“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” George Orwell
I occasionally find myself staring at either pristine or partially used sheets in one of my many notebooks, or at blank Word documents on my computer, spurred into inaction by the plethora of ideas and objects that I surround myself with on the premise of fuelling inspiration.
The pages eventually fill with scribbles, and the keyboard goes from being tapped with caution to being battered with vigour. There are no secrets to ending the living nightmare otherwise known as writer's block, but there are some well-worn solutions that can ease you up and out of it.
There is some solace to be taken in the fact that this vocational dilemma is legendary among the more prestigious members of the writing fraternity. Ask any writer and they will likely tell you that the empty space that confronts them at the start of a new project is as terrifying as it is exciting.
The idea is there, germinating at the back of your mind, compelling you to create. Yet the thought of starting or continuing - depending on where in your progress the proverbial block sets in - is somehow paralysing. The irresistible desire to express that idea has become the thing you feel least able to do.
Procrastination has always been a problem for writers, and at no time more than in the age of instant digital or technological gratification. There are infinite distractions at the tip of your fingers, which instead of being used to expel an eloquent stream of original thinking, are reduced to fumbling across the internet.
Never mind “only connect”, the problem is finding the power to disconnect – from the World Wide Web and the multitude of social media platforms that invariably suck you into seemingly useful conversation.
So how do you empty your mind of its contents and get those words on to the page? Here's my advice:
- Focus: be honest if not brutal with yourself about what it is you want to achieve and what you can realistically accomplish, albeit with a healthy dose of ambition
- Plan: draft an outline of your project that will help you achieve your goal, break it into small chunks and establish milestones that will help you track and review your progress (and also give you that lifeline of a sense of achievement in the inevitable moments of self-doubt)
- Disconnect: from websites like Freedom to Apps such as Pomodorable, there are dozens of tools out there to help you resist the urge to do anything but the thing you fear/desire the most (write!)
- Commit: establish a disciplined routine, commit to writing a certain number of words a day, or actively mark out a part of your day to dedicate to writing - and stick to it
- Continue: don't falter from your plan; it takes a certain ruthless streak to resist the distractions but keep your goal in mind and remember that once you get into the flow, "the muse will come" (to paraphrase Maya Angelou).
In summary, the key is to get going, resist the fear of imperfection, and to accept the mistakes and the failures - they're part of the story. In fact, those angst-ridden scrawls and scrubbed out drafts are the vital first step - the start.
That’s my approach, gleaned from experience, my own and that of other writers. What’s yours?