Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend time with a good friend of mine, a great writer who's worked in Hollywood, among other places. I've always found his company inspiring. Yesterday we talked about Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe reading Molly Bloom's soliloquy, the Scottish tradition of pedantic prose, and the 'sharpening pencils' stage of writing.
'There's no such thing as writer's block,' my friend said. 'There's just bad ideas.'
You know, I think he's onto something. If an idea fails to grip you as a writer, you will find it hard to write, just as you will if it's too slippery or evasive to pin down. We usually prefer to blame our own procasination or laziness rather than admit it's not a good idea. Sometimes we cannot see it's a bad idea until we've written it through, put it down in black and white. But if we're making lots of excuses along the way, to avoid the writing of it, the chances are it's just not a good enough idea. Bin it, and move on?
This has been my personal experience recently. I was struggling with an idea, telling myself I lacked the self-discipline or the time to work on it. Making excuses not to write. Then I had a better idea - one that feels a thousand times clearer and brighter - and I'm having no trouble at all. When I'm not actually writing it, I'm thinking about it, I'm researching and making notes but I'm not avoiding the task ahead of me (I know what avoidance feels like, so I can say this with certainty). And it has at its heart a genuinely good idea. A small nugget that means a huge amount. The idea is good enough for me to see just what was at fault with the previous idea, where its weakness lay.
I wasn't blocked; I was in need of a better idea. Thank goodness I found one.