Drawing from a dry well

Frustrated beyond measure. It’s almost a physical feeling, a rage borne of confusion. I’ve at here at my keyboard for forty minutes trying to start a story, and I have produced nothing but three false starts, opening sections that inspire me to continue writing about as much as they would inspire someone else to keep reading.

It’s like being sat at a potter’s wheel, unable to do much more than prod the damp clay with a desultory finger, knowing that the world is full of plates and vases already crafted by craftsmen more original, disciplined and inspired than yourself. Or like joining a degree course in its final week. Or like, or like, or like.

Yeah, I know, “keep writing”, all those clichés. Finish what you start; just type and see what comes out, don’t be critical, just free-associate. That’s what I’m doing here; this is the third day in a row that all I’ve been able to write about is my inability to write; pointless self-castigating screeds, the sound of someone marinading himself in his own inabilities. Finally, I have an hour set aside every day in the quiet of the morning so that I can CREATE, and all I can do with it is the literary equivalent of banging my head against the door of my padded cell.

It’s ludicrous. A whole sixty precious minutes, reserved for my mind to do what it wants to do rather than what it must. And I sit here wanting to get on with my other work, because at least there I know where to go, what to do; there’s a clear route forward. There’s none of this terrifying void of inspiration; none of this horrifying thought that, perhaps, I really am kidding myself about this whole being-a-writer gig, and that I’ve spent a few years talking a good game and bluffing the basics only to fall at the first true hurdle. I really can’t understate the sense of anger coursing through me at the moment, this urge to throw things and shout formless words. Nor can I channel it in any useful way, so it seems. At least not today.

Maybe tomorrow will be different.

[ Regular readers please take note — I’ve posted this up as a record, a message to a future self who, I sincerely hope, will look back on it in a few months’ time and chuckle at how hard it was to start the routine. It’s not a bid for sympathy; I just need to have something other than a handful of half-page word processor files and some scribbled-on notebook pages to show for the last few days, so as not to feel it’s been an utterly wasted effort. ]

6 thoughts on “Drawing from a dry well”

  1. Here’s a trick I’ve used. Take a break from trying to write a master work. Instead, write a stupid story, just for fun. A story where all bets are off and you can do whatever you like – tell yourself it doesn’t matter, it’s just for you. Then work on this story whenever you dry up on the “serious” stuff. It will keep your creative juices flowing and hopefully allieviate some of the pressure you’re putting yourself under. And who knows? By letting your imagination off the leash for a run around the park, you might end up with something useable at the end of it… I did. My short story “Pod Dreams of Tuckertown” (published in Byzarium) started out as me goofing off between “proper” stories, writing about giant cockroach aliens in silver saucers…

  2. When I’m blocked I sift news sites for ideas as jumping off points, history books can also be useful prompts.

  3. I’ve had exactly the same problem (repeatedly). Two things that worked for me:
    (1) Write longhand, then you can’t go back and edit it, you have to just keep going.
    (2) Write a story a week, ala Jay Lake. Set rules like, you *have* to finish the story in a week and you *have* to finish as story before you start the next one. Then if you’re writing a story you don’t like at least you keep writing for a week and finish it, and maybe on the way it starts getting good. But if it doesn’t there’s always next weeks story. I did that for a year and it was great. It’s just the same as the Flash you were doing, but longer 😉

    Also I try and spend the day before, in any spare moment I have, thinking about where the story is going next, so that my writing hour is writing, not plotting. It’s what Schroeder and Doctorow say in their Idiot’s guide book, writing is discrete activities and you can split them apart.

  4. Yeah, it’s a bloody annoying thing. I usually find that a ‘block’ often comes from not thinking enough about the story before hand. I want to write but there’s nothing there. While you’re waiting for the ideas to arrive, you might want to try writing in a different medium; maybe a poem or an absolutely tiny flash fiction. I also sketch…

  5. Don’t beat yourself up about quality while you’re establishing the routine, let yourself write about any old thing – noisy neighbours, that bug crossing the windowsill, that weird stain on the pavement. Anything to get the synapses firing. And when a story idea emerges from the chaos sling it down on the page any old how, don’t fret about using too many adverbs or clich

  6. when i get completely blocked i like to dissasemble my mixing desk. I’m not entirely sure that advice is going to be of any use to you though 🙂

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