Writer’s Block or Indolence?

I suppose I’m lucky in that I’ve never suffered from the dreaded writer’s block. Whether it’s stories, novels, plays, blogs, reviews or writing commercial stuff to a deadline, I usually get quickly into the swing of it and get dragged along. Then, after staying away from whatever text it is for a while, I enjoy getting back to it and starting the editing/rewriting process.

Recently, though, I have experienced something like it. I started on the sequel to The Figurehead and, after writing a few pages, found I was unsure of where I wanted to go with it. I knew what the themes would be, how the characters would behave with one another, what the main conflicts and climaxes would be and also how it would turn out, but it was all bitty and wasn’t managing to cohere in my mind. I began to think that I’d maybe done too much research, collected too much information on the commercial aspects of ship owning, passenger accommodation on transatlantic voyages, and also on actors and theatre groups, all of which would be part of the story. I knew plenty about all that but had no idea what the characters wanted to do. Also, there didn’t seem to be much room for them amongst all the ‘facts’.

Then, with the publication and subsequent freebie offer of Unsafe Acts and the blogs and interviews about it, it was obvious that I had to write another Jack Carston. Again, I knew the sort of case it would be, and that it would signify a departure for him which maybe/probably would make it the last in the series. It needs some research, so I’m in no position to start it yet but, again, the impulse to embark on it wasn’t strong.

Rather than worried, I was puzzled by this so, instead of persevering with either of them, I started a sequel to The Sparrow Conundrum, with very little idea of what it would contain. This time, though, because of the absurd extremes of the characters, I immediately started seeing plenty of possible developments. But even then, after a few days writing, I started finding reasons to do something else.

So I wonder whether it’s another manifestation of a desire always to want to do something new. I seem to do things for a while then, without there necessarily being any feeling of having achieved a goal or been successful, I get the ‘been there, done that’ sensation and look around for unknowns.

I wonder, too, whether the whole blogging, tweeting, facebooking thing has made writing less fun and the proliferation of new books has devalued the process. I don’t think that’s the case, but I’m very aware that I’m writing in a very different publishing context from the one in which I started – with more opportunities as well as more competition.

Then again, it’s maybe all down to the trait I’ve mentioned many times before – I’m lazy. The books will get written but, for the moment, it’s relaxing to look through the window at the branches blowing in the wind and the confused flowers which came out in the recent warm spell shivering and wondering what the hell they’ve let themselves in for.

(And it occurred to me that I could write a final paragraph using one of those flowers as an image for/symbol of the author’s dilemma, but you can do that for me.).


  1. I completely understand and sympathize. I have three sequels screaming for attention but like an ADD teen I flit on to new projects. And I agree about blogging/social media … it promotes exactly that lack of focus one needs to attack a novel of substance.

    1. But you don’t know the meaning of laziness, Diane, and your productivity is tiring even to read about. I suppose we should think ourselves lucky that we have such choices, though.

  2. Thanks for describing so well exactly what I go through every so often, Bill. And rather than say you’re not indolent, I’m going to agree that I suffer from it too now and then. As well as Internet overload.

    It’s happening just now with my next historical – don’t know why I can’t get on and finish the dashed thing when it’s over 65,000 words. Then there’s the novella (or two) I started but can’t get on with. Think that’s why I flit about between types of writing – I’m in short story mood just now.

  3. Well, I have to admit that that’s a surprise, Rosemary. I always imagine you being organised, disciplined, in control of your various media. And you’re such a conscientious blogger, too. In a way, it’s reassuring to hear that you share the non-productive symptoms from time to time.

  4. I don’t think social media has made writing less fun, but it certainly distracts from the writing process. I liken it to working in an office where co-workers come by every few minutes to ‘chat.’ Ultimately, it’s up to the writer to shut them out and concentrate on the task at hand.
    The discipline to write one thing, and one thing only until it is complete, is challenging for me as I get bored. It’s probably why I write for the Word Count Podcast, blog, and even comment on blogs as way to shift gears.
    Nice to visit you today, Bill 😉

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Eden. When I say ‘fun’ in the context of writing, what I mean is the way that, when it’s going well, you lose yourself completely in it. It’s that marvellous cocoon state in which self-hood, surroundings, connections – in fact, everything disappears and you’re in the timeless world of the story. When that happens, I never get bored with the project. It’s not a challenge and discipline doesn’t come into it. I’m just there, part of what’s happening. The social media do generate real friendships and can be stimulating, but they do disrupt that selfish absorption that’s so special.

  5. Who was it that mentioned the shiny object syndrome. It’s so much easier to concentrate and get involved with a new project that fills us with excitement and wonder at it’s possibilities. Once the writing and revision gets hard, it’s difficult to find that excitement. And it’s hard to figure out where the focus should be? on the new while the excitement is there, or on that which “Should” be completed, for whatever reason.

    I’m not a good blogger so I can’t say whether it takes away the joy of writing but the time social media takes up, definitely takes away from the time I need to immerse myself in my story.

    1. That’s an interesting angle on it, Livia. It’s not the sort of dilemma I feel, though. When something is a shiny new object, yes that’s exciting, but for me the real involvement and commitment come when I’m past that stage and the project has already taken some shape. It’s the need to start working that substance that takes over, knowing that there are characters waiting to emerge, plotlines to follow to see whether they coincide or diverge, all sorts of possibilities to explore. The focus can then be anywhere, and can keep shifting. It’s when I’ve reached the end and things have been resolved that I then enjoy shaping it all to make the points clearer, stress what’s important, discard irrelevancies.

      And I think the good things about writing blogs (which I often have to force myself to do) is precisely the sort of exchanges they provoke when others comment on them like this. I’ve been writing for decades but I keep on finding out new things about how it’s done – by me and by others.

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