Since 2015 I’ve managed to write two books a year so, if I am to keep that up, I would now have a book ready to be published. I haven’t.
I’ve got two books on the go, both of which are around a third of the way there, but even that doesn’t add up to a whole book. So what happened? I could point to catching Covid, which I feared was turning into the long version for a while, then there are my aches and pains and other medical issues. I could even blame being on Facebook where I found that I spent too much time doom-scrolling which usually left me feeling more than depressed. I could blame lots of things but, for me, writing has always been a refuge at those times when my pain issues were bad and things were tough.
I can only conclude that it was the dreaded writer’s block.
So, what did this look like for me? I have suffered times when I felt that I’d never have another idea and, even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to put two words in the right order. Luckily, these times have never lasted long. Until now, that is. For me writer’s block is not about being unable to write as I’ve been able to write blog posts, emails etc. with no problem. The problem I’ve been experiencing hasn’t been around the words but that most important element of any novel, the story.
I’ve heard of crime writers who plot their stories meticulously on spreadsheets before they put a word on the page. I have never been able to do that and that’s because, when I start off a book, I have at best a vague idea of where I’m going. I have to actually write the book to find out what the story is. I usually have some key ‘scenes’ in mind but it’s not always clear how I’m going to join the dots between them. So, I have started every book to date with the hope that ‘something will come to me’ and it usually has. Until this year.
I have absolutely no idea where the ideas, the creative spark, comes from, and so I’ve no idea what one should do to get it going again. You’ve probably got the idea by now that this episode of writer’s block is over for me. I certainly hope that’s the case. At last, ‘something came to me’ and I was at last able to start meaningfully adding words to the page. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen to me again tomorrow but I can only write in hope.
So, in hindsight, what helped me in getting the words flowing again? What has hindered me?
Getting frustrated and, at times, losing hope certainly didn’t help. Neither did the negative thoughts. One that stuck with me was the thought that, after writing twelve crime books, I’d completely run out of plots. I’d also say that ‘trying harder’ doesn’t work. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the most counter-productive things you can do.
I think that, in the end, three things helped.
The main one was reminding myself that I’m a stoic or, at least, I try to be. Stoics believe that you shouldn’t allow things that you cannot control to take away your peace of mind. Keeping this perspective in the front of your mind will help you to relax and, hopefully, help the ideas to flow.
The second was talking to someone completely unconnected to my books. I did this and it gave me some new thoughts on the story and, more importantly this. The realisation that it might have been all my fault.
So, thirdly go back and reassess what thoughts you have already had about your book. I’ve always wanted to do a Mac Maguire story set at Christmas, mostly because my hero Simenon did one, and I suppose that I had the idea that (as a self-confessed Christmas nut) it might be all nice and fluffy. Then, I realised that I had already had an idea but it was going to be somewhat dark and possibly a little violent as well. My epiphany was remembering that I was a crime writer and darkness and violence were permitted, even at Christmas.
It seems that, after all, I might have been blocking myself all along.
(Thanks to Steve Johnson for the photo)