One question I’ve heard a lot recently is, “What do you think about writer’s block?” Oh, writer’s block. It seems to be a bit like Santa Claus, or Love at First Sight, or the Perfectibility of Humankind: either you believe in it, or you don’t.
Many writers I admire suffer, on occasion, from writer’s block. One of my favourite living novelists, Beryl Bainbridge, found herself unable to write after 2001’s According to Queeney (apparently, she quit smoking and it destroyed her routine). I held my breath for several years, but Bainbridge is supposed to be back this year with The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress. I live in hope. Other prolific, highly successful writers simply don’t believe in it (writer’s block, not chain-smoking!). In her recent profile in the New Yorker, Nora Roberts shared her golden rule of writing: “Ass in the chair”. I’m tempted to add, “No internet connection”.
In my experience, writer’s block is actually a fear of imperfection. If you can’t write that first sentence (that first paragraph, that first draft) because you’re trying to come up with the perfect first sentence, you’re “blocked” – not because you can’t write, but because you don’t want to write anything short of a polished, elegant, shapely final manuscript. Sadly, THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE.
So go ahead and give yourself permission to write imperfectly, clumsily, downright badly. Words on the page can always be altered – but only once you’ve got something to edit. So write. Your first sentence will probably be excised, and your first paragraph chopped up and rearranged. Your first attempts will bear only scant resemblance to your final draft. You’ll go back to it weeks or months or years later, and be embarrassed by your first draft. But so what? You wrote it down, cleaned it up, polished it to a high shine, and here you are.
Emphatically not blocked.
On an entirely different (though also triumphal) note: congratulations to Lauren Beazley and Eleitta Brazeau of Regiopolis Notre Dame HS, winners of the limited-edition, not-for-sale-anywhere A is for Agency t-shirts. Please let me know what size you’d like (S, M, L or boy’s M or L) and I’ll send them right out.
Next week: more on writing