For months, I’ve been struggling to find a solid enough idea, which is both workable, and has scope enough for a full, 100,000 word novel. Did I have the dreaded ‘writers block’?
I’ve been reading the rather wonderful, How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton, which is all about creativity, and in this book he explores writers block. He uses as an example Woody Allen, who wrote a play called ‘Writers Block’ in which he took the lead role. One thing you can’t accuse Woody Allen of is writers block – his productivity rate is incredibly high.
In How to Fly a Horse, Ashton focuses on why his productivity rate is so high, and first looks at what Allen said about ‘use of time’:
“I never like to let any time go unused. When I walk somewhere in the morning, I still plan what I’m going to think about, which problem I’m going to tackle. I must say, this morning I’m going to think of titles. When I get into the shower in the morning, I try to use that time, So much of my time is spent thinking because that’s the only way to tackle these writing problems.’
Note Allen doesn’t use ‘writers block’ they are ‘writing problems’. When we talk of writers block it’s not that we can’t write, or type – it’s when we feel we can’t write something that’s good. Ashton calls it ‘write-something-I-think-is-good block’. The cure then is clear – write something you think is bad. I ended up writing in my journal, writing out potential ideas, crossing these out, going back to my journal. I wrote a lot of lists, all sorts of rubbish, but I knew in the back of my mind, it was still writing and after months of that, connections have come together and I now have a strong idea.
Woody Allen said: ” Tolstoy said in effect, “You have to dip your pen in blood.” I used to get at it early in the morning and work at it and stay at it, and write and rewrite and tear up my stuff and start over again. I came up with such a hard-line approach – I never waited for inspiration; I always had to go in and do it. You know, you gotta force it.”
So, what if you’re writing and you get stuck? What can you do?
Woody Allen found “any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy.
Ashton also points out that much of writers block comes from worrying what others might think – so it could be called: ‘write-something-somebody-else-will-think-is-good block’ and so he urges us to take the Woody Allen approach and be indifferent. He doesn’t go to awards shows, and he even hasn’t been to see all of his own movies. He feels the work in itself is the biggest reward:
“When you sit down to write , it’s like eating the meal you’ve spent all day in the kitchen cooking.”
I’m not sure I could be so indifferent not when I’ve only written one book, but I hope I’m learning to enjoy the ride. Some days won’t be great, some day’s will feel like I’m banging my head against the wall. However, when I’ve got a good idea, it’s the best feeling in the world.
How to Fly a Horse – The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery by Kevin Ashton is published by William Heinemann, Random House.