No such thing as creative block

How easy it is to fall out of a writing habit – especially after solemnly promising to myself to continue writing more often. All of a sudden there’s all this other work to do: comics to prepare, illustrations to finish, paste-ups to colour, and all these things sneak past writing on the priority list and writing plonks lower and lower until it’s left out altogether. Then one fine day you stumble over it as it lies on the floor not forgotten but definitely neglected, pick it up and say: all right then. And here I am.

I’ve been getting tired of music lately. An important reason for this is surely that I hardly ever change my playlists – I’m almost sure that the playlist on my iPad is more or less the same since I first uploaded it in 2011. Minus the songs I’ve gotten tired of along the way and deleted. In a way it’s an inevitability – I cannot concentrate when I listen to something new, so I’m bound to those old favourites. However, sometimes it’s good to take a break, give the ears some rest and clear the mind. So, I’ve been listening to a number of writer interviews instead.

It started with Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech that I’ve already mentioned; also commencement speeches by Peter Dinklage and J.K. Rowling. These three I can listen to on repeat. After listening to them for a while I got curious about what else they’ve said – so I listened to some interviews with Neil Gaiman and his wife Amanda Palmer and then moved on to J.K. Rowling.

From J.K. Rowling on to Stephen King (whose generous swearing often results in viewer discretion warnings on his videos), John Grisham (who still sounds more like a lawyer than a writer), Lee Child with his dry British wit and Janet Evanovich, whose books I haven’t read, but definitely will now as she turned out to have a delightful sense of humour. Something that struck me as a common thread in several of those interviews, was that these writers do not believe in writer’s block.

Why not? After all, it’s an established part of the myth of the tortured genius – one day the sacred milk of the muse runs dry and the creator suffers, needing to create, yet being unable to do so. All they can do is wait and hope for some new drops – or a stream – one day.

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Do I believe in it myself? No.

There is another common trait all these writers share which, I believe, is the main cause of this disbelief. All of these authors are from working-class backgrounds. All of them have had periods in their lives that they have either spent in poverty or just on the brink of it. All of them have held other jobs besides writing. A drive and desire to write that is strong enough to overcome these obstacles indeed does not and cannot know creative block. It only knows it cannot afford it. A step not taken is a step back as the road ahead can be like a treadmill to those starting at the bottom, a current running in the wrong direction. For someone used to doing things it needs to do to survive regardless whether it wants to or not, the sheer pleasure of creation is so great that it becomes impossible to see it as anything but joy. Add to it a solid work ethic and here you go.

And yes, I’m from a working-class background too.

Day 1

Just like there are days when my fingers are simply itching to write, there are other days, days when a mere thought of committing anything to a paper or screen seems abominable. What is there to say? Between what’s too personal, too mundane and too much said already? What can I possibly add to this great tsunami of information called the internet? Why does it even matter what I would say if I said something?

Today is Day 1 of a new world order. How will it be – or rather – how bad will it be? Nobody knows. We’re floating in the unknown, grasping to straws of what seems to be sanity. Women are marching today all over the world – it is comforting to see there’s so many of us. It gives hope – along with the fact that the victories of conservatism were narrow everywhere, a matter of margins, now presenting themselves as sole victors. I believe it was Asimov’s “Foundation” that described a similar situation in the beginning. The Empire, seemingly stronger than ever, had already had the disease of decay planted deep in its heart.

Now, once I started, it got easier. Writing, I mean. I will try to do it more frequently again.

On writing

One of the last thoughts that I remember before falling asleep yesterday (or technically today, as it was almost 6 a.m.) was, that I’m going to write today. It was a happy thought. Writing relaxes me, helps to unwind tangled thoughts, cleanses the mind.

Six years ago I tried to follow a system called ‘morning pages’ from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”. The idea – as much as I recall – was that every day, right after waking up, one would sit down and write 3 A4 pages of text. Doesn’t matter what exactly, structure is irrelevant, even correct spelling somewhat optional. I hardly remember anything else from that book, so evidently it didn’t make that much of an impression. However, this particular idea of un-self-censored writing has some merits. It is definitely not applicable in the idealized fashion depicted in the book, as not all of us are a) morning people who enjoy getting up at 5 a.m. in order to have an hour for peaceful writing and b) have windows sufficiently high and well-placed in order to see the sunrise and feel “creative energy”.

Nevertheless, I wrote the morning pages for about a month and this notebook is one of the few that made it here to Greece with me. One of the most striking sentences I found in there was “I’ve kept 28 notebooks and diaries”. Precious few (plus a number of torn-out pages) still exist – as the cost of transport from Denmark to Greece necessitated draconian choices in terms of books and personal papers. Of course, perhaps the greatest loss (in retrospect) were the teenage diaries that I destroyed almost as soon as I had filled the notebooks. Small apartment, no lockable drawers – the only way to safeguard the thoughts and secrets was to send them back to nothingness.