Wednesday, November 12, 2008

'Writer's Block'

I’ve heard several poets talk about having writer’s block after they had finished their first collection. Also, many novelists go through the same thing after completing their first novel. Where do they go after putting their heart and soul into a debut book?

I don’t believe in writer’s block exactly. It’s always possible to write something, to churn out a poem. But, after I finished the manuscript that was then accepted by Salt, I didn’t or, more accurately, couldn’t write a poem for about three months. I’ve been trying to work out why. It could be that:

a) the ideas I was having seemed like similar ideas to those I’d been working with on the manuscript – not much point in such repetition
b) lines that came into my head didn’t seem any good. In fact, they weren’t any good
c) I had nothing to say. This felt true. But how come?
d) I could have churned out poems. In fact I did churn out one, but I don’t count it as a poem as it didn’t amount to any more than an exercise

However, in the last week or so, I’ve been writing poems again, and have some interesting drafts (interesting to me, at any rate), poems I feel might be the starting-point for a second collection. They have similarities to some poems in the first collection (it’s still me writing them, of course, so that’s to be expected), but there’s progression too (I think).

Maybe time off between collections in a good thing. Three months isn’t so long, although it was beginning worry me and anxiety in itself can be a block to writing creatively.

However, I know of one writer who couldn’t write a poem for about nine years, but is now writing well and fluently again. Perhaps a break from writing, periodically, is a positive thing, even if it doesn’t always feel like it at the time?


Unknown said...

I know how you feel: since finishing my dissertation, I can't write anything decent at all. I have some ideas but nothing is coming out at all well.

I feel burnt out, and I know I need to read, rest and not worry about it. But it's still worrying while you're going through it.

Now I know I'm not alone, so I don't feel so bad :)

Rik said...

I wouldn't worry about it. I stopped writing poetry for five years.

Also, I'd suggest you stop thinking in terms of the 'next book' and rather concentrate on the next poem, or the next sequence of poems.

Most importantly - relax! If writing poems is turning into a chore, then write something else: a change is as good as a rest, as they say ...

Andrew Shields said...

I've got a higher teaching load this semester, plus a big translation project to finish, so I'm not writing any poems these days, but I'm not worrying about it. I'm looking forward to opening up my attention in that way again, though!

Colin Will said...

Interesting question Rob. I've been looking at my stats (it's the ex-scientist in me), and there does seem to be a 'dip' in numbers of poems completed in the year a collection has been published. I don't think it's significant at the 95% level of confidence however. I've had thin years, fat years, and some that are positively obese. Rik's right: the important thing is not to worry about it.

Anonymous said...

Same as Colin here - I totted up the years of the poems in my next book, and they were something like this:

late04/05 - 5
06 - 7
07 - 15
08 - 32

I've probably written 50+ poems so far this year, not all of them up to scratch of course. Plus, knowing the MS was going in, I finished older fragments and worked on ideas I'd only taken notes for in previous years. My biggest shifts have been:

'93 - less than 10 poems (most bad)
'94 - c70 poems

'01 - c70 poems
'02 - 2 poems (one unfinished, one a poor commission poem)

Tony Williams said...

As my flatmate's French father used to say, 'You must werrk, Roger, you must WERRRK!'

I'm in the doldrums too.I suppose you just have to keep rowing till you find some wind. It's strange though, isn't it, discovering each new variety of writerly anxiety?

Rachel Fox said...

Makes a change from every other kind of anxiety I suppose! The news, the money, the children, the parents, the health, the traffic, the...everything.

Pearl said...

Creative energy goes in cycles. It's like job loss to have a major project over. Your identity gets bound into the project. There's a sudden gap in life.

The silent phase can be of collecting new experiences that will germinate and manifest later. Or the creative energy is flowing elsehow, non-verbally, to work, social, or bed, or creative living in some way.

I tend to juggle a lot of projects and shift between all types. Totally try is rare but something of a relief, and a misread. Writer's block is seeing one slice of creativity in isolation.

Oliver Mantell said...

It's perhaps also worth noting that sometimes you can be developing as a writer during the time you're not writing just as much as when you are.

Though that said, it's good to hear you're coming on song again!

Rob said...

Thanks for the comments - all good stuff. I have of course been through periods when I've written little before and have learned that these things simply happen. It felt different this time, but it wasn't different at all, just (as Tony says) a "new variety of writerly anxiety."

Rik's comment on thinking in terms of 'poem' or 'sequence' rather than 'book' is interesting - worth a future post, I think.

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