There’s a meme, a theory, call it what you will, that writer’s block is a poor excuse for laziness.
This is based on the premise that there’s no such thing as – for example – plumber’s block. That is, someone who makes their living as a plumber doesn’t spend days lying on a chaise longue wafting a scarf over their fevered brow while waiting for their Muse to turn up with a sink plunger and a set of tap grommets.
There is no such thing as plumber’s block.
Because, you see, when a plumber has had enough of plumbing, be it for the day, the week or for life, he hangs up his kneepads and overalls and goes out to the pub – or the beach, or nightschool, or whatever takes his fancy.
Without feeling guilty about Not Plumbing.
If he’s been successful, he will likely have a bunch of other plumbers working for him in the pipework technician equivalent of James Patterson blockbusters.
If he hasn’t been successful, one might ask why the blazes he bothered becoming a plumber in the first place if he hated the work so much (the usual answer is either money, or self-determination).
Nobody becomes a plumber in the hope they’ll become the next Joseph Bazalgette.
Plumbers, on the whole, are practical fellows. If plumbing isn’t floating their boat, the resourceful amongst them will look to start another line of work.
Often, the less resourceful are quite happy being told by someone else when to turn up, what to fit and how much they are going to be paid for the work.
Sounds like my day job.
But here’s the difference between plumbing and writing (if you haven’t already thought of at least one).
Writing novels is not my day job. I’d be surprised if it was yours (if it is, can I have the email addresses of your readers?).
Once the first twelve hours of the working day are over (prep and commutes and aftercare included), who has the energy to commit to creative works month after month, without respite?
That way lies burnout.
Those of us with office jobs know only too well how that feels. Even if you haven’t endured your own, you will know someone who has broken, or is currently resisting collapse.
If you work a day job where this is rife, you’ll know how the fracture lines spread from person to person like a flaw in a cut diamond – invisible to the naked eye, until the wrong knock in the wrong place and suddenly the world is just… splinters.
I’m not broken.
I’m not even close. But I’ve seen it too often, been close in the past when tight deadlines and project goals combine with the satisfaction of doing an enjoyable job, and you spend more time than is healthy on completing a task which doesn’t bring you much personal kudos and takes you away from family, friends and fun.
Maybe that’s the problem I’ve had this year, with the fourth Petticoat Katie story in the trilogy. This novel was never meant to be written right now.
Like the novel I killed in 2012, I’ve spent so much time making excuses to myself for not finishing it, I’d have been better off ditching it and splurging on short stories and poems.
Novels are great fun to write.
But they aren’t the only outlet for my creative energies, and while there is no such thing as plumber’s block there is also a contingent activity known as filling the well.
The phrase is attributed to Julia Cameron, she of The Artist’s Way, and she also says this:
During a sustained period of work, artists require special care. We must be vigilant to not abuse our health and well-being. We must actively nurture ourselves.
While it sounds like the plumber’s chaise longue and floaty scarf again, I’m also thinking of Dean Wesley Smith’s insistence that his perfect chair is ergonomically-fitted. Or, to take a different elemental allegory, there’s Terri Windling’s timely reminder that re-kindling the fire within is feasible, even when the spark seems damped.
So where does this take me?
I’m still ahead of the goals I set when I asked where will I be in ten years time? back in early 2012.
And I promised myself a “leisurely pace of production”. This does not involve NaNoWriMo, nor does it involve thrashing myself into a tizzy because I haven’t spawned a set word count in any particular time frame, nor does it involve me using those creative energies to come up with elaborate reasons why.
I’ve done my words for this year. The current story’s limp, a steaming pile of spaghetti I don’t have energy to pick through, and my chopsticks are broken.
Other worlds are calling me, worlds where my imagination is happily designing people and cities and a very Scottish mythology underlying stories more graphic, more elaborate, more Gothic than anything I’ve ever written.
Would you rather explore them with me, or laze around while I kick holes in the pipework?