There’s an American expression I always liked: when something takes a long time it’s said to be like ‘molasses in winter’.
Molasses, if you didn’t know, is what we in the British Isles would call treacle. When the weather gets very cold it becomes very difficult to pour and it takes a very long time to get it to flow.
I suppose the writer in me appreciates the metaphor.
Writing, this week, has felt like that. It’s not that I’m blocked (if you don’t acknowledge it, it’ll go away), but that the process seems to be taking much, much longer than usual. Six hours to write 500 words. I can’t even seem to manage a snappy shopping list. Sigh.
When the work is going well, I can produce a couple of thousand words in an hour or two. When the work is going exceptionally well I can churn out 10,000 words in a day. They’re not always great words or the right words, but a surprising number of them work very well. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unheard of either.
Then there are weeks like this one, I know you’ve been there too, when the words just seem to stick either in your head or on the page. You sit there for hours facing the blank screen and nothing happens.
Despite that, as you can see, I’m still writing my blog. Now, deathless prose this may not be, but I’m producing copy. I’m writing something you can read, something that is honest and something that will, I hope, be of some use to you in your own creative endeavours. That it’s taking me three times as long to write as it normally would is irrelevant, from your point of view. From mine too, when you take the long view. All that matters is that the job gets done, not how much angst went into the process. The thing is, when I look back at the work I’ve produced over the past week, I won’t be able to tell what came easily and what was like molasses in winter. Results, you see, are all that matter.
GIVE YOURSELF A CREATIVE ENEMA
Yes, I know, it’s a rather unpleasant thought. Sometimes, though, when you have creative constipation the creative enema is the only solution. Or, if you prefer, warming up the treacle so it flows more readily. Here are some things that work for me. If you have others, I’d love to hear about them.
Turn your creativity into other channels: If you play music or paint or take photographs, give yourself permission to indulge in them for a little while. It will help loosen up your creativity. But pay attention. Whatever is gumming up your creative works may find another way to tell you what’s going on in your subconscious. When you’ve finished your painting or whatever you’ve been doing, examine it. Write a paragraph about it. Go on, you can manage a paragraph.
Change your point of view: write in a different room, in a café, in the library. Visit somewhere familiar and describe the scene. Visit somewhere unfamiliar and do the same thing. Old cemeteries are full of inspiration. Or maybe at the swimming pool. Just something different to thin the treacle.
Write something completely different from your current or usual work: If you’re in the middle of a novel take a break and write some poetry. Or a short story.
Take the show on the road: Take a long walk or drive or take a trip on a bus or a train. Sometimes just being in motion helps.
Become a different writer: Last week I told you how William Goldman couldn’t finish writing The Princess Bride until he hit upon the idea of editing an existing written by a fictitious writer called S. Morgenstern. Ray Bradbury got stuck writing the screenplay for Moby Dick until he looked at himself in the mirror and greeted himself with the words, “Behold Herman Melville!” If you’re stuck, try writing a few pages as another writer, either real or an alter ego.
Listen to what your subconscious is telling you: If you’re having problems finishing a chapter, perhaps the chapter is flawed and should be scrapped. So scrap it. Start over.
Perhaps you’re feeling stuck because you’ve just received yet another rejection and you’re starting to lose faith in yourself. OK, acknowledge that. Own it. Then remind yourself that the writing is what matters; publication is great but it’s not a true measure of your ability. How many paintings did Van Gogh sell in his lifetime? Doesn’t mean he wasn’t a genius, does it?
Or maybe you’re feeling so green with envy of a peer that you’re giving off chlorophyll fumes. It’s OK. It happens to the best of us. His or her success doesn’t mean you’re not fabulous. Still, make a list of ten ways you’re far superior: you’re taller, have better dress sense, aren’t afraid of spiders, and you’d never end a sentence with a preposition either… You know, Gore Vidal once said, “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.”
Remind yourself that you don’t have to be better than anyone except the person you were yesterday. In your case, that’s a tough enough proposition because you are really something. So you can’t finish your chapter. Can you manage a paragraph? A sentence? The point is, you don’t give up.
And if all else fails you can write a blog about being stuck.