Thursday, 25 September 2014

What to Write About?

Writer’s block is a well documented condition. Whole books have been devoted to it, while a quick search on the internet will throw up numerous articles on how to overcome it. Leo Tolstoy, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway are just some of the famous authors who are said to have suffered from the condition, and just the mention of it can strike fear into the heart of the bravest of writers.

Of course, there are those who believe that writer’s block does not exist. And there are also a number of people who are of the opinion that writers block is an excuse many writers use when they can’t be bothered writing, or when their efforts don’t come up to scratch. Terry Pratchett once said, “writer's block was invented in Hollywood as an excuse for poor writing.”

I’m not sure which camp, believer or non-believer, I fall into. Certainly, there are times when writing is difficult, but not impossible. There are days when I stare aimlessly at the blank screen and think to myself, ‘where do I begin?’ Then there are the days when writing becomes a chore, and I feel that the enjoyment writing once brought me has been lost forever. But even then, writing is not unfeasible.

Neil Gaiman once said, “writing is a battle between the writer and the blank page, and sometimes the blank page wins.”

And therein, for me, lies the answer. Writing is a commitment. It requires perseverance and a willingness to soldier on no matter what.

On those days when I don’t know where to begin, or when writing becomes a chore, I don’t give up. I sit at my keyboard and write, word by word, letter by painful letter, until I have something on paper. Very often much of what I will have written on those days will be rubbish, but there will also be enough nuggets of good writing in amongst the drivel to keep me motivated. 

Some folk reckon that writers block is due to lack of inspiration. And there are lots of non-writers out there who believe that writers lounge about all day waiting for inspiration to strike and that when it does we rush off to our keyboard’s to tap out a quick 100 or so words. If only it were that easy.

In my opinion inspiration does not strike. Ideas do sometimes come out of the blue, but most of the time generating an idea requires work. Always having a notebook at hand and using it to jot down snippets of information helps. Having an inquisitive mind (a mind that continually asks what if?), is of great assistance, a must really, to any writer. And plenty of reading also helps when it comes to spawning ideas. I usually get through 8 – 10 novels a month, not to mention my weekly supply of magazines. But more often than not, inspiration comes from sitting down and getting on with the job of writing. Practice does indeed make perfect, so the more one writes the easier it becomes.   

So, what do I write about when I don’t know what to write about?  On those days, I just write. I write about the first thing that comes into my mind, or if that fails I’ll pick up a magazine or book, find something that interests me, do some research and write on that topic.

Writing is all about mindset. It’s about being able to accept that sometimes writing will be difficult, and deciding not to give up when it is.


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