Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nothing - the abcedaria of a writer

Nothing - if you are a writer reading this, probably even the word 'nothing' strikes fear in your heart. What if you should sit down with your lovely clean white paper, your lovely clean empty screen, and nothing should arise in your mind. Nothing! That's great when you're meditating (see yesterday's post) but hell when it is your job to put something there.  It is often the hope of perfection which scares away 'something' and puts 'nothing' in its place.

Nothing often strikes me after I've been reading a wonderful book - a Peter Carey, Margaret Drabble, or Michael Ondatjee. Nothing sneers at me, his hands on his hips, like some literary Peter Pan,  defying me and my hopes of writing something.  And asking for anything doesn't work at these times either. Anything is a young girl skipping, her hair in pigtails, her knees covered in bandaids. She sings 'trah lah lah lah lah' as she skitters down the street. She doesn't give a care for you and your problem or me and mine.

Antidotes to nothing are legion. Or so they say. Whoever they are! Just move your hand across the page writing gibberish until Something comes. Or find a word prompt program on your computer, or pull down your trusty dictionary and let your fingers fumble find a word. ANYTHING! But if fear or perfection or absolute hopelessness have you in a grip then none of these will work. Because it isn't the lack of ideas that is the problem. Nothing isn't your mind out of imagination. It isn't, trust me. It is your heart, out of confidence. Don't go hunting ideas when it is confidence that you need.

OK, then smarty-pants - where do I get confidence? Hmmm...confidence hunting is tricky but I know some ways to find it. First write down these words, my mantra and it can be yours too, on a piece of paper in red or gold or something big and flashy or calm and sure -

Then, in complete defiance of the above statement - go for a walk in the woods. Remember this as you walk, writing is more than words on paper - it is mulling, it is regrouping, it often looks like laziness and avoidance, but it isn't. It is writing.  And sometimes we need to do the opposite of what looks to the untrained eye as writing, in order to write. Got it? Good. Now let's get out there and laugh in the face of nothingness! Laugh, I tell you, laugh!!


Meika said...

"It often looks like laziness and avoidance, but it isn't..." I try to tell people this all the time! Maybe I haven't been doing the physical act of writing, but I've been mulling and pondering and puzzling over things, darn it!

Great post. Thanks!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

It must be awful and a nightmare for a writer to get writer;s block,
I suppose it happens far more than one realises.


Michelle Gregory said...

it's hard to let myself do the opposite of writing and know that it's actually helping me.

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - What I love about this post is the way you describe the perseverance it takes to write. It's really an act of will to choose not to let Nothing keep us from the goal. I like that.

GigglesandGuns said...

I'm laughing, I'm laughing!
I too had nothing today. At least now I feel I'm in good company. Is that my confidence returning? I sure as hell hope so ;0)

fredamans said...

I also wrote about nothing. Though more literally.

Dorte H said...

For me it is impossible to sit down and just write if my mind goes blank. I have learned not to worry too much or punish myself. I just try to do something else, e.g. edit stories or research, telling myself that tomorrow will be better. Some asses need a stick, others a carrot ;)

Ann said...

That made me feel so much better. Thank you Jan. Laugh I will. Or at least I will try, how's that?

K.C. Woolf said...

I'm hardly ever struck by Nothing.

Anything, on the other hand, now there's a problem, especially if you have to get your mind around it in order to filter, distill or organise.

Great post! :-)