Bearing in mind that I announced the commencement of my latest book all the way back in August, it seems impossible to credit, but I have still to hit eighty pages. There is, however, a reason for that, which you probably have to be a writer to understand fully. Nevertheless, I will try to explain it. It is called Writer’s Block. It is a most unwelcome situation when the creative side of your brain decides to take a holiday without informing the rest of it, and not leaving a forwarding address. Thus, you find yourself staring at a largely blank computer screen and not having a clue what to put there. No matter what you try, nothing seems to work, and everything ends up being deleted because it simply isn’t good enough.
All writers become blocked from time to time, and as I get older, it seems to happen more regularly. There was a time when I could turn out a book in six months. It takes more like three times that now, and I put it down to pressure – or rather, the lack of it. A decade ago, I was working as a supply teacher and got into the habit of getting up at five in the morning to get an hour or two of work done on my current book before I was called in to a school for the day. That ended in 2017 when I retired from teaching altogether. Suddenly, I had all day to work on my book, and that was when I made the critical discovery. My brain works best early in the morning. I get up at five, have my breakfast, feed the dogs and set down to work about five-thirty. I then work through until about nine, at which point my brain decides that it has had enough and goes on strike. Thus, I have done my work for the day at round about the same time as most people are starting theirs. The fact that I am no longer under pressure, knowing that I could be called to go into a school at any moment, gives the mind a chance to wander. Dr Samuel Johnson once said that the advantage of knowing you are to be hanged in a fortnight concentrates the mind beautifully. That is the effect that pressure can have on a brain. Take away the pressure and it becomes all the harder to concentrate.
The answer, of course, is self-discipline. If I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to add to the book, I could work on something else. Unlike creating text, I can edit all day without problems. Therefore, I revamped another work, The Author’s Manual, including instructions on how to work with a variety of word processors. I am not very happy with it because I included a section on Apple’s word processor, Pages. which I used when I had an iMac (now deceased, sadly). All it achieved was to make me want another Mac. This, I will do later this year, when I can afford one. When it arrives, I will have another go at that book.
In the meantime, I have a novel to write and the fog is finally lifting. Progress has been made and a path through the mire is presenting itself at last. The root of the problem was that I had no clear idea of where it was headed, so the first seventy pages rambled about, going nowhere in particular. Taking the bull by the horns, I edited them ruthlessly, chopping a full twelve pages out (not twelve consecutive pages – a bit here, a bit there, but twelve in total) and added a new character. That proved to be the catalyst. I can now see the way forward and the book is developing. The first hundred pages are always the hardest, and slowest, to write. I am not far away from that target now. The second hundred will come much quicker.