Writing When Real Life Gets in the Way

Category: Writing

We've all heard the one about the writer's brain being like a muscle: if you don't use it, tone it endlessly and give it what it needs, you suffer a sort of flabbiness of the cerebellum and the place you are destined to suffer is on the page.

As I run up hills, I prefer to use the analogy of the hill. Getting back to writing after any form of break- enforced or otherwise- is like running up a hill. The first time is murder, the second only slightly less painful but, usually, by the third time you remember why it is that you put yourself through this torture that kisses as it bites. You never know, by the fourth, you might even start to enjoy yourself and manage to keep your vital organs in their correct anatomical positions.

OK, this is fairly dramatic. Nevertheless, history tells me I am not alone in finding that committing the first few quality paragraphs to page or screen after a break is pretty trying. There have been countless authors who have bought into the philosophy of leaving open a sentence so they have something to finish the next day. Hemingway said the most frightening thing was 'a blank page'. Generations of prose and fiction writers knew what to do about the 'blank page' that gave Ernest the jitters and maybe he should have gone to them. Leave open a sentence, a paragraph, leave open your bedroom window and let inspiration in. When it is in, tether it, keep it safe in an old jar of marmalade, whatever. The basic thrust is, there should be no tearing at the hair or forced manufacture the next time you park your behind on the swivel chair. So what happens, then, when a big fat, furry, merry Christmas comes along and parks itself right in the middle of your writing routine, starts tearing up your pages, flashing its reindeer nose in your face and tells you: no more of that exploring the human condition nonsense, it is time for lots of contrived joy and merriment?

Of course, there will be the righteous. "You should continue to work anyway, maybe a little at night, after the omnibuses?" I do believe there will be some scribes who did this and I doff my oversized Santa hat to them, wishing that I, too, could possess such tungsten discipline.

But let's face it, it's pretty tough as the chaos reigns all around. It is a day when the most sober of individuals decide that it is right to drink champagne at 11am. There are nurseries of emotional, crying, children who have been up since 2.14am. Yes, they got everything else off their list but did Rudolph trample the Blue Alien?  Then, there's the discovery that octogenarian- granny-everyone-thought-was-dead-from-Australia is now on Skype. The harrowing nature of this discovery is matched only by the awkwardness of the experience. Granny may have entered the technological fast lane but why can't she look into the wee camera hole at the top of her screen? Why can't she just move over a little so you can actually see her face and not her cardigan or, occasionally, her hair moving? Is she even sitting on a real, full sized, chair?

I suppose this is what some writers call 'real life getting in the way'.

This year, though, was somehow different. I returned to Hemingway's blank page (well, screen) with a heavy heart. The hill in front of me seemed so high there was very little light in the room. It was cold and my fingers were mean. I thought of the term, 'writer's block'. As a trained journalist, I always thought it a fabrication. I can write words anywhere. Places I should. Places I shouldn't. Does it matter if they are rubbish, though? Aye, there's the rub. Maybe they should call it 'quality block'.

Anyway, I took my first step on the hill and there she was. Granny. She was with me, still lop-sided and off-screen. I decided to move her. I centered her, gave her another name and, all of a sudden, she wasn't badly-Skyped Granny any more but a new character, slightly smaller, from Slovakia and soon to be enmeshed in the dilemma of another.

For the first time in many years, I was thankful for Christmas and its dubious message. Real life getting in the way? No. I won't hear any of it. Real life greasing the wheel. Get your cardie Gran, we're going on a journey.

PS: Can anyone answer a question? What is the plural of omnibus?



Kenneth Paul Stephen

Kenneth Paul Stephen received a New Writers Award in 2010.