Thursday, 16 July 2009

Nothing is Graven in Stone

Writing can be a frustrating business; especially when contemplating a new chapter, or story. With a mind that seems numb, a writer will stare at a fresh sheet of paper, (or maybe these days a blank field in the word processor.) and break into a nervous sweat, wondering just where to start.

From experience, I know that painters have the same problem when starting a new canvas. My cure is simple. I thin out a neutral colour with turps and I wipe this ‘mix’ all over the canvas. The canvas will still be blank, but it will be changed. The painting is started; the first stage of the work is finished. Yet it doesn’t read like a picture yet.

Writers can use a similar technique and seasoned authors often advise the novice to start typing. Get on with it and bang out the first thoughts that come to mind, even if the result is merely nonsense prose. (E.g. Once upon a time there were three brown-nosed foxes, who applied to join the Civil Service.) Hmm! Is there a sniff of truth in that nonsense?

I think you can see what I am getting at. You have a similar result to the artist. The work is started, but it doesn’t read like your story yet. Well that approach is fine, especially if you want to perfect the ‘quick brown fox and the lazy dog’ routine. However, there is a more practical way of defeating your ‘daily-block’. A simple and effective way that I use often.

Just say to yourself. ‘Nothing is graven in stone. I’m going to get on with my story/article/poem. I can return later and edit this.’ In a worst case scenario, you can always use the word processor’s version of tearing out the sheet and crumpling it into the bin. The cut or delete facility.

So don’t cave in under the tyranny of the blank page. You must have some idea which character you are going to be working with or maybe which idea you want to develop. So, crack on with your project. That’s why you sat down with your laptop in the first place isn't it?

I know that what you see on the screen afterwards might look like gibberish, but the chances are there will be a ‘seam’ of gold in there. Something will shine and you'll recognise it as part of your story. You just have to ‘mine’ it. Edit out the ‘spoil’, and extract the precious seam.

Writers can do this, because nothing is graven in stone.
A cliché I know, but an absolute truth.


  1. Nice piece, John.
    For years I just procrastinated while my head overflowed with ideas, despite all the advice I got very little done.
    Looking back this was probably paralysis by analysis.
    I eventually found that you just have to ignore the distractions and now I just crack on! It's a discipline.

  2. Hi Col,

    Thanks for the comment. yes indeed. We have to crack on. I have been doing just that. Hence my absence. Tomorrow (10th Aug) I go in to Hospital for a knee-op, so the writing will have to stop for a week or so. Chance maybe to do a bit more blogging.
    Thanks again, and I'll speak soon.


  3. Hi John,
    Hope the op went well. I've just broke my wrist playing footy. In plaster for 6 weeks and possible op' on the horizon (can still type though!) Work won't be pleased when I call them - eeek!

  4. I take a different approach. I am not suggesting that one is the better course, though. My feeling is that if I just start typing, hoping to become inspired in some direction, then this is a story that I am not truly passionate about. I prefer to allow a story to germinate over a long period in my head, long before I ever start typing it out. That way I know whether it is something that is compelling to me or not.