It’s been three and a half weeks since I last wrote a word of my new novel. They have not been good weeks. I’ve been listless and irritable. I’ve been sleeping badly. I’ve been feeing blue for no apparent reason. When I don’t write, I lose my center of gravity. I’m untethered.
It was all going so well, too. I’ve been planning this new book for months, but finally began to put words onto the page while we were staying in a small lake house in Maine this August. Once we got back to Missouri I settled back into my usual routine – up at 5 a.m. for two uninterrupted hours of writing, fortified by several cups of espresso along the way. After some weeks of this, I was at about the 12,000 word mark. When you write as slowly as I do, that represented a pretty decent return. By my standards, I was flying.
And then I hit a slight bump – a small plotting detail I needed to work out, but couldn’t. The sensible thing would have been to put it to one side and push on, but instead I stopped completely. Nothing got written for several mornings. I was still getting up at 5, but now I read, or did other work. I told myself this was all fine, a healthy break. I would return to the book in a day or two. Except I didn’t. Doubts had begun to gnaw at me. I wondered if this was really the book I should be writing. I flicked disconsolately through the pages that I’d printed out, reluctant to actually read any of it.
The thing is, I need to write. I’ve never been too bothered by how many words get written each morning – what matters is that something is getting put down on paper. Progress, even if small, is still progress. Each morning’s words are in the bank. Whatever other frustrations and disappointments the rest of the day might hold, I’ll still have them. That’s a huge comfort. But when I stop writing, I no longer have that ballast to steady me when the waters get choppy. And then things don’t go so well.
Of course, there’s an obvious fix: sit down and start writing again. But what’s so interesting – and so infuriating – is how difficult that can be, even after all this time, seven books in. Over the years I’ve become very creative in coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t get back to work. (The house is very clean right now, and we’re up to date on laundry.) Indolence descends, then calcifies, then crucifies. Suddenly the idea of switching on the laptop and opening that document seems utterly impossible. I know, I think, I’ll write a post about this writer’s block that’s afflicting me. And then I don’t do that either. It sounds like a joke, except it’s really not. Another day, another week passes, and still no words are written.
I still don’t have a solution to that little plot problem that stopped me writing a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t matter any more. I’m a writer. So I’d better bloody write. Bum, meet seat. The two of you are going to reacquaint yourselves. This post is where it starts.