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This Writing Life: Writer Problems

24 September, 2014

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably noticed by now that there are some strange facets of the writing life that, to outside eyes, don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try to describe them to a non-writer and you’ll generally get a blank look, whilst writer’s partners will probably groan in exasperation, if not exactly understanding. In fact, the only other people who do understand are other writers – here are a few of my examples:

You lose the ability to speak. You spend all your time putting words together, crafting perfect sentences and making your thoughts flow onto the page, hopefully in a coherent fashion (on a good day, anyway). And yet, when you step away from the computer and try to hold an actual conversation with an actual real life person… Something goes a bit wrong. Words, sometimes whole sentences, elude you. You start speaking, only to trail off halfway, distracted by some recalcitrant plot point or ornery character. Alternatively, you manage a sentence, only to realise it didn’t make the slightest bit of sense; somewhere between your brain and your mouth, everything got jumbled into random words, which your poor partner/family member/friend is left to ponder. At which point, you wonder if you should just commit all conversations to print instead, and cut out the incoherent mumbling and blank looks from acquaintances.

You’d rather spend time with your characters than your friends. Speaking of ‘real life people’, spending time with them is all well and good, but sometimes they’re just not as… interesting as the ones in your head. You love your friends and family, of course, but there comes a time when, instead of seeing them, you start making excuses. And the more creative and elaborate those excuses? The more you know you’ve got the writing bug!

Procrastination. You’ve made your excuses, fobbed off the family, and have a whole day to yourself. Free, uninterrupted writing time. Bliss! So you sit down at your computer, open your word processor, and… decide you’d better have a look at Twitter first. Okay, that’s done, back to writing… except when did you last check your email? Right, that’s done, writing time… but maybe you should put a load of laundry on, and tidy up the kitchen, and isn’t it about time for another cup of tea…? The strange thing is, no matter how much you love writing, adore writing, live and breathe it, when it actually comes to writing, somehow there’s always something else to do.

Word choice is IMPORTANT. You’ve finally got to work. The words are flowing, the story is coming together, the characters are really speaking to you, until – what’s that word you’re looking for? This is yet another problem non-writers won’t understand. There is, for every circumstance, that perfect word, the one that just absolutely expresses what you want to say. You know it’s out there, you know that you know it, it’s just on the tip of your tongue… but it won’t come. And if you ask someone else, a non-writer, for advice? They’ll tell you your placeholder word is fine, it makes sense, it’ll do… When you know very well it’s not quite right, and you can’t keep writing until you find the word that is.

Maybe, at this point, you’re shaking your head and wondering what drugs I’ve been taking. Or… maybe you’re vigorously nodding in agreement – in which case, welcome to the club! The crazy world of writer problems might seem incomprehensible to the outside observer, but rest assured, some of us do understand – although that doesn’t necessarily mean we have any idea how to fix them!


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