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Don’t get it right, get it written

I once wrote a blog claiming writer’s block didn’t exist. Having spent several days staring at a blank page, I feel compelled to revise that opinion. There is something utterly disheartening about sitting in front of a laptop with nothing to say. The initial enthusiasm has long since died. The characters and scenes you’ve had in your mind for so long have failed to come to life. What lies ahead is a painful battle of wills between you and the Muse, that mysterious force that (supposedly) oversees these things. Either you come through the test victorious or fold completely and book yourself into the local sanitarium for some extensive therapy.

Pain is the touchstone of progress, they say. But the blocked writer’s anguish is hard to quantify. Novels are strange things. They start out in the mind as an idea, a concept, and grow into bright new landscapes – living, breathing creatures that demand attention at all times of the day and night. ¬†When the work is going well, the novelist is happy and contented. When the work suffers, he becomes the opposite, often surly and rude, even at times downright anti-social. Whatever the reality, this is how he imagines himself to be in his ceaseless quest to mine the written word.

My third novel was written longhand in a series of notebooks, the method I prefer for writing first drafts. After leaving it buried in a drawer for over a year, I took it out and dusted it off with a sense of excitement and purpose. The second novel, I was given to understand, was the real test. Having come through that successfully, I looked forward to the third with supreme confidence. To have the whole thing grind to a halt partway through was discouraging to say the least.

At this point, I decided to take a different approach. I remembered reading that Graham Greene claimed to have written 500 words every day, not a huge number in the scheme of things but enough to produce a canon of 24 novels in a career that spanned 60 years. Add to this the travel books, essays and autobiographies he also penned and his, seemingly, meagre output becomes even more impressive. Maybe I could adopt the same working methods and overcome that most awful condition – the curse of the blank page?

And that’s what I did. I vowed that from that day on I would not leave the desk until I’d written 500 words, regardless of their apparent literary quality. And a strange thing happened. The idea of writer’s block vanished. Now, the recalcitrant third novel, previously resistant to all my attempts to move it forward, is currently residing at Chapter Twenty-one with plenty more fuel in the tank. And I, the luckless hack, drifting hopelessly in the doldrums without a breeze in sight, can rest assured that, at last, the end is in sight!

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