If there is one thing about writing I hate, it’s when you don’t feel like it. For the past few days, I’ve been experiencing some of this. I’ll get my laptop and open up one of two novels I want to have done by year’s end or by the start of next year, and I’ll just sit and stare at the screen at that blinking vertical line that seems to be taunting me.
“You suck. You suck. You suck.”
This feeling is not new to writer’s or anybody creative. Whether it be photographer’s not wanting to go to a shoot after getting only a few hours of sleep, the writer who needs to meet a deadline, or the craftsman having a project they need to complete. Whatever it is, you’ve experienced that mental block that tries to convince you to sit down, get a drink, and watch some Netflix. You know what that’s called?
Life. You know what gets you out of it? Work.
One of the most irritating things I’ve found in any film or show about a writer, is that they’ll go through a dry spell of creativity, or the plot of the movie will hamper the writer from making his masterpiece, but when he sits down he instantly knows what he’s writing and speeds along, not flinching or anything. One that is prevalent in my mind is the story of Ian Fleming called “Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,” aired on BBC. Coincidentally, you can find it on Netflix.
At the end of the miniseries, Fleming tells his brother that he wants to write a “spy thriller to end all spy thrillers.” This is at the end of World War II, so Fleming (who served in British Naval Intelligence) has a well of knowledge and ideas to use. His love interest goes to his flat to see him but finds he’s gone, so she types something on his typewriter, then promptly leaves. Fleming comes back to find it. He takes the paper out, puts a fresh sheet in, sits down…and just writes with the gleam in his eyes that say’s, “I know exactly what the hell I’m doing.”
I have never had that experience and I’ve been writing fiction for around fifteen years! The idea that people have of writers is that they just sit and write. They are inspired by their Muse to write their tale. It is true that many writers have felt particularly inspired after doing or experiencing something. I’ve lost the list, but it’s out there. I would argue these things were not their Muse, but something that got their brain going.
For illustration, in my project file I have part of an outline for a modern novel about war, terrorism, and espionage. This is an idea I have been ruminating over for years. I have the beginning thought out and the scene is fresh in my mind. But starting it was extremely difficult. I could have waited for my mystical Muse to give me inspiration from above, but more often than not…that doesn’t happen. What does happen is ass-to-seat.
Your Muse might come to you every now and then, and when that happens you write, because it doesn’t happen often enough to be passed. The majority of writing is hard work, dedication, and a willingness to look at what you’ve written and admit when it needs more work. That’s what editing is for.
Neil Gaiman said that writing is “mostly a process of putting one word after another.” Writer’s block? Write. Take ten minutes to use the bathroom, get a snack, coffee/tea, or whatever. Take some time to clear your head if need be, but don’t dawdle. Return and keep putting those words down. The Muse of Writer’s is a three-year-old picking up their toys. Very slow and unwillingly to get anything done by your deadline.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
-Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft