Imagine you are a writer. Now imagine that you are sitting in front of your keyboard. For hours. Waiting. Waiting for inspiration. Waiting for literary genius to strike. And it doesn’t. You type a few words. Then you go back and read them and they sound to your ear like childish dribble. Or worse. The grunting of an orangutan. Suddenly, you freeze up. You think back on all you’ve ever written and you realize you’re a fraud. Or worse. You’re boring. Ahhh…you run off into the night and do what many great writers seem compelled to do – you get drunk. And stay drunk.
Such is writer’s block.
Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood in 1965 and then turned his attention to writing another great book titled, Answered Prayers. By the time he died in 1984, the world was still waiting for his epic. Ralph Ellison wrote a very well received first novel Invisible Man in 1952 and then worked for 40 years on the sequel. He died in 1992 and never completed it. What happened? Apparently, they both fell prone to a bad case of perfectionism. After writing extremely popular and well acclaimed books, they couldn’t bear to write anything less perfect. They wrote and rewrote and were frozen by expectations – their own and others.
A few months ago, I was hit with a mild case of writer’s block. I was plunking away at my third novel, not really in a position to sit down and seriously write it. I have a day job. Work was too hectic. I was traveling a fair bit. Such is life. Anyway, I wrote the first two chapters at a time when I was also rereading all three books in John LeCarre’s Smiley series. Admiring LeCarre’s writing style as I did, I got really caught up in writing and rewriting my own work rather than creating and letting the story flow. I got the creative part of my brain confused with my analytical part. I was analyzing my writing style too much as I went along and lost a good deal of creativity. My writing turned out well, but the story didn’t.
The cure was simple. I stopped criticizing my writing as I wrote. I wrote long chunks and then would go back and do a little rewriting, but not enough to bog down my creativity. The key was to write and not be a perfectionist. Another key was to accept that not everything I write can always be better than what I wrote before. In the end, if you are a writer – you write. You write regardless of criticism. You write because you love to write. Sometimes you strike gold. Sometimes silver. Sometimes you babble like an orangutan. Such is life.
I feel a political diatribe coming on. Yes! Expect my next posting to have a political bent.
Back in Zurich