Monday 1 July 2019

Writer's Block

I have been thinking quite a lot about my writing practice over the past few days. I went to see Nick Cave in Nottingham last week - he is doing a Q & A tour - basically the audience asks him questions and he answers them, and in between he plays songs and piano. It was a very powerful performance and he was on stage for a whole three hours. I found the question and answer part of the show really interesting - he said a lot of things about song writing that really resonated with me about the way I approach poetry writing. He talked a lot about the commitment to just turning up at the page - which made me think that maybe I need to have a more defined writing practice when I am at home. I tend to be much more prolific when I am away - probably because I don't have all the distractions of home and at home I don't have a designated writing space - I mostly seem to write sitting on the sofa.

Cave also said that he doesn't believe in writers block - either you are writing or not writing. This is something I totally agree with and have had debates about with friends and students. My observations of writer's block are that they mostly stem from either - being too busy, being emotionally pre-occupied (grief, new love, new baby etc) or from being a self-editor. By self-editor what I mean is when a writer is so hung up on finding the right idea or topic, or by writing something perfect, that they don't write anything at all. One of my students definitely falls into the latter category. I think that this is a case where something like morning pages can help - even if you are simply writing over and over 'I have nothing to write about'. I believe that if you keep doing this something will come eventually - I sometimes write lists of things to do, goals, wish lists, moans, anything really to get the pen moving. Getting all that stuff out of one's head and onto the page makes extra room for creative thinking. I find national poetry writing month helpful in this way too. The goal of the month is to write a poem a day. I usually find it difficult for the first six or seven days - if I can keep going that long then something usually changes or shifts and after that I find that some days I am writing two or three poems. This is what Cave meant about turning up at the page - a self editor often has a (mistaken) belief that every poem they write should be perfect. Why would you put that pressure on yourself? Artists wouldn't dream of starting a big commission without doing some preliminary sketches. In fact if you are not practicing your art (what ever it may be) regularly you get rusty. You need to keep producing to get the good stuff. In national poetry writing month I may write forty or more poems but I am happy if I have two or three that I consider worth pursuing - any more than that is a bonus. My advice if you have writer's block is 'just keep turning up at the page.'