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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Writer’s Block; What’s That?

Cover of "The Artist's Way: A Course in D...
Cover via Amazon

The following piece was written in a single session, using techniques taken from Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The modern tendency toward scepticism will prevent many believing that I present this piece exactly as it was first written. Nevertheless, that’s the case. I haven’t edited the piece in any way. It remains precisely as it came from the ends of my fingers. I don’t present this to illustrate anything other than the assertion that it’s possible to sit down in front of a blank piece of paper with no idea what you want to write and come up with something that is, at least, a basis for some better, more polished and edited piece. It was started to get my own creative juices going. That it turned into this illustration is a combination of good fortune and my determination not to allow the inner policeman to place barriers in my way whilst creating.

I have subsequently read through the piece, but I’ve made no alterations at all. None. If you have ever suffered from any form of writer’s block, I urge you to read on. It shows, demonstrates, the reality of the process of enabling your inner artist. Oh, and by the way, I note that at one stage it says it took about twenty minutes. That was a guestimate, written at that point in the piece. It actually took forty six minutes in total. I know this because I’m currently keeping a time chart of my activities so I know how I really spend my time.


Sometimes it’s necessary simply to place words on paper, with no knowledge of where they will take you. Being blocked, lacking ideas, is often no more than a failure to be brave. That blank page can become a barrier. Filling it with words, no matter what they say, can break that barrier and set off the writer on a journey of adventure, romance, fantasy, or whatever direction the subconscious decides to take you.

The point is not to be afraid, not to allow the unknown to govern your creativity. Allow that inner creative voice its head, give it freedom. Ignore all the rules and laws and advice about sentence structure, planning and genre. This is a way to free your spirit and allow the creative artist inside you to soar.

Sometimes, faced with such a blank space, you will indulge in utter rubbish for a while. The words will mean nothing, even when you look at them later, and especially as you place them in lines on the page. But that isn’t important. The very act of writing results in more writing. If you’re a writer, if you’re an artist, a creator, the ideas will eventually come to you. They’ll sneak up when you’re not looking and suddenly you’ll have the germ of a story. I don’t know how this will work for everyone, I only know that it does work in varying degrees for all those who have any creative urge.

For me, it’s possible to sit down at the keyboard with absolutely no preconceived ideas, no knowledge of a character, no story thread, and end up with a short story at a single sitting./ Sometimes, I need longer, more sessions, but I frequently end up with a story at the end of the process. The important thing is not to think about what you’re writing, not to allow the search for the right word to get in the way. If this means that you put down the same word seventeen times in a row, it’s not important. The exercise is about getting over that block that’s preventing you from creating. Ignore grammar, spelling, syntax and appropriate language. If expletives come to you use them, or, more accurately, allow them space on the page. You can always remove them when you go back to do your edit.

And that’s the real point here. What you’re doing is allowing the creative side of your brain to play without that irritatingly perfectionist editing policeman to look over your shoulder with his corrections and insistence on proper sentence formation. If you seek perfection at the moment of creativity, you’ll never create a thing. Do you suppose Michelangelo produced his works without error, Did Da Vinci make no mistakes along the path to genius? Were Shakespeare’s first drafts the works you now see performed on stage and screen the world over? Of course not. You see the finished article, the polished piece, from all published artists. What you don’t see is the stumbles and wrong paths, the mistakes and glaring errors of grammar they made along the route to that brilliant perfect work. If you insist on comparing your fledgling work with the final output of an accomplished master, you’ll always be poor by comparison. Wait until you’ve finished the piece before you start to make comparisons, if you must.

This piece started off as an exercise to write a new story. Seriously, that is what I had in mind when I sat at the keyboard. That it turned into this piece is simply an illustration of my point. That allowing your creative self to take ascendency will eventually produce a piece of written work with some value. It may need some work; it may need completely re-writing. It may be no more than the germ of a story that you can later turn into the work you envisaged at the start. But it will be a piece of writing that has carried you over the block. It’s because I’ve used this technique almost all my writing life that I’ve never actually suffered writer’s block. There have been odd times when I’ve turned out something like this rather than a piece of fiction, but I’ve always been able to place words on paper.

