Lost for words

I’ve been making pies – lots of pies. Sweet potato, fetta and caramelised onion, meat and vegies, chicken and egg-and-bacon. I must have made three dozen in the past week.

I haven’t created this cooking frenzy just to feed the horde of kids at my place (eight at last count) but mainly as a way to avoid working on my new novel.

I figure that at least cooking is creative and resourceful and gives me a sense of achievement, whereas at the moment writing a coherent sentence is like trying to whistle with a mouthful of peanut butter.

Thanks goodness for Twitter, which at least keeps me engaged with the world, and gives me a chance to write and publish something – even if it is only 140 characters in (Follow me @shellwrites).

And it’s not like I have no experience with this writing lark. I’ve been a journo for more than 20 years and had seven books published – yet suddenly I can’t seem to string words together.

I sit in front of the laptop reading and re-reading the same sentence, wishing I could find another other word that means shiny and sunny, but not ‘bright’ cos that’s dull, and not ‘luminous’ cos that’s over-the-top and….well, you get the picture.

I wrestle with the same damn sentence, move it around, change the tense, add another adjective and then mentally slap myself for my weakness (adjectives are the enemy remember) and then delete the whole thing in frustration and head to the kitchen to caramelize some more ingredients. At least that way I can blame my tears on the onions.

It’s my very first experience of writers’ block – a condition I didn’t even believe was real – until now

As a professional writer with deadlines usually backed up for weeks ahead, kids to feed and bills to pay, the luxury of writers’ block seemed a foreign and expensive concept.

But for the first time I’m trying to write something that is deeply personal (albeit fiction), which requires introspection and emotional processing. And sometimes that means my head can’t even form the words to describe what I’m feeling.

Clearly I care about this damn book. Although I’ve been writing for so long, I feel like this is the best thing I’ve ever attempted – and so the pressure I’m putting on myself is huge.

And I have no excuses to ignore it either.

Suddenly there’s a break in my schedule. I’ve just done the final edit on a new co-authored novel for Random House and finally completed an eight-month-long ghost-writing project.

All my newspaper and magazine deadlines are under control and I have the time and brain space to work on what I hope will be my first literary novel. Bugger, that’s scary.

Seven years ago when I started the novel I wrote 45,000 words, five years ago my agent sent it out to a professional reader and I got back very detailed insights and suggestions.

I ignored it for many years though every now and then the characters tugged at my conscience like insistent children in the lolly aisle. Then last week I took it out, talked to my family about it again, rehashed the plot, the theme, the narrative arc, the characters and their motivations….and then started making pies.

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4 Responses to Lost for words

  1. shelley says:

    Hi michelle,
    Your’e not the only one!
    I recently stopped cartooning for The Age and have noticed how different it is to not have the twice-weekly deadlines. I’m still maintaining the freelance work but the pressure has eased and, well, I’ve been procrastinating too.
    Mine’s taken the form of multiple (and silly) posts to my blog.(http://blog.shelleyknollmiller.com/). Ignoring the work I do have (and the self-promotion I should be doing) and just mucking about….At least your procastination is edible!
    I agree, Twitter and Blogger do keep you producing and they help with the feeling of being ‘keyed in”.
    From memory, this clip, from Elizabeth Gilbert, has some great things to say on writers and procrastination. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

    Good luck!
    Shelley

    • Hi Shelley, I moved onto muffins this week! Yes, at least the kids are happy when I’m cooking rather than writing. But they may not be so happy when there’s no money in the bank for their fashion and entertainment wants! I reckon we creative types should hire a big warehouse space somewhere and each have a desk and create a dynamic, productive work environment. Somehow the kitchen table and the isolation just don’t work for me anymore! Good luck!

  2. Jodie Ansted says:

    I think I use these tactics to avoid housework!

    Sounds like you’ve hit the nail on the head though. This book means a lot to you…totally get where the avoidance is coming from.

    Time to slap that last pie in the oven, I reckon, and get back to your writing! 😉

    Good luck.

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