“It creeps up on you,” says my writer friend.
“Yes!” I swig from my third coffee. It’s the only way I can stay alert. “Like a live lobster being cooked… gosh can I smell seafood?”
We’re talking about the experience of getting ill, slowly, almost imperceptibly, and then one day sitting down to write and nothing happens… or nothing worthwhile. (I’m sure this experience is not unique to writers; I could have entitled this post “Brain work… etc”)
Over the second half of 2014, my sinuses gradually closed up. it was like having a continuous, worsening hangover leavened by periods of being a sleepy-drunk. The lost of mental acuity, putting it mildly, absolutely sandbagged my creative output after Storyteller Tools.
Like that lobster, I had no idea what was happening to me. Without thinking, I slowly upped my coffee until I was drinking two double shot lattes in the day just to function–that plus the one in the morning to wake up.
Then the cold damp weather hit, the caffeine stopped working and I just couldn’t finish the short story I was working on.
Cue rising sense of panic — writing like any vocation is an identity as well as a source of income. If I can’t write, I’m not me anymore.
And then you realise you’re an idiot and that we’re all vulnerable to bad health. (And dear God(s) I’m glad I’m not Terry Pratchett right now.)
But here’s the interesting thing.
The weather cleared for an afternoon, the curtain of fug lifted just long enough for me to re-outline the story. Then, despite the sinusy miasma, I wrote the draft to The End.
Now, I’ve compared notes with other writer friends. It seems it’s quite common for bad health and mild depression to knock out the more abstract structural faculties while leaving us able to lose ourselves on the details of the narrative. So, if we know what we’re writing we can write the prose and — perhaps — that prose is all the more vivid for the vivid day-dreamy state of our brains. .
It explains why, back when, time off work with flu rarely resulted in wordcount , and why writing — though it makes a great leisure activity — is hard to fit into the late evening once you’re past that adolescent waking literary dream phase.
It also explains why I was nevertheless able to write my first novel in lunchtimes in the old Blind Beggar and on the train; I was working from outline.
For me, one of the powers of outlining is that it captures that first flush of sweeping creativity; we can paint with a broad brush without getting lost in the details.
I now realise that outlining also captures the output from moment when you can create at a structural level.
So, if you write in snatched and stolen time, or battle ill health, then my advice is outline — or at least plan — when you can so that you can lose yourself in the draft in those other darker times.
Try Storyteller Tools, my book on outlining and planning! In it I show you how to use Conflict Diagrams and other tools to create an effective outline.