It’s about taking the plunge, being brave. It’s about ignoring that ingrained school lesson that everything must be right. It’s about trusting your inner artist. As Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, you need to treat your inner artist as a child. Allow it to play. Give it the freedom to make mistakes, we learn from such mistakes. And, in the end, when it comes to writing, what has been lost if you produce a page that’s mostly gobbledegook? A few moments of your time? Nothing more. But the gains that are possible form such an exercise are enormous.

I set out with a blank sheet this morning. These words, exactly as they are now, took me about twenty minutes to write. But only because I deliberately refused to allow my inner policeman to interfere as I produced the idea. Of course, I did correct the odd typo as I went along, but I’ve been doing this for years. If it’s your first time, I suggest you avoid even looking at the screen or the piece of paper, if you’re writing by hand. That way you have no reason to backtrack. I have the excuse that, as time went past, I realised I had a piece for my blog. But, I want to be as honest as convention permits. So, I’m making the decision now not to edit this piece, but to publish it as it came from my finger ends. If I can do this, knowing that it will be read by many people, surely you can do it, knowing you can go back at a later date and make your words perfect, correct any syntactical or grammatical errors, remove any repetitions.

So, that’s my challenge to you. Start off your day with that blank sheet of paper and just write those words that flow, regardless of order, grammar, syntax, spelling or even sense. These are words to get your creative spirit out into the open. Consider them the same as those first strokes of preparation painters make on their blank canvass. But remember that, for most painters, they have the advantage of a subject actually before them. You, as a writer, may have no more than the accumulated experience of your lifetime and the words you’ve read from others. By allowing your inner artist to overcome the inner policeman, you might just turn out the foundation of a piece that you can turn into that work of genius.

So. There you have it. I’ve probably repeated myself, used inappropriate words, missed out words here and there. But, truthfully, this piece has not been edited. It would be worthless if I’d done that. It is, after all, intended as an illustration of what can be achieved by getting that damned policeman off your shoulder and letting your artist out to play.

I blush at the errors in the piece, but I hope this has been useful for you. I’d welcome your comments. Thanks for reading this.

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Nicole Luongo said...


Wow! I commend you for not listening to your "inner policeman" and writing what came to mind without editing the piece. Thank you for the reminder that perfection isn't the goal. I've been known to go back and forth over a word or two...LOL! I have The Artist's Way; haven't read it in years. Maybe I'll revisit it sometime. said...

I think a lot of writers are perfectionists by nature and this can stop them from actually ever completing a piece, as they seek perfection before they finish the actual writing. I always hold that you should write from the heart and edit from the head, that way, you get the best of both worlds. Thanks for your comment, Nicole, and good luck with your writing.

Nicole Luongo said...

"Write from your heart and edit from the head" is great! Your welcome for the comment. Thanks for the well wishes.

Alan Place said...

I see you HAVE books, therefore you have proved your ability to yourself and the market.

Writer's block comes from not having that but the then arrogance like yours is common among PUBLISHED writers said...

Alan, I'm sorry you see my attempt to illustrate a way of defeating something that is a problem for many writers as arrogance. Yes, I'm published, because I went along the route of self-publishing. Yes, I have proved I can complete the course, but I've been doing this for years and have only been published recently. Writing is a hard thing to do, and I have yet to reach a stage where I can give up the day job. I come across many promising writers who allow their 'editorial policeman' to prevent them from actually completing any WIP. This piece was done simply out of a desire to illustrate that 'free-writing', as suggested by the two authors I mention, really can work. I was hoping to show those who have a problem, that it can be defeated, that's all. Have a go, Alan. What have you to lose? Good luck with your writing.