Kage Baker, like all writers, occasionally suffered from writer’s block.
It’s a curious and agonizing disease. You don’t just revert to the non-writer’s frame of mind, oh no – you want to write, you need to write, and you simply cannot. The words don’t come. You may know the plot – you have it mapped out on in neat notes and diagrams and 5 colours, you actually know what comes next! Except it won’t. You can read over the last few hundred words, that came spilling out in glorious glossomania, and it’s like someone else wrote them. You’d love to meet them and maybe take dictation, but they seem to have moved to Zimbabwe …
All writers dread this. All writers encounter it. Some writers, according to agonized reports, actually primarily exist in this horrid state, and can only really write during the intermittent lifting of the block. That would be like being a hydro-electric generator in a seasonal stream, waiting out the dry season for those 3 precious months when the water might finally flow.
One of Kage’s rare gifts was the uncanny rarity of her writer’s block. And the brevity. When she absolutely could not write, an hour in the garden often did the trick. Separating and replanting the irises, pruning the roses, moving the nasturtium vines around – because you can’t get rid of nasturtiums, you can only convince them to grow in another direction – and she would come pelting back in and dive back into the story. Maybe it was the visual metaphor of the damned nasturtiums.
For really severe cases, a day of gaming on the computer usually blew the block apart. The Monkey Island games were her favourites. Sometimes playing them would segue into something to do because she didn’t actually want to write, though. Or at least not as much as she wanted to wander around Plunder Island. She’d save them as rewards to herself, then – ” … another chapter, get Mendoza out of whatever hell she’s fallen into now, and then I can go fight The Pirate LeChuck!” she would mutter. “Listen, would you go look up DNA and see if the helix turns deosil or widdershins?”
(Answer: both. Think about it.)
Last ditch solution to writer’s block: an obscure, weird movie called The Wrong Box. It’s based on the novel of the same name, written as a family lark by Robert Louis Stevenson and his step-son Lloyd. It’s a gloriously weird Victorian pastiche, hysterically funny and full of eye candy. For some reason, the film totally fascinated Kage and she watched it over and over, laughing harder every time. Even as I write this, our parrot Harry is whistling the main theme from the movie, which he memorized over the years …
None of her solutions work for me. It’s like insomnia or hiccoughs; other people’s solutions never work. It’s amusing to watch someone try and recite the alphabet through a mouthful of peanut butter, but they aren’t going to stop hiccoughing. I have to try and find my own. The first step is identifying whether or not writer’s block is the problem – the last 6 months have been so full of grief and strain, sometimes I don’t know if I can’t write or just can’t plain old function. So far, I can’t tell what my stamina is, or how much I have, or what turns the flow on and off.
Whether or not I can get out of bed is a helpful clue. And this blog is a fine axe to take to the occasional block. So is a round or two of computer Mahjong or Plants Vs Zombies. My own last ditch is apparently to give up and read for an hour. More solutions in the ever-changing puzzle of How To Make This Work.
Tomorrow: fiction is reality. For a given definition of reality …