Saturday, February 10, 2007

Writer blocked

I haven't written a word of my new novel, Mummy's Boy, for nearly two months. There are a number of reasons why I'm unable to restart.

I believe the underlying problem is linked, in a rather curious way, to my ongoing depression. I've written a lot about depression on this blog in the past, mainly I suppose because it's such a significant fixture in my life. Right now I'm in a low- to medium-level phase. But it's not the depression itself that's the problem. I can cope with being depressed, I have done all my life, and it's my natural state. And it's worth repeating here that there's a big difference between depression and despair, which latter state really can bring everything crashing down. No, I can cope with depression all right. The bit I haven't figured out is how to cope with happiness, or even, when I think about it, mild pleasure.

I didn't realise what was happening until a few months ago when my wife informed one of our friends who was trying to entice me into a game of golf that "If it gives him pleasure don't expect him to do it." I was really shaken by her observation at the time and it made me take a long hard look at myself and at what I had become. Until that point I hadn't realised how pervasive and corrosive this curious form of self-denial had become.

When I began to examine my life I realised that over the years I've more or less stopped doing everything that has given me pleasure. Coffee, sailing, fishing, going to the pub with my friends, the theatre, the cinema, watching rugby. The list is endless, manifesting itself in a hundred subversive ways. My favourite phrase, "Trapped in a happy marriage" hints at another slant on this self-denying ordinance. I even suspect I'd give up alcohol, if I could. Oh, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Far more numerous are all the things I haven't done or tried in case they might turn out to be pleasurable too.

And that's the problem with writing the book (and one of the reasons incidentally why recently I almost gave up this blog). I enjoyed it too much and, to make matters worse, it seemed too easy. And you know what I do with things I enjoy, don't you...

If you haven't read any of the chapters I've posted up here the novel is basically the story of a boy growing up and his developing relationship with his mother. Because the story is told through the eyes of the child there is a certain simplicity in the style, an apparent lack of artifice, I guess it's a bit like a child's school essay and therefore hard to take seriously. And, of course, the book is plainly autobiographical insofar as it's based on recollections of my own childhood, so you might believe it doesn't have a plot. But it does, and I'm already excited at the horrific way things will turn out for the child as he grows up. It helps, incidentally, that because my childhood is now so long ago, I've been forced to use my imagination to fill in some huge gaps. Oh, and don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity either - behind the scenes I'm busy manipulating the reader's emotions just as hard as I can.

Notwithstanding the work I'm putting into the book's construction I'm still finding it ridiculously easy to write. Normally when I write anything I will write a draft that incorporates many changes and then do at least a dozen re-writes before I end up with what I consider to be the first draft. That first draft inevitably reads like it has been written by Henry James, with long involved sentences and hugely convoluted and tortuous ideas struggling to escape from the sticky prose. So then I prune everything and chop up the sentences. Cut out adverbs. Beef up the verbs. And then I'll leave it for six months or so before I do another re-write. And so it goes. A few years down the line I might, if I'm lucky, end up with a finished novel that I can send out to an agent.

Not this book. This book, which is intended to be my masterpiece, the best thing I've ever written, the best thing anyone has ever written. Two drafts max so far. Maybe one more when I write the final sentence.

Perhaps my writing style has been influenceded by my blogging. What I do on this blog is basically slap down the first draft and then do a quick edit which will consist of looking for typos and maybe simplifying the ideas I'm trying to express. Then I'll press the button and whack my post out into the blogosphere, just like firing a clay pigeon into the air, before it gets shot to pieces.

So the book is easy to write and I'm hugely enjoying it and I'm beginning to get excited because I think it is very, very good indeed.

Which is all the reason I need to trigger writer's block.


  1. Pund, I think you just need to change your thinking a little. I have given you some new choices to help with your blocked pipes.

    "So the book is a)awful b)hard c)impossible to write and I'm hugely a)upset b)un-excited c)un-moved by it and I'm beginning to get a)narked b)pissed off c)aware that I can't put two words together because I think it is very, very a)crap b)rubbish c)shit indeed but I am still going to inflict it on the world. So there."

    I would also suggest looking at life's pleasures as something that you have to endure, martyr like, on a daily basis, except for coffee, that is.
    With each new paragraph of this dire novel you should punish yourself with a cup of pure roasted hell and suffer the consequences!

  2. Can't write? Blocked?

    Hey, there's a lot to get done sometimes before you can write.

    First I have to mow the lawn. No, now I have to eat a hot fudge Sunday. Then I have to drive to California and back...

  3. ooooh. Like life isn't hard enough? You really need to make it harder? Why is it not ok to feel good?
    Why do you have to feel guilty about having pleasure?
    Please don't stop, Pundy. Our pleasure depends on you.

  4. See you've had a bit of misery playing with Blogger layout!
    Nice makeover.

  5. Ahhh! Now I understand -- dreaded depression. Most Great writers experienced it in one form or another. Just look at E.M. Cioran.

    Depression becomes a mind-set, a method of thinking, ingrained, easy. The way some rid themselves of it is this: forget! Simply (in theory, not in practice) forget the way you used to think, reason, feel, perceive, etc. Try something new. Don't do it the same old way. It's kind of like sex. Always good, but trying something new -- a variation of the same old technique --'s a brand new feeling.