A few years ago, when I was a personal trainer, I had a free-spirited, open minded, bohemian client called Clare. One day, she signed up for a week long ‘Silence Retreat’ in some woods near Colchester. The entire week she was away I battled the urge to send her a text message with no words, just a blank screen. I thought she’d find it funny. Eventually I binned the idea cos I had this picture of Clare and her new silent mates sitting there on the brink of some meditative breakthrough into a previously unknown state of consciousness, and then Clare’s phone suddenly breaking into ‘The Entertainer’ ringtone as my stupid text arrived.
Of course, when she got back I told her about this text I nearly sent, and she said that would have been the funniest text she’d ever received, and also it would have enlivened the gloom of a tedious week sitting there in total silence with a bunch of strangers. Anyway, when I decided to do a blog about Writers Block I was sorely tempted to just post an article with no words, just the title and a blank screen. But then I realised I DO actually have stuff to say about writers block, and here it is.
Every day between July 2020 and June 2021 my alarm would go off at 0600 hrs and I would spring out of bed and into the chair of my breakfast bar in the kitchen. The next fourteen hours would be a blizzard of screenwriting, my day job, a fitness session and two long dog walks. Occasionally, in place of screenwriting would be blogging (this blog). My bandwidth was huge and full, and spread out thus:
Day job – 60%
Screenwriting – 30%
Blogging – 10%
I haven’t included dog walks or fitness sessions in this breakdown because, as dog owning fitness freaks know, these things GIVE to you, rather than take away. They supply you with extra bandwidth, rather than use it up.
On Screenwriting Twitter I would come across agonised writers describing the purgatory of writers block. How they stare at the computer screen and nothing comes to them. And I would quietly scoff to myself. I’d been in this game eleven months and hadn’t suffered writers block once. I mean, does it REALLY exist, or is it just laziness? I would raise my nose into the air and declare to my non-screenwriter Fiancée that ‘…all they have to do is get up early, write immediately while their brain is fresh, and stay off social media. It’s easy!’
I should interject here, it is my belief that social media sucks creative energy out of your brain. If you arrive at your writing desk one morning with 100% creative energy but decide to ‘pop onto Twitter for a minute’, then an hour later you will still be on Twitter, you will be down to 20% creative energy and you probably won’t even start writing that day (and you will feel oddly angry). Social media is a destructive, life-sucking force of evil for writers.
So anyway, there I was, practically a Writers-Block-Denier, flying through my scripts, the channel between my inner creative reservoir and my typing fingers fully open…
Then my dog Sabby died.
Now, this isn’t a blog about my dog Sabby dying, it’s about writers block. But for the non-dog owners among you I will do a bit on this. You and your dog become a team in a way that two humans cannot (partly because you are your dog’s entire world. It wouldn’t be healthy to be your husband or wife’s entire world). You and your dog are soulmates. There is not a moment when you aren’t connected. Your dog will sit and happily watch you write, occasionally pitter-pattering over to make sure you’re ok. Your dog will immediately sense when you are unhappy or upset and will worriedly nuzzle you. Your dog will protect you with its life, meaning every noise outside leads to two minutes furious barking and another two minutes hurrumphing until the threat has definitely passed. You are in almost constant dialogue with your dog. Singing to your dog. Leaving the tedious zoom meeting about quarterly results to go and play-fight your dog. Exploring the world with your dog and then going home and watching a movie with your dog curled up heavily against you. For years, you are each other’s shadow. Yeah, come at us, world, but you better not miss!
And then suddenly you are on the floor of some softly-lit room stroking and reassuring your dog as a vet presses a button on a machine nearby. And your dog looks momentarily surprised, and then slides to the floor as you carry on stroking and reassuring her. And then the vet puts her stethoscope to your dogs side and tells you she’s gone. But you find that you keep stroking and reassuring her anyway through a wall of tears. And, after a few minutes, you have to stand up and walk out of the room WITHOUT your soulmate, and you take one final confused look at her, down there on the floor, before shutting the door and walking down some god-forsaken corridor with blurry women saying kind things to you.
But this isn’t a blog about my dog Sabby dying, it’s about writers block. A few days after I lost Sabby, I got out of bed at 6am, went to the breakfast bar and just stared at the computer screen. Nothing came to me. This wasn’t unexpected, I was grieving Sabby. The next day, the same thing happened. I just stared at the screen. By the end of that week I realised the channel between my inner creative reservoir and my typing fingers had entirely closed up. Bandwidth update:
Day job – 100%
Being productive in my day job was taking up AAALLLLLL of my bandwidth. I had nothing left for screenwriting, and definitely nothing left for blogging. The next week I continued to get up at 6am, but nothing came. I was beginning to think that the channel had closed forever and I would never write again. All I could think was ‘Just… Cling… On… To… The… Day… Job…’
Finally, at the start of July, I thought ‘COME ON HAMER! YOU LOVE THIS STUFF! JUST WRITE ONE SCENE!’ So I got up at 0600 hrs, wrote one honking bad scene of drivel and went back to bed. Following day, another scene, garbage. I bumbled through a week of writing boring, uninspired nonsense. Then another. Now I have spent four weeks back at the keyboard. Something is missing. Before June, my experience of writing was as a springy, exhilarating thing, filled with warmth and excitement. Bouncing around the flat trying to think of the next line, singing to Sabby, thrashing the keyboard with tears running down my cheeks when I’d hit upon a poignant turn of events for my main protagonist. Regularly disappearing through the screen into a lost world of breathless adrenaline.
Now, my experience of writing is of sitting alone and silent in an empty flat. I have not disappeared through the screen since May and the stuff I’m writing is of a lower standard than before. But the thing is, I am writing. The channel between my inner creative reservoir and my typing fingers has been wedged open just a crack. In fact, I feel that this channel is the key to writers block. For me, it was slammed shut the moment I lost Sabby. For you, it may have slammed shut due to other external events like a divorce, an illness, problems at work. Perhaps it didn’t so much slam shut as slowly grind shut as a result of more subtle factors like self-doubt, imposter syndrome, deadline pressure. Maybe your actual script reached a road block and you can’t find a way past it.
The one thing I’ve noticed about the great stone door that closes over your creativity (The actual ‘Writers Block’), is that it can close quickly, but it can only open slowly. For me it shut in an instant, and it has taken two months merely to wedge ajar. But that’s ok. When it happens, accept it. Do not panic. Stick to your routine. Write some absolute garbage, you can always edit it later. Remain calm. When the laces of your Adidas trainers get knotted up super tight, you can either swear, angrily pull at them and end up taking a scissors to them… Or you can calmly sit down and unpick the knot slowly, carefully.
I guess this blog marks another step toward my former state. I’m now doing my day job, and writing, and blogging. One day soon I will be writing with the same joy and freedom as before, I’ll be thrashing the keys with tears running down my face, I’ll be disappearing through the screen for hours at a time. And so will you. That creative reservoir inside you is still there, and it’s getting deeper and richer with every day. Remain calm and stick to your routines. You will wedge open the great stone door soon enough.
Thanks for reading, I’ll speak to you again soon.