because I don’t particularly subscribe to this metaphor of flow or block in the first place. This isn’t an act of will on my part; even on a subconscious level I don’t ever consider the creative process in terms of water.

Unless it’s frozen water, that is.

I was struck recently by American sitcom writer and comedian Amy Poehler’s much more revealing comparison that writing is like hacking icefrom the inside of a fridge with a screwdriver. Now this is way more my line of thinking. Poehler’s image emphasises hard work over ease; dogged persistence ‘chipping away’ over effortless ‘flow’.

So my advice in short? Don’t believe in writer’s block, and suddenly, it doesn’t exist.

Instead, writing becomes a process that requires effort and optimism. Sit down at your desk with a song in your heart, friends. And as you spend a few moments contemplating the task ahead of you, try the following:

  • Don’t write in sequence. Save a killer scene for those days when hacking ice feels like it isn’t much fun. Avoid death-by-chronology.
  • Jump the problem. Put a long “…………….” for that particularly tough icy outcrop, and carry on as if you’d already dealt with it. (Tip: Don’t then submit your mss having totally forgotten to sort it out. Been there, done that.)
  • If you don’t fancy the piece you’re hacking at, switch to a scene with lots of dialogue. Tune-in to everyday talk and write. You chip away at lots that way.
  • Use ‘The Ten Minute Rule’. It a psychological trick that goes like this: “This section is really hard and I can’t see how to hack through it. So I’ll write something – any damn thing, without any critical assessment – for just ten minutes. Then I’ll stop.” I’ve done this a whole load of times – and found myself returning to reality half an hour later, the ten-minute curfew totally forgotten, with a bunch of words. Which is a bunch better than nothing. (Tip: This one works even better with headphones on, and playlist cued up.)
  • Hack out the final scene of your novel, right now this moment. If you’ve never considered your final scene, this can be fun. If the actual problem is your final scene, sit yourself down and watch the last five minutes of five great movies, then read the last five pages of five great novels, then try the ten-minute rule.

Or finally…

  • Write a scene you know will not be in the novel, but will appear in a lavishly-illustrated fully expanded ‘director’s cut’ version of the book that one day will be greeted with rapturous critical acclaim, sell millions and keep you in beer and sandwiches for the rest of your days.  

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