Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Stops You Writing?

This has been a fairly regular topic of discussion among my writer friends over the past twelve months. Perhaps we've all been feeling time and work pressures more, or perhaps it was something we were all struggling with and felt we needed to talk about more. This is nothing to do with writer's block, not in the sense it's normally discussed. Usually writers talk about being blocked because they can't write - no ideas, no confidence, can't get the words or ideas flowing.

But our topic has been about wanting to write - having ideas, words, even deadlines - and not being able to. The reasons vary, but here are the ones we've discussed:

~ Emotional upheaval - the people around us have made our lives miserable, or stressed out, or full of pain and worry. These are people close to us, the ones we can't get away from, no matter how much we wish we could. (A desert island becomes a favourite fantasy.) Sometimes these people can't help it, sometimes they can. Sometimes we can move out of their sphere, but more often, we are inevitably distressed and/or super-stressed by them and/or their behaviour, and we simply can't concentrate our hearts and minds on our writing.

~ Work commitments - we are paid to work a certain number of hours per week. For most of us, that's what pays the bills. But work takes over. We are expected to do overtime, take on extra duties or projects, end up working at home for no pay because we feel we should. And we can't, for whatever reason, say no. Hopefully, this state of affairs will be short-term. Sometimes, the only way to stop it is to simply find a way to say NO.

~ Lack of sleep, or ill health - There have been many articles recently on the effect of lack of sleep. For a writer, the biggest impact is probably on concentration and energy. The same goes for illness. A long-term illness or injury can affect you differently on a day-to-day basis. Do you take pain-killers so you can write more? Or will they affect you too? For too long, the writer's stereotype has been hard-drinking, drug-taking, stay-up-all-night - most of us realise that any one of those things makes us write less, and write worse.

~ Lack of space - I've always loved the idea of Roald Dahl setting off down his garden path to his shed with the armchair and the lap board, on his way to a few hours or a day of writing. Some of us have a shed, or a room. But many writers have a corner of the kitchen table, or a desk in the corner of the loungeroom. One writer I know has a piece of timberboard spanning the washing machine and the drier in his laundry. More important is the headspace. Silence, if that's what you need. Nobody interrupting, wanting something. No phone. No one needing to be fed.

~ Obligations - they come in all shapes and sizes. They can be relatives, family, church, volunteer work, children, work, husbands, wives, paperwork like taxes - this covers such a wide range of things, and it'll be different for everyone. But what obligations do are suck up time and energy. They often require more than you are able to give right when you have to, so in a bad week, they'll cause you to slide three or four steps backwards. In a good week, you might whiz through them without a thought. But obligations usually mean leaving your house, expending energy and time, and they also often magically expand, so that you end up with more and more of them. You can't avoid some of them, but for many, the only solution is good old NO.

What stops you from writing?

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