I am effervescing with ideas. Dozens of fictional characters submit their profiles to me each week in hope of being chosen to star in a novel; the topographies of a hundred story lines rest in faithful silence waiting to be mapped, and without even trying a setting appears in my mind’s eye in splendid detail. I am seldom without a story agitating in my brain. Yet my output of compositions is abysmal. The difficulty I face is not due to lack of inspiration, but rather motivation. Committing the ideas to paper is just short of impossible at the moment.
It hasn’t always been so. Right up until the age of about 27 I was happy to disgorge my brilliance on any surface that could hold ink. I wrote whatever came into my head whenever the desire took me, giving little thought to structure, form or the quality of the prose. Needless to say there’s a lot of dribble in the archives and some superb examples of navel-gazing. But at least I wrote.
Then I went to university. There I learned the art of organisation, reductionism and scrutiny. I absorbed facts, spoke big words and acquired the skill of invalidating other people’s opinions in a diplomatic, yet innovative manner. Throughout my candidature I continued to write, but as I fell deeper into the snare of academia I found increasingly that scientific method intruded into my fictional worlds. I became cynical about the craft of writing and with that developed a serious inhibition to the act of writing anything that wasn’t factual or that which couldn’t be presented in the form of an essay. In essence I lost the ability to be impulsive with writing, to pour subjectivity onto the page, to gallop unrestrained through imaginary worlds. Every word I wrote from then on was subjected to harsh examination and my inner critic became a monster.
So I did the unthinkable and broke one of the cardinal rules of writers: I quit my job to focus solely on writing. It has been both frustrating and rewarding, but has it been worth it? I can’t be sure yet. There have been times when I’ve slacked off, telling myself I had ‘writer’s block’ or I was creatively exhausted, or sick. And here is where I must come clean: I have never once had writer’s block. What I have now is something much more humiliating: page fright. This state is a close cousin of writer’s block but sits more easily under the banner of writer’s anxiety. To me there is a difference between writer’s block and page fright: Ablock is an obstruction. A sufferer may experience a short-term (though sometimes long-term) decline in creativity, where original ideas are limited or absent. Page fright, on the other hand, is not defined by a lack of inspiration, but by a writer’s inability to commit an idea to paper. A writer might have little trouble encouraging the muse to develop new ideas, but feel self-conscious or reticent about committing those ideas to the page. Uncertainty and fear of failure takes over and the idea is scrapped for a new one. In my case, the inner critic steps in to warn me against impulsiveness, and is driven to discover every wrong thing with the project. Thus the project is never even started. What’s the remedy for page fright, then? I have developed a refrain to help me with my own current project, a novel sized project.
- Peruse: investigate the market, read writers in your chosen genre/field. Develop an analytical approach to literature and learn to differentiate prose from prattle
- Prepare: research everything. Familiarity with the subject helps to avoid errors, gaps and despondancy and saves time when searching for information.
- Practice: write and rewrite often. Writing is a skill which requires training to strengthen the creative muscles. Start small and work up to the bigger pieces.
- Perservere: never give up. Writing is one part skill, two parts determination.
When these don’t work I hammer at the keyboard anyway, venting my frustrations and in doing so often discover the source of my discomfort. Writing is cathartic, even if it’s writing about writing.