”Words don’t come easy to me,” warbled 80s singer F.R. David – a lie, obviously, given the fact that he’d written the lyrics – but yes, there are times when words don’t come easy. In fact, they don’t come at all.
When I started writing seriously, I lived with the certainty that unless I wrote things down now, immediately, forthwith, the words would disappear, and the precious flash of inspiration would dissipate into useless smoke. This led to little notepads placed strategically throughout the home, pens checked constantly to ensure they worked, should the bolt of creativity strike me while in bed, cooking, cleaning the toilet. It also led to irritated family members, ongoing conversations disrupted by a “wait, wait! I just have to…” followed by me launching myself at the closest bit of paper available.
As my handwriting is not exactly at calligraphy level, there were several occasions when I couldn’t decipher the note as such, but they served as memory nudgers. “Aha: pink postit. Yes, that’s when I was making roasted pork and I had this sudden image of Alex…” or “Scribbles in the dark. Hmm. Oh, yes! The dream, that’s right – the dream!”
These days, I don’t do notes – unless it is for a bright new idea, one I haven’t explored fully and therefore need to conserve for some later day. These days, I am relatively comfortable in the knowledge that even if the precise words disappear, I’ll be able to recall what I was planning on writing about. I suppose this is due to no longer depending on inspiration to write. As a writer learns their craft, discipline and sheer slogging can replace those ephemeral and unreliable sparks of “Aha!”.
Mind you, we still need inspiration. It is inspiration that moves us to connect with our story and our characters. It is inspiration that breathes life into potential ideas. And there are still days when the words won’t come – or the words that come are WRONG.
“Crap,” I mutter, highlighting what I’ve written a bright yellow to remind myself I am NOT happy with it. Most of it will go when I next look at it, but I am confident a couple of words will survive, enough to build on, rewrite with. Or maybe not.
When things are really bad, I resort to walks. Or cleaning. For some odd reason, plot issues tend to resolve themselves just as I am washing my windows or on all four scrubbing the bathroom floor. I think it’s the repetitive work involved, a no-brainer that somehow lulls the overactive pat of my brain to sleep, thereby allowing the subconscious free rein.
Walking is different. When I walk, I pretend. Okay, so it is difficult to be a 50+ woman brandishing a length of wood while in the midst of the city, so I keep these more intense pretend sessions for when I’m out in the forest. Dog (an elderly and by now experienced 13-year-old) is given whatever role I require, and off I caper, “sword” in one hand, my phone on voice recording. I must say I have a lot of fun listening to myself afterwards – beyond concluding I am seriously out of breath after having trotted (in my head, I was “hurtling along at full speed”) up the long incline that leads to the telephone mast (in my head “the looming towers of Nottingham Castle”).
Anyway: my walks are long, I return refreshed – and with words. I think the key word here is “refreshed”. Staring at a screen while desperately scrabbling for words doesn’t work. Desperately scrabbling for a foothold on the very steep hill releases all sorts of words, the chief one being “Shit!” But hey, it works, and where before I had no idea how my honourable knight Adam de Guirande was to resolve his present conundrum, or how Sam Woolfe intends to intimidate financial analyst Helle (different books, okay? One is medieval, the other contemporary) I often return with an inkling of how to resolve the issues. And words. So many, many words.
I guess the conclusion is rather simple: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Unless the boy is called Jack Reacher, of course. That guy doesn’t know the meaning of dull…On the other hand, he isn’t a writer is he?