Friday 23 April 2010

Bin around the block

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.


Claire King said...

I really don't believe in writers block. I do believe that there can be moments where you feel less inspired, where your environment might not be conducive to developing ideas but I really do think a lot of it can be put down to distraction, procrastination, insufficient motivation etc
There are lots of ways to shake off that feeling - get out for a walk, read something inspiring or listen to some inspiring music, mind-map, brainstorm, whatever but just push through it, because there aren't many professions in the world that allow you to say you didn't do something because you just weren't feeling the inspiration...

Claire King said...

You have a good point about ideas. Someone once said, when you're thinking of an idea for a short story, to enter a themed competition (like 'At the Beach' or 'Loss') that you should think up about 20 ideas and discard them all. You will probably find something interesting and original amongst the next 20!
There are plenty of ideas in the sea, no need to marry the first one that comes along!

Sarah Hilary said...

You're right, Claire, we have to push through. Great point about there not being many professions in the world that tolerate that sort of indulgence. I've had days when I've not wanted to write, for whatever reason, but I've made myself get started and often found it's been a great day's work.

Sarah Hilary said...

My writer friend was convinced that we - as writers - would prefer to be thought lazy or prevaricating than to have the value of our ideas questioned. I think he's spot on. But, you're right again, Claire: lots of ideas out there. We just have to hunt them down. Letting go of an idea that's not working can be hard, but sometimes it's vital.