Dealing with writer's block
I cannot believe I am writing this blog. Just the thought of it gave me writer's block. As a business journalist, I wrote several news stories over six years but never once felt stuck with words or ideas. I had heard stories about writers suffering from phases of creative slowdown and in my superciliousness, I had assumed it was all a creation of mind. That was my mistake and I realised it when I started writing my first novel, The Recession Groom. For the first time in my life, I spent days sitting in front of my computer screen, waiting for inspiration. That was what prompted me to look for tricks to combat it. The writer's block as a medical condition only got much notice after the sixties with well documented cases like F Scott Fitzgerald and Chinua Achebe, the latter having spent almost two decades of his life suffering from it. In the words of world renowned author, J K Rowling: 'I've only suffered writer's block badly once, and that was during the writing of Chamber of Secrets. I had my first burst of publicity about the first book and it paralysed me. I was scared the second book wouldn't measure up, but I got through it!' Jeff Kinney, author of the hugely successful, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, feels frustrated when he blocks out time to write and comes up empty. 'It's really devastating when you sit down for as much as four hours and don't come up with a single joke or a really inferior gag.'
There are books and blogs that have been written about it and yet, most writers continue to suffer in silence. Some others like Dan Brown adopt bizarre routines like hanging upside down in a gym equipment every few minutes just to keep the blood circulation going. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, famous for her book, Half of a Yellow Sun, fights the writer's block by reading poetry, wandering about the house, eating chocolate, watching YouTube, and online shopping. While John Green, author of my favourite novel, The Fault in Our Stars, says: 'I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90% of my first drafts so it doesn't really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there's a 90% chance I'm just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.'
I personally feel 'writer's block' is just created in a writer's mind, and maybe stems from the need to achieve perfection. We want every sentence to be correct, every plot development to lead to something big, every character to be of some consequence, every book to be memorable. Whenever I am in such a situation, I just give up all expectations from myself. I just write, crap or good, it doesn't matter. I write whatever comes to my mind and several hours later, I edit or delete whatever I have written. After a few hours or days everything starts to make sense, ideas seem to flow, just the way they should, the characters begin to behave themselves and months later, I have something that truly satisfies me. My lesson: you cannot look at your writing with the eye of a surgeon. Let go off the need to be perfect each time and just get on with things. Maybe you'll end up deleting everything you wrote but at least you have a foundation to build your story on, or as Nora Roberts says, 'you cannot edit a blank page.' So, go write something now.
1. Remove yourself from your writing desk for a while. Swimming works best for me. It takes my mind off writing and takes away all my negative energy. Try going for a walk, jog, run. Point is, exert yourself. That might help blood flow and may churn out better ideas.
2. Script writer, Jyoti Kapoor, finds it difficult to write when she is unhappy. 'Maybe because my natural inclination is towards writing happy, upbeat stories,' she says. She suggests going after your writing with a gun in your hand, recommending discipline and of course, maintaining a happy-healthy lifestyle.
3. On that note, a happy frame of mind definitely helps. Surround yourself with people who understand your work, who support you when you are stuck. Have friends who can lift up your spirits and do things for you that make you feel special. The entire process of writing drains you and if you cannot come up with great work, it affects your self-esteem and confidence. Move out with friends who understand your mental turmoil.
4. Last of all, I would recommend 'fooling around'. Remember how we used to fool around as kids. Go out and play with your dog. How about a game of Frisbee? Watch a movie that you would never watch. Meet friends who are totally not your type. Do something that's out of your routine. Be in the zone and not out of it. That should usher in a draft of fresh ideas and become your inspiration for fresh stories.
Next blog: #8 Mistake: Use your imagination!