In several posts, I have mentioned writer’s block. I have said that when I have it (which is occasionally) it is usually an indication that my writing has slipped off the track, and that I should rethink my recent work, or ask myself searching questions about the direction that the novel is taking.
I will say that another important blockage for me is either being tired or in a strong mood. If I’m tired, I can’t focus properly, and my creativity is numbed. I don’t write when I’m tired. If I’m in a negative mood or preoccupied with a personal issue, I have difficulty getting myself into the mood that the character(s) is feeling. If I’m angry about something, I find it more difficult to feel the joy that a female character is feeling. If I’m worried about someone, how can I fully empathize with a protagonist who is experiencing a different relationship problem? For me, forcing myself into the mood of a character is possible only when I’m not preoccupied.
In fact, I find it difficult to write well about a character who is depressed if I’m in a low mood. The empathy is there, but, if I’m in a low mood, it’s difficult to find just the right words to fully express the feelings of the character. For me, it seems to work best if I’m in a ‘neutral mood’, empathize with the character, and then find to words to express what the character is feeling.
Let me give you an example from Sable Shadow & The Presence. The central character is on a business trip to a Mexican oil refinery when his wife calls and tells him that his much-loved son – a military officer – has just been killed in the Somali area.
I was numb and senseless, but the pain was inescapable. I could not really function. I could walk, but my destination was unclear. I could hear voices, but I had to turn toward the voice I heard and try to understand if it was addressing me. My mind had great difficulty processing. It was as if a powerful ray had struck my head and turned my brain to mush. I knew David. He helped me pack, and he rounded up the pilots. He fastened my seat belt. He gave me a glass of something cold, and sometimes he would reach across and hold my hand.
I had no sense of time. I was drifting in a remote, timeless space. Then I recognised the front door of my house. Inside, there was Suzanne. She was pale, years older, in that familiar blue quilted bathrobe. We sat on the living room sofa, and she talked to me. I don’t remember what she said. She was very sad. She led me to the bedroom and took off my clothes. She removed her bathrobe. In bed, she pulled the covers over us, and we wrapped our arms around each other. We lay like that, weeping and dozing through the night.
There were dreams: of William trying to master a skateboard, of William holding up a small trout, of William wearing a muddied jersey number 24.
There was no mistaking the voice: You loved William and he loved you. Remember this.
What did you say?
But I knew what was said, and I knew the voice even though I had not heard it often for ten years or more.