Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Can't write? You will!

What do you do if you can't write?

Perhaps some people don't care, but if I can't write I feel about as useful to myself and everyone around me as an old sock, and about as limp, and I start to wonder about the point of my brief visit here on this crock of rock spinning in that great void round a star which will only explode in the end etc etc... (You get the picture: slit my throat, quick.) (I do know that there are people who never can't write - a couple of my friends, for a start - but I'll pass over them quickly before I start feeling murderous rather than suicidal.)

I don't mean the kind of not being able to write I'm suffering at the moment, ie simple lack of time or suitable circumstance. For years now I've had the use of a cottage in North Wales for writing - no need to tell me I'm lucky, I know! I've written loads here, and (at the risk of implying it was autobiographical, which it wasn't) I set my radio play Holiday Home here. Wales is where I was born and spent my early years, and this particular place really does feel like my spiritual and creative home; I sit at this window and look out at the field with ash trees lining the stream and in the distance Nantlle ridge, purple and topped with clouds, and I instantly feel in touch again with the fundamentals and start to dream, which for me is what writing is all about. This year, though, the cottage is being renovated, and I'm not here to write but to help out. Today in the foreground through the window is a man with a cement mixer, and I've promised that when I've written this I'll go and strip some paint. It feels really weird.

But I'm talking about different ways of not being able to write. Firstly there's that really frustrating one where you've got this thing inside you and you just can't get it out, can't find the key - the image, the phrase (the finger down the throat!) - to release it and allow it to come flowing. That's the time I pace the house, raid the fruit bowl or nut jar (making myself feel literally sick) and have to restrain myself from throwing a chair when my partner John says with a maddening grin: 'Can't write? Always a good sign: it means you will.'

And then there's the even worse kind, which I have to admit I haven't suffered too much, but have done so badly this year. Recenly I finished a long novel, the biggest and the hardest thing I have ever done, and when it was done I was exhausted, not only physically but creatively. My mind felt dead, numbed. Brain empty of ideas and stories, retinas dead to the images passing before them. I felt as though I had written myself right out. I really thought I'd never write again.

Well, I was wrong. Here I am, full of ideas again, here is the world throwing people and stories at me (those Morris dancers in the pub last night, Terry the builder and his history emerging as he plasters the walls), and I've got to go and strip damn paint!

My advice to any blocked writer: don't lose hope, lock the pills in the drawer. Just bide your time.

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