On finding the culprit sucking the fun out of writing

When my children were younger, I wrote them an original story about four children. The children in the story were loosely based on them (okay, a lot based on them) and delighted their budding imaginations.

Spring forward to years later and my young people are now young adults. Much has happened in this springing forward time. The children have lost their father to a sudden heart attack, and me my husband and closest friend.

In that time, I also became a blogger and newspaper columnist in an attempt to retain much of the personality quirks my husband loved about me. Writing became a place to pretend I had not died along with him and to remain recognisable to him should he have the ability in some afterlife to be looking down (or up) at me.

To pay the bills, I resumed my role as a project management professional by day, writing in between the time slots of that necessary endeavour.

My naive little story remained largely unformed from the days of my children’s babyhood, until I hit on the idea of sending it to a publisher to see what they made of it. Long story abbreviated, they thought the premise was good, but needed more attention at the beginning, middle and, er, end. That the characters should be more rounded and have recognisable character arcs (I had no idea then what that even meant) and perhaps make the thing into a longer chapter book.

I set about doing all of that about ten years ago, but something was missing. The story had more polish, depth and, yes, character arcs, but… but what?

As I said, the writing was definitely better — which it should darned well be since I built upon any natural ability by actually learning more and studying the craft of writing. This had a two-fold effect. 1) It made me a better writer; and 2) made me afraid to write because now I had intimate knowledge of the many (many) ways a writer could go wrong and pointed at as a dirty writing imposter. Writer’s block was not something that had ever troubled me before, but it troubled me now. Natural ability became studied and wooden.

So I tore up that second draft of my story and started another, determined to lend voice to how I really wanted to write and to hell with the purists.

Some weeks went well. As an early morning person, I would write for a couple of hours, mess about on social media and then Hi Ho off to work. And then there were the weeks of procrastination disguised as earnest endeavour. Yes, the oven had to be gutted before I could sit down to write that chapter productively. And, actually, while there why not fix those loose floor tiles then clean the whole house — again?

In the end, oven gutting and tile fixing could easily time-suck away two weeks with no clear idea of what on earth was stopping me from sitting down, getting at it and writing fluidly and consistently.

It was at this time I saw a definition of writer’s block which started to help me onto the path I am now on. This definition cited writer’s block as being when “we try too hard to be creative”. This made sense to me then as it does now.

It crystallised that thing nagging at my subconscious all the while in the new and improved world of my original story. The ‘thing’ being the children would not be able to recognise their mother in this new book and its improved state. The mother who can be sarcastic (let’s agree to call it wit for now) and irreverent. I had swallowed whole so many of the Do’s and Don’ts of writing, of writing for children, genres and sub-genres that I had lost the me in the process. I had also inhaled the notion that for all this work to be worthwhile I should definitely look to having my story published.


It was perhaps that notion which started to suck the joy out of things. Why did it suddenly not become worthwhile to create the finest work I know how for the four people it was originally intended for?

And when did the whole thing turn into a massive guilt trip when I did other things other than ‘finish the book.’

When did it all become a race to an arbitrary finish line — and who was I racing against?

I am flattered that my efforts are deemed worthy of wider publication, sure, but my original ambition was that my children should hold in their hands a book I had written for them. A story they could read to their own children possibly. I do not need to be published on the open market to achieve that.

For sure, when I do finish the book it will indeed be a more developed work than the one I first gifted my children, but most of all it will be written in my voice, my way. Overly conforming to become the next big whoever is not why I started — and realising that has made writing this book for my children an absolute pleasure again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sort out how my character gets the ants out of his mother’s wig before she gets home!



Originally published at hermelness.com.

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