This week I completed the first draft of another novel. This one came out very slow, as if I were pulling out a premature baby, yet unwilling to be born. I have never suffered from writers block for too long to be bothered by it in the past. But this time, I wondered whether I was indeed heading for an overdue dose of that clap.
In the last nine years, I have written enough material for an equal number of books, three of which have been published to date and the others are lying in queue, biding their time to be born without cannibalizing their predecessors. I put this prolific surge down to the suppressed years when I pursued every other endeavour but writing, when I was gathering my material, my experiences, that I was to later fictionalize in the nine books. But now the well seems to have run dry. But has it?
I recently met a well known and respected author who blew me away when he told me that he had written over 180 books over the last 25 years. I clung to his every word during our meeting, trying to figure out how “he done it.” And his advice to me was that the fallow periods are also ones of creativity: when the mind is recording impressions, new experiences, and characters, and storing them away for later use. So, he concluded, never consider the writer’s block as the beginning of the end of the writer, but the beginning of a new beginning for the writer.
New experiences, eh? Does this mean that I have to take up bungee jumping, sky diving, wade through dissolute sexual escapades, experiment with drugs and fall dead drunk on the street more than a few times? I think not. I don’t have the energy or the tolerance for those antics. Should I get people to tell me their stories; put an ad in Facebook: “Tell me your story, and I’ll exaggerate it into a novel, confidentiality assured, fame not guaranteed, royalties—doubtful”? Or should I invent a genre character, like a detective, who I can bring back time and again, into the same milieu, with more or less the same number of dead bodies, with slight modifications to the character list and scene sequences, and assure myself of a string of novels long enough to last into my retirement and beyond? I could even create a plot wheel, like Edgar Wallace did, and spin it periodically when blocked, to see if it lands on “dead body # 3 found in library,” or “purloined letter discovered on suspect,” or “diamond tiara disappears at ball.”
Or should I just accept silence as a rite of passage and continue to observe the world more intently, stilling the mind from chatter, watching life that contains all the possible plots that have been hitherto concocted in literature, picking only the ones that make sense to me?
My prolific author acquaintance gave me some good advice that day. The Block is the start of a new beginning, when what has been written before is less significant and likened to apprenticeship school, a stepping stone towards what now can be written with more depth, texture and meaning.
I am not sure how long this dry spell will last, but I am content to ride it out with my eyes wide open and not miss the cues when novel # 10 begins to stare me in the face.