If You Build It, They Will Come

Sometimes, writing a book, things slow down to the pace of a slug in tar. You miss a few days of writing, your plot hits a roadblock, and suddenly you can’t see a way forward. Never mind, you say, I’ll take a few days to think about it. I’ll plot and storyboard, I’ll meditate on it, I’ll write out all the character motivations and see where they lead.

Sometimes you find yourself writing something that reads flat and dead, like a fish turning white and flaking in the sun. It’s hard to tell the characters apart, and the scenes seem to have lost their colour and urgency. When you sit down to write it feels like a chore, getting the story from A to B in a logical and necessary manner. You dread writing and wonder where your originality has gone.

Maybe you’re burning out? Maybe you should take a couple of weeks off, or a month, and travel? See or do something knew? Surely the inspiration will return to you, then? Or if you go for long walks and turn your mind to the story – as Charles Dickens so famously did for twenty miles at a stretch – you’ll see the way forward?

I wallowed in a mire of uninspired greyness for some time a few months ago, trying to figure out what had happened to the version of me in 2018, when I wrote my last novel. It seemed every day I’d wake up full of excitement and ideas stretching my skull to breaking point. Maybe it was how much sleep I was getting? No, in fact I was sleep deprived, if anything. Maybe that was it? No, that didn’t help. Going on walks, staring at blank walls, none of the things I was doing seemed to work.

And then, this great realisation: back then, I wasn’t writing every day because I had so many good ideas… I had so many good ideas because I was writing every day.

I had committed the cardinal sin: I had forgotten about Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. The central message, if you haven’t read it, is this: if you build it, they will come.

So I started writing the next book, without only the bare shreds of an idea, knowing that the initial scenes I was writing were not that good and would have to be discarded later. But still I wrote, and before I knew it I had an idea. The first two chapters weren’t interesting at all – it was the third chapter where I should really start. And Character A would be so much better if I just wrote him a little different… and wouldn’t it be cool if…

And I was off to the races. All it took was a few days of putting down words, writing a scene, deleting it and trying again, writing another point of view, and suddenly the ideas were flowing like they always had. Inspiration flowed forth like a flood after a long drought.

If you build it, they will come.

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