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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Talking Shop

Op-ed • “Blocked,” by Judith Field •

Time to over-share: I am what can only be described as verbally constipated. When it comes to writing, nothing will flow. All I manage to produce are those things that only a rabbit would be proud of…not for nothing do they call it writer’s block. But where is the Senokot, the cascara, even the vile castor oil, of the pen? Enough already with the unpleasant metaphors, I wouldn’t want people to describe my writing as crap—or worse.

There’s a novel by George Gissing called New Grub Street, written in 1891. It’s about a writer suffering from writer’s block while trying to finish a novel that he secretly knows is rubbish. He goes around thinking things like, “What could I make of that, now? Well, suppose I made him…? But no, that wouldn’t do.” He doesn’t write anything, but procrastinates his time away with nothing to show for it. Just like me. That tells me that things don’t change and it was as easy to get distracted then as now, even though there were no Facebook/emails/online games at the time it was written. In fact, kids, the Internet hadn’t even been invented.

James Thurber said, as the moral to his fable, The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” The moral is ironic here, because the sheep don’t do enough research before writing about wolves and they get the idea that wolves are just like they are. As a result, the sheep are easy prey. It’s a bit of a dig at those journalists who don’t care if they haven’t examined their information carefully enough, or even if it’s true, but only want to get a story into print.

However, that Thurberism is what a lot of writers cite, in defence of the crappy first draft which you then edit to perfection. All very well, but you have to have something to write about in the first place. Maybe I should try doing things that way, though. But not free writes, I’ve never been able to do those. Maybe I should stop stressing over it, just sit down, and write. But I’m an outliner, most of the time. So maybe just run at the computer and do an outline?

It reminds me of my childhood. We had a grand piano in our front room. I had lessons for about three years. I started on a book called Kiddies’ Carols (think ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ at quarter-speed—if things had really happened that slowly Jesus would have been ready for his bar mitzvah before the kings arrived). Later, when I got a bit more advanced, or perhaps it’d be more accurate to say when I could play faster, ‘Peasant’s Frolic,’ ‘The Little Spinner,’ and ‘Für Elise’. How can you hold yourself back from seeing if anyone’s put the first two in YouTube?

Eventually I gave the piano up for the clarinet. It was easier to take on the bus. But the person who could play the piano the best was my father. He could improvise any tune you could name, but there were a couple of pieces that he had trouble getting right, from sheet music. One was Chopin’s Piano Concerto number 1 (start at 3:59 if you want to know what he was up against). He would run at the piano and just play, before the music had the chance to bite him, catch him out, go wrong. Maybe it was a bit like Thurber’s “don’t get it right” thing. Just get it played.

So, I sat down and wrote. The phone rang—someone wanting to talk about an accident I’d had where I wasn’t to blame. The doorbell rang—someone wanting to sell me replacement gutters. My other half called up the stairs to tell me he was going to have a shower (no, I don’t know why, either). But I got it written. And here it is.

JUDITH FIELD lives in London, UK. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. She’s a pharmacist, medical writer, editor and indexer, and in 2009 she made a New Year resolution to start writing fiction and get published within the year. Pretty soon she realised how unrealistic that was, but in fact, it sort of worked: she got a slot to write a weekly column in a local paper shortly before Christmas of 2009 and that ran for several years. She still writes occasional feature articles for the paper. She has two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and a grandson. Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications in the USA, UK and Australia. When she’s not working or writing, she’s studying part-time for a master’s in Creative Writing. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. She was Science Fiction Editor at Red Sun Magazine and is Assistant Editor at Gathering Storm Magazine.

[Editor’s Note: While we’re all waiting for Judith to finish her novel, please check out The Book of Judith: Sixteen Tales of Life, Wonder, and Magic. It got really great reviews on, but for reasons unknown those reviews were never propagated to the US page and thus sales in the US have always been soft. This book deserves a better fate. ~brb]

[P.S. And Judith: finish that novel!]