There. Did anyone die? Nope. I checked. Absolutely no one.
You see, I've had it. And I've survived it. And I've gone on to write again (Hallelujah! Praise the Lord). So what happened? And how did I survive to scribble on?
Well, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.... Oh, all right. I know that's not my story--but it just sounds less prosaic than.... Six years ago my back gave out on me for the umptieth time and I had to have three major spinal operations in less than a year. I had a huge book contract at the time--lots of research, all very complicated, and a (cue scary music) d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e. I'd never missed a deadline, not even by a day (HATE being late for anything). So it was a bit of a shock when I came out of the fog of all those mega-painkillers (some of them pretty Class A-C), and all those hours and hours of anaesthetic and slicing/dicing, (not to mention the 3 month trauma of having to wear a rigid white plastic neck to thigh corset which made me look like Boudicca's fat ugly sister) and found that I c-o-u-l-d n-o-t w-r-i-t-e. No, really. Not a word. I just looked at the immensity of this particular book, and the deadline loomed closer and closer, and it became like a big hairy ugly elephant-with-fangs in the corner of the room. The one no one mentions because it's so scary. The trouble was, I couldn't talk to anyone about it because it frightened me so much, and because I felt like such a failure. I did finally pluck up courage to speak to my agent and my publisher, who were both really supportive, and gave me nearly an extra year to complete the contract. But I didn't admit it was writer's block (though they must have known, neither are stupid). I just said I needed 'more time to convalesce' because I was utterly convinced they'd think less of me (and probably sack me forever/cancel the contract) if I told them the truth. I am aware that this was irrational--but writer's block does not live in a rational place.
Now we all have days, as writers, when the page stays blank, but this was more than that. Usually, if I can't write for a long time (because of other non-writing pressures like life, children, housework etc) I get really grumpy and snarly (I am, after all, a wolf with teeth!). But the ideas are still there, piling up, scrambling and jostling to be first out. This was different. It was a sick emptiness in the head and the heart--an absence of idea, a lack, a missing part of what makes me myself. And of course the longer it went on, the worse it got. My muse had packed a bag and gone on indefinite holiday to parts unknown. I was lucky, I think. Having the deadline pressure lifted meant that slowly, surely, I could dip an occasional toe in the writing water and test it for comfort. I did a lot of research stuff at this time, got my mind back into the way of thinking-about-writing, fanned the excitement of 'what if'. Eventually, after about 6 months, I slipped back into the ocean and was able to swim without a lifebelt, and the muse came back from her extended holiday. But I've never forgotten how it felt--that utter desolation of the creative desert. Trust me, 6 months can feel like an eternity.
Now here I can see that you're going to ask why I was so hard on myself when I'd had all that pain and trauma. I just was, ok? And that was a very big part of the problem. I've just had further spinal surgery (2 weeks ago), and the writing landscape is very changed because I've learned to do things differently now.
I'm now confident that I can conquer writer's block if it ever happens to me again. I'll admit, I was scared before this latest operation because of what happened last time. This time round I don't have the deadline worry, but I've had to cancel a lot of school visits and publicity stuff for the first four books of my new and exciting Greek Beasts and Heroes series, and that's very sad for me because I don't like letting people down. But I'm not going to beat myself up about it--I'm going to concentrate on getting better and putting my own socks on without help. Then in May, when the second part of the series comes out, I shall be firing on all cylinders.
- I joined the Scattered Authors' Society (open to all published UK children's writers), and through them I now have a wonderful network other authors--quite a few of whom I know I could talk to privately and confidentially if I suffered with writer's block again. Or I could post it on their online forum and share it with everybody openly. A support network of people who will understand where you are coming from is essential.
- I have learned to be kinder to myself. Not to beat myself up so much. Not to feel like a failure if I only write 150 words in a day instead of 1500. Or even nothing at all.
- I've learned that writing is infinitely malleable. If I'm having difficulty with the novel, or series or whatever, I write something else--anything else. It's all about keeping it going even if what you are writing is utter crapadoodly. If I'm stuck, I don't force it, or panic (well, I don't panic MUCH). I move onto something else for a while, until the ideas flow again. A poem. A writing exercise which will never be for public consumption. I plan this blog. It's all about giving the muse variety to play with and keeping it interested and on my side.
- Because I suffer from depression too, I try and use the Flip It technique to see things in a new light. Old way: "Can't seem to write? Oh God! You're such a failure. Stare at the screen! Come on! You HAVE to do this or how can you call yourself a writer. You're such a failure." (repeat ad infinitum until paralysis sets in). New way: "Can't seem to write today? That's fine--it'll give you an opportunity to declutter that cupboard you've been meaning to do for ages/make marmalade/go outside and see how the snowdrops are coming along! Don't stress--it'll look different tomorrow."
- Talking of going outside--I am the last person to advocate a brisk walk, being terminally opposed to organised exercise. But it is true to say that pacing across the landscape (or pacing anywhere, really, even corridors) with an empty mind and open eyes can be an excellent creative trigger. I'm coming round to this idea more and more--and it's mostly how I write my best poetry. It's also a good way to sort out a plot problem. The very act of moving the limbs somehow moves the brain along as well.
Knowledge is power--and I know how to deal with the problem now. So I'll say this--if anyone wants help and advice,on this subject, I'm very happy to oblige. Talking about the Writer's Block Monster--dragging it into the harsh light of day--is the best way to slay it. At least, that's what I think. Feel free to disagree. I always appreciate a good comments fight!
Bye for now--I'm off to do serious battle with the socks again and probably have a little restorative nap. Tiring, this convalescence stuff.
See all my other Writing 101 Productions
Part 1 An Overview of Author Platforms
Part 2 Author Platforms (Facebook)
Part 3 Writing Resolutions
Part 4 Spambush or Tweettack?
Part 5 To Plunge or to Plan?
Part 6 Blogging Lessons