There’s a poll currently running on the Writers’ Guild Blog : “Do you believe in writers’ block?”
The two answers given are ‘Yes, it’s all too real’, and ‘No, it’s just an excuse to procrastinate’, and if you want to, I think you can still vote, so if you feel strongly either way and want to make your opinion known, follow the above link and click away.
I’ve been mulling it over a bit, partly because of the question asked by the WGGB, partly because of this post by Andrew ‘They Call Me Mister’ Tibbs, though mainly because I’ve recently rewatched Adaptation, a good film which is certainly worth seeing (if you haven’t already done so).
As you may well know, the film tells the story of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s struggle to adapt the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean into a screenplay, and interweaves the tale of the book itself with his writing struggles (with something that certainly looks like writer’s block), to the point where the film is ultimately more about that than the content of Orlean’s book (though that just be me preferring the tale of the storyteller than the flora-seller). In the film, Kaufman stares hopelessly at the blank page in his typewriter, wrestling with both problems of story and his own self-worth (made all the more prominent by comparison with his [imaginary] twin Donald, who has enormous success with his own more obviously populist script).
It reminded me rather of the post on Andrew’s blog, which refers to the recent Charlie Brooker programme, wherein a number of writers talked about the importance of actually getting down to writing – Tony Jordan puts it most straightforwardly when he says ‘A writer writes – the clue is in the name’ – and quite a few of them talked about how they’d write without necessarily knowing where they were going with the story. Andrew wrote about how the opposite of this can be to want to plot everything down to the smallest detail, and how that can lead to constant procrastination from the act of getting words down on the page – which is part of Kaufman’s problem in Adaptation.
I’m inconsistent in whether I plan things like mad or just dive into a story (though I invariably like to have an end in mind, lest I should go on writing for ever), although one thing I’ve realised is that it’s better if I keep my story ideas to myself; not for fear of plagiarism, but for the more mundane reason that if I get all giddy and intoxicated with the tale and end up blurting it out (usually in a half-baked form), that tends to dilute the need to write it down because – even on that pathetic level – part of me feels I’ve told the story. God only knows how I reconcile that with pitching and query letters, but I tend to make sure my first draft is finished before I get to that stage.
Anyway, I don’t really have an opinion as to whether Writers’ Block is real, though in a strange way I suspect that’s because I’ve rarely been in a position where my failure to words on paper has been like a kick to my sense of identity. I’ve only occasionally been called upon to write under that kind of pressure (well, outside of work, where the stuff I write about is usually non-fiction, though some might disagree). If I was a paid writer, I can well see that finding the well of inspiration had run dry would be akin to a bout of mental impotence – you want to do it, you know you can do it, but the more you think about it, the less likely it is to happen.
I wish I was more advanced in my writing career than I actually am – and I’m well aware that I’m the only one, ultimately, who can do anything about that – but in a way it does mean that the pressure is lower; by analogy, if I can’t be bothered to go out for a run (as has been the case more often than not since the clocks went back, and I have the waistline to prove it), I don’t have a coach or team who I’m letting down, and who’ll shout at me if I jeopardise my personal advancement, but if you’re a writer by trade, there are a lot of people who you could feel you’re letting down (as well as yourself). I can see why it could be a more pernicious situation if you feel you just can’t find it within you to write (or indeed run), so I wouldn’t want to say it’s not real just because I (fortunately) haven’t experienced it.
The main thing that keeps me from writing as much as I should, or should like to, is the tiresome and predictable issue of, you guessed it, time; again, I’m aware that I could squeeze in more writing and less loafing, and so for me at present this is a bigger challenge than Writers’ Block, though of course that may change in the future.
So, in summary, my concerns: Writers’ Block? Not yet. Writer’s Clock? You bet.