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How to cope with writer’s block

Victims and Erebus Omnibus by Shaun HutsonEveryone reading this (all three of you) who has ever tried to write anything will have suffered at one time or another from writer’s block.  You sit down at your desk, or wherever you write, filled with enthusiasm and as soon as you stare at the blank piece of paper, or the screen before you, every single idea inside your head refuses to come out.  You know what you want to say but you’re buggered if you can think of a way to say it.

It’s like a kind of literary impotence. Frustrating, upsetting, disappointing and infuriating (by the way, I’m speaking from extensive research here never having suffered from impotence naturally, never, not me guv). I have on the other hand suffered from Writer’s block and still do every single time I sit down at my bloody computer.  When I first started writing I didn’t seem to have that problem of Writer’s Block, I was so filled with the desire to tell my stories I just sat down and typed (yes, on an old manual portable typewriter) for five or six hours a day and things seemed to flow without a problem.  However, when the dreaded Writer’s Block did strike I often cured it by hurling the typewriter across the room (which got to be a bit expensive) and certainly isn’t to be recommended with an expensive laptop or even worse desktop.

Before writing Victims, way back in the ‘80s, I suffered from this more acutely than at any other time in my life. For three months or more I could not write a single word. I wasn’t sure what to say, how to say it or what the hell was going on. The best thing was just to stay away from my desk. As time progressed I found that the less I thought about writing, the more the ideas came. Even when I wanted to write I stopped myself until the day I’d designated as the one when I’d begin again. Sure enough it worked. Victims was completed in about two months (Some reading this are probably wishing I’d still got writer’s block if they didn’t like the book…)!

Stay away from your desk

I still find that’s the best way to cure this irritating condition even now. If you can’t write then don’t stare at the screen for hours on end (I’ve done that). Get up and walk about, have a cup of tea, go out. Anything to get away from the thing you’re supposed to be working on. I tend to wander along to the local cinema in a desperate attempt to clear Writer’s Blocks now. That’s one of the reasons I spend so much bloody time in the pictures. However, I guarantee that it’ll be better when you come back to it.

Write anything

There are other ways to cure this complaint by the way (or so I’ve been told).  One of them is to just write anything down.  Get a blank piece of paper and just scribble some notes, some observations, some memories but anything that basically requires you to use words in a constructive manner. The idea is that it will somehow magically kick start your brain into creativity and you’ll immediately return to your own work and produce several chapters that are of Nobel prize winning quality. It may well work for others reading this but I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. Like each writer has their own way of working I suppose each one has their own way of blundering through that work.  I’m just telling you what works or doesn’t work for me.  Kicking things and shouting at the computer is more effective for yours truly. I have even been known to head butt my own desk on occasion but probably the less said about that the better.

Work to deadline

The best and most effective cure for Writer’s block is actually pressure. If you’ve got a deadline approaching then it’s easier to work (or at least that’s what I’ve always found). The fact that there’s usually some money due on delivery of the manuscript helps! Some people work better under pressure while others just crumble. I was always so far ahead of my publishing deadlines that I’d usually finished about a quarter of the next book too before one was due for delivery but that was simply because I used to work so fast in my heyday when enthusiasm was the main driving force. All of you who write now, especially those who haven’t been doing it for very long, will be infected with that kind of almost religious fervour and need to share your ideas.  Only as you get old and cynical will you start suffering from Writer’s Block. Trust me, it happens to us all. It’s how you react to it that counts.

You can walk away

Twins of Evil by Shaun HutsonBeing brutally honest about the matter, unless you’re contracted to a publisher who is demanding your book or article or story is delivered by a certain date then you can always walk away from the troublesome piece of work indefinitely.  Writing is one of the few activities where you can actually do this. Where you can dump a piece of work purely because it’s not going the way you want it to or because you’ve lost interest. In fact, Writer’s Block may be your brains way of telling you that what you’re doing is a waste of time. If a novel doesn’t flow then it might not be because you’ve got Writer’s Block, it might just be because you haven’t planned it correctly. If you’ve got pages and pages of notes, a cast list, a synopsis and Christ knows what else to work from and you’ve done your research then chances are you won’t get Writer’s Block at all. You’ll get days when the stuff you write is a struggle and you hate what you’ve committed to paper but at least you’ll get something done. I used to set myself a target of 3,000 words a day and there was barely a day I didn’t hit that target and more.  That was mainly because all of my books were prepared for months in advance (hard to believe I know) and when the day came to just sit down and write I was ready.

I’ve just realised this piece is starting to sound like something from a self-help journal so apologies for that. For that reason I’m going off to have a cup of tea. Maybe I’ve got Writer’s Block.

SHAUN HUTSON

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4 comments

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  1. Recently listened to an intimate interview with Ray Bradbury. While not talking so much about writer’s block but about writing short stories rather than novels, he mentions writing one short story a week for a year (hardly writer’s block then!) and how a writer of a novel could spend a year or two on a novel and end up writing a bad one whereas a short story writer producing 52 stories in a year is unlikely to write 52 bad stories in a row…so I try to keep both fires burning, novels and short stories. That way, there’s usually something I can have a go at when I sit down to write…

  2. Thanks for the post, Shaun. New follower here.
    I have yet to have writer’s block (crosses fingers), but I am a relatively new writer who started late at it. I put off writing for family, career, etc., and then finished the novel 20 years later. I have a second one in the editing stage and am finally working on project three. Having said all of that, there must be a reason why so many people talk about the subject. Still crossing those fingers…
    Happy New Year to you, Sir.

    -Jimmy

  3. Brilliant post as ever, Shaun.

    The greatest motivator for me with writer’s block is a keenly positioned bill, just sitting on the edge of my desk. If the writing’s in red along the top, or features wording like FINAL DEMAND, I tend to write even faster!

    😀

    Looking forward to your next post and more books from your good self in 2012.

    Cheers!

    :)WAyne

    • Troy Dennison on January 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm
    • Reply

    Some great advice there that I completely agree with. Working to a deadline has fired me to putting words down more than once and my favourite thing to do is get up and go out – a walk (with a notepad in my pocket – just in case!) will usually clear my head and put me in a better frame of mind.
    My particular favourite this week seems to be changing the location where I write – I’ve had two very productive days of throwing down words while standing in my kitchen!
    Time for a cuppa and then it’s back to the grind…

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