Monday, October 29, 2012

Guest Post: Colin Mulhern on Writer's Block

Today I am delighted to welcome my first guest blogger, none other than the delightful YA author Colin Mulhern. Colin is the author of dark, edgy YA thrillers CLASH and ARABESQUE, and I met him on the writing boards of Litopia. You can find out more about him and his writing here

So without further ado, I hand you over to Colin and his thoughts on that perennial issue among writers. Writer's block!

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s just a reluctance to write - a lack of motivation.
When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist, doing the kind of paintings that would be on the covers of fantasy art novels. I used to spend hours planning paintings, going over stacks of roughs, transferring the final illustration to an art board then battling with my own fear of tackling the actual painting. Sometimes, I would spend so long (I’m talking weeks) on a background, that I’d never get the actual painting completed in case I screwed the whole thing up. So it amazed me to discover that the artists I really loved turned out some of their artwork in two or three days – or maybe just a few hours. I remember reading about Sid Mead, who did the concept illustrations for Blade Runner, and how he never had time to worry or plan too much because he was employed to turn out the illustrations fast. He didn’t have time to agonise because he had a studio barking at him for results. So he got down to work. It was his job.
Most of the time before I sit down to write, there’s not much going on in my head about what I want to write. It’s rare that there is a big excitement or buzz about writing or creating – to the degree that if I waited around for inspiration, I’d get nothing done.
I work full time, and I don’t get a lot of free time, so the free time that I do get has to be used well. The only way I can turn out the words is by sitting down and battling through that first sentence. It’s only then that the gears start turning and the ideas begin to connect. Half an hour later, I’ll be another 500 words into a novel and buzzing with surprise at what I’ve turned out. It doesn’t sound much, does it? But 500 words a day, every day, is 3,500 a week. That’s about 15k a month. My novels are just over 60k each, so that’s four months work.
It doesn’t always work out. I’ve just spent the last four months writing a novel that I’ll never send out. I only realised that when I finished it, but all of that work has not been in vain. It’s shown me what not to write, and how to move my ideas in a better direction. If I hadn’t sat down and forced out 500 words a day for those four months, I would still be agonising over how to approach this current project. Instead, I’m 3,000 words into a fresh new draft of that same idea.
So I’ll come back to my opening statement. There is no such thing as writer’s block. There is just a  natural reluctance to work, and that’s exactly how I look at writing: it’s work. What motivates a plumber to go out and fix a toilet? I bet it’s not a love for getting covered in shite. It’s far more likely the thought of next year’s holiday in Spain, or a new car, or a decent Christmas. The end product is the dream, but the day to day slog is work.
I stole this mantra from Bruce Robinson: Sit down and write. What else are you good for?


  1. I love the quote. "Sit down and write. What else are you good for." :)
    I also agree that there is no such thing as writers block.

  2. Brilliant post, and I totally agree. When I get 'blocked', it's either because of a lack of motivation - in which case I just have to set myself a word count target and force myself to sit there and get it done – or because something's gone wrong with the plot somewhere, and I need to backtrack and figure out what it is. It IS a slog… but it's a fun and rewarding one, and I wouldn't swap it!

  3. Great post Colin - couldn't agree more!