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Thursday 13 September 2012

I Can’t Get Started. I Can’t Continue. I Can’t Finish.

Occasionally, the words won’t come. Not because there’s nothing I want to write about, but because there’s too much. I have lists of topics I intend to use to engage my readers here on the blog, for example. But sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer variety of things that interest me. What doesn’t help is  that I’ve suffered from ME for the past ten years; one of the features of this debilitating condition is its effect on the brain, causing perceptual and short-term memory problems. It’s largely a neurological condition, distorting the control function of the hypothalamus. I thought I’d defeated it until a couple of weeks ago, when it returned with a vengeance. Took me a while to figure out that I’d been neglecting to take my regular rests after activity. So, it appears, I’m likely to have to deal with this for the rest of my life. I mean, if it hasn’t gone after ten years, it seems unlikely it will completely disappear.

I find that time spent on holiday in sunny climes has a fantastically beneficial effect on my health. I asked the doctor if I could go and live in the Mediterranean on the National Health Service, but she thought it unlikely! Still, my next sortie overseas will probably have a positive effect and I should return more energised, I hope. Roll on the hols, eh?

But, enough of my personal problems.

I know that a lot of writers experience difficulty in starting to write, others have problems continuing and many have difficulty with actually finishing a piece. There are probably as many reasons for these problems as there are writers, so I’m not about to start pontificating on what you should do and how you should deal with your problem, whatever it is. For one thing, I rarely have these issues, so I have little first hand experience. 

(At present, my own problem is that the ME is preventing me writing as smoothly as I do normally because it keeps misdirecting my fingers on the keyboard so that I have to correct a typo for every few words I’m typing - bit of a bugger, but hardly a serious issue.)

What I can do for those of you who have problems with starting, continuing or finishing is point you in possible directions where you just might come across a ‘cure’ it that’s not too strong a word for it.
First, two books that I consider absolutely essential to any writer:

Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer ; this is essentially a guide to the way you should set about becoming a writer. It consists of advice and exercises. The exercises are an essential part of the process. I strongly urge anyone who suffers from any form of writer’s block, at any stage in their writing career, to read this book and do the exercises. They really are life-changing. But you must be prepared to put in the work. It certainly worked for me. I now see I’ve never reviewed this book, an omission I will correct very soon!

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way ; subtitled,  A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self , is a manual for finding the creative drives in your life. Again, there are exercises and, again, I urge that readers who wish to fully engage with their writing do these exercises.

I reviewed this book a while back and you can read that review here:  

And, finally, for this piece, a few words of suggestions that might help you over those barriers.

Can’t get started?
Try simply writing down anything and everything that comes to you as you sit in front of that piece of blank paper or white screen. Literally everything. So, if your thoughts are, ‘I can’t think of anything…’ write it down. Often, the simple fact of having words on the blank sheet will unlock the gate and allow others to flood out. At this stage, it’s best not to review your writing but allow the flow to continue until you reach the end. You can always edit afterwards, and it might just get those creative juices flowing.

Can’t continue?
Try writing something else, something completely different from the story or book that’s causing the struggle. If the worst comes to the worst, copy something from another piece and develop that instead. The subconscious mind sometimes needs this sort of trick to kick it back into the groove you were previously ploughing (if you’ll forgive the tortured metaphor).

Can’t finish?
As with the first suggestion, just write whatever comes into your head, with no concern for errors, content or grammar. Sometimes we get obsessed by our need to get it right and this simply prevents us from getting it down. I repeat, you can always edit later. The creating and editing processes involve different parts of the brain and these two aspects of our make-up are often in conflict. By trying to edit as you go along, you’re actually denying your creative self the freedom it needs to work imaginatively.

Try it. What have you to lose? Don’t tell me it’s a waste of time: you were already wasting time sitting unproductively in front of that blank screen/sheet of paper, weren’t you?

Good luck with your writing, folks, and let me have your thoughts in the form of comments.

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