Barriers to writing

I’m caught in a kind of revision seclusion right now – hello real world! – and it’s my own fault. I got drawn into the minutiae and wandered from my top-down approach to what Paul S Kemp calls “Fictioneering”.  (“RAH!” Making sitting at a computer all day listening to loud music while crafting tales of mayhem sound cool! “Hurrah! A fictioneers life for me!” Why isn’t there Fictioneering Metal??)

See there’s a lot of things can get between a would-be fictioneer and their fiction. Most of them are generic and down to this one annoying fact:

The personal growth that lets you write with passion but edit with dispassion usually coincides with other pressing draws on your time.

It’s true.

Look at the ages when professional writers break in – there’s a big cluster either side of forty. I’ve a horrible suspicion this is biologically programmed. According to Middle Age: A Natural History there’s a switch that trips round about this age and turns on our wisdom.

But at 40, most of us have an absorbing career,  or are desperately trying to get into one, have a mortgage to pay,  or are saving for wild adventures overseas, or have children or volunteer work we care about.

And then there’s the writing. It’s an awful lot of time to spend on something a bit flaky that – statistically speaking – probably won’t pay. Even if you do take it seriously, it’s hard to draw boundaries and make space for he physical act of writing without feeling like a floppy-sleeved poseur, and harder still to keep the guilt and obligations firmly on the other side of these boundaries.

My advice – for what it’s worth – is to treat it like yoga and embrace and assert your right to a hobby, while cutting other hobbies and activities to make space. If you feel the need, wrap it in the narrative of a crit group or writing class; “Sorry I can’t come for a drink, I’ve got a workshop this weekend and a story to finish…” Until you have a contract, “Fuck off I’m writing” isn’t quite enough.

Beyond the generic, there are the barriers specific to each writer. It seems there’s a Wheel of Writing Talent. I’d sketch this for you, but writer, duh.

Let me try words instead:

Imagine an old fashioned cartwheel. Each spoke is an aspect of writing talent: prose…. plot… character… theme… wisdom… imagination… and so on.

Now the wheel is partly sunk into the Marsh of the Unconscious. The hidden parts, the parts submerged in the primal ooze, those are the things you can do without thinking. They seem natural. They’re just what you do when you sit at the keyboard.

The ones above the ground, exposed to the harsh light? They’re the ones you have to laboriously learn.

The snag is, each writer’s Wheel of Talent is different (we are all living in a Jar of Tang…)!

This explains why some writing advice seems so lame. I don’t need to learn to “free my imagination”, I write in part to cull the story ideas that yammer away in the darker parts of my mind. Another writer might be a natural storyteller, but struggle to come up with something fresh to tell (as long as they can find two good ideas a year, by the way, that’s fine.)

Discovering your own wheel of talent, tackling the exposed spokes, that’s hard and takes us back to that annoying personal growth thing.

Nobody worthwhile stops growing, and – as I’ve discovered these last months – there’s always new things to learn about writing. Even so, the techniques I blog about here consistently work for me.

That’s no guarantee they will work for you…

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