DARK MATERIALS author Philip isn’t very sympathetic to writer’s block. He argues that we never hear of carpenter’s block or bus driver’s block and writer’s block would disappear overnight if we all treated writing as work and stopped waiting for inspiration. I like that stop-moaning-and-get-on-with-it attitude even though I don’t always follow it myself: I’d hate to calculate just how much quality time I’ve spent with a blank computer screen. I’m convinced though that inspiration is more likely to pay a visit if you are already working/writing. I know a lot of writers and teach a lot of writing students and it seems to me that very often the difference between making it, getting published, reaching an individual goal, is not talent as much as actually persevering and doing it. (I think the ability to learn is also hugely important but that’s a subject for another day.) Thinking about the story you want to write doesn’t count. Writing the story in your head doesn’t count either. Real writing means pen in hand or fingers on a keyboard. But…but…but… There are days when you have squirreled away a precious afternoon, switched off the phone, refused to check your email or listen to the hunger pangs of your children and the words won’t come. It’s like sitting in an examination hall just before you’re told to turn over the paper and realising that you’ve forgotten how to spell words like the. At such times drastic measures are called for and a big stick.
You can get that from a website called Write or Die devised by someone who discovered that they could write when they were in a creative writing class and deadlines were set but stared into the middle distance once the class ended.
The application is free online and costs about $10 to download. It’s job is very straightforward – you get punished if you don’t write. You start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop bad things happen. You choose the goals and punishments yourself
Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself
This is an artificial deadline with attitude. (There is also an electric mode that seems to be disabled.)
I’ve tried it, and while the result was not my best work, I did write something when my brain was porridge and my fingers twice-cooked chips left over from yesterday. Give it a go and tell me what you think. Or do you have any other ideas?