Fiction-writer’s block (And what to do to get over it)
Anyone who’s done a decent amount of reading, especially when young, fancies themselves a novelist. I am no exception.
I didn’t get to do much writing at school. Whatever little I did get to do, I revelled in it. Most of it was boring essays on pertinent social issues, and that didn’t seem to require much creativity, just repeating of oft-repeated catchphrases, themes and ideas. No one, simply no one asked us to write stories, much less grade us on its creativity or whatever.
It’s not like my peers wrote wonderful fiction. I knew one girl who wrote Poetry in her neat, slanting hand. It was about beauty, nature and all that was right and wrong with the world, all that was innocent and pure. She was rather serious about it; she even maintained a separate notebook for her poetry. And dozens of us wrote verse, which sometimes verged on cats on mats or dogs gnawing logs. Then there were those debate award winners who wrote serious stuff about the state of teaching, value-based education, banning of tobacco and alcohol and plastic bags.
But no one I knew wrote good fiction which I really enjoyed.
Well, there was one guy who wrote a really nice, funny story which won him a ton of awards and got published widely, but he was, and still is just someone on the periphery of my perception and memory, and always the sort who set lofty goals unachievable by the rest of us, so he doesn’t much count.
No one I knew back then wrote nice, cute, funny stuff. The few who tried would come up with rude references that we giggled at and muttered to each other, but it wasn’t universally funny. But then, that’s too much to expect of schoolchildren.
Or was it? All the children’s magazines I subscribed to had exactly such stories, experiences and other things by kids my age. I found them wonderful, wished I knew them personally, wished they were my cousins or classmates or some such thing. Nope. [Aside: There was this much-older girl called Gayathri Chandrasekharan who used to regularly have her stories or experiences or opinion pieces published in Gokulam. She wrote rather well, and I think I idolized her writing when I was in middle school. Imagine my grin of recognition when, many years later, I came across her name in the list of editors of Tinkle!]
So there I was, reading a lot of stories written by people my age, and whatever little enthusiasm I had to write anything original that wasn’t sapped away by the lack of opportunity in schoolwork was taken away by reject letters from Anant Pai and the editor of Gokulam.
I somehow never tried writing any sort of fiction. It doesn’t come to me at all.
The only attempts have been first vaguely and then strongly autobiographical. But there’s only so much you can fictionalize before it starts seeming extremely sad. And as time has passed, I’ve seen a lot that’d make for a much better blockbuster than the latest in Hollywood or the Indian film industry, but rules of propriety and privacy have also caught up, and I wouldn’t be caught dead fictionalizing any episode from anyone’s life.
And that brings me to where I am now. NaNoWriMo is on, and I have no decent story ideas. I wasn’t even thinking of 50k words, just one of those short stories that people all seem to dish out like Ganesh Darshan dishes out dosas. I sit and think and nothing comes to me. Glimpses of narrative structures flit through my mind, but don’t crystallize into anything tangible. I can’t even put my finger on what the narrative structure that makes me feel so excited is. Occasionally, a scene stays in my mind long enough, but I start to overthink it and kill it even before it’s born.
Oh, and plotline. What do I write about? Stick to what you know is all fine, but what do I write about, Tambrahmness? I’m not so Tambrahm, and frankly if I were to write stories where very sentence ended with a Maami or Vasudeva-Krishna-Eeshwara, I’d myself not read it. And, oh, well, I’m darned proud of my way of life and all that, but I’d rather not make a fetching virtue of where I come from or a caricature. Corporate life is a colossal no-no for reasons that are so no-no to talk about. And grad life…. meh. There’s a lot that can be exciting, but all those involve little anecdotes like your labmate from a culture with a majorleague work ethic who gets stumped when you ask them what they do in their spare time. And the rest involve technology, which everyone is allergic to.
Basically no one finds the stuff I find interesting interesting. As for common themes like friendship, love, conflict, tragedy, it seems like no coherent plot can be woven about them.
And when I do get a plot, which comes after a dozen ‘inspirations’ from twice as many sources, I CAN’T SEEM TO WRITE IT DOWN! I can’t write dialogue for nuts, nothing I write sounds like actual people talking. Maybe I’m far too removed from reality to write anything that doesn’t sound like it’s out of a Wikipedia article.
The worst part, I haven’t done any real fiction reading in a long, long while it seems like, and it really tells on me.
I don’t much know what to do. I can possibly bruteforce it, try to sit down 9-to-5 and come up with something, but I have real work to do. It might work, because I know 80% of the blockade is in the mind, and telling myself to ‘just do it’ might just help.But then, real work stands in the way.
So what can I do?
I think I’ll deal with this in the same way I dealt with the times when I wanted to work on something cool, but couldn’t get any motivation going – I turned it into coursework.
Cue the screenwriting course at my university. Next quarter. Undergrad-level course. The syllabus involves watching atleast one movie a week, and plenty of reading, and a hands-on writing project that involves a script in three acts.
Let’s hope I have enough time to sit in on that class. Even if I’m not doing all the activities, atleast the knowledge and peer group might help.
Or so I hope.