Lessons from a literary hero . . .

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

Terry Pratchett

I was watching a programme the other day about the late, great Terry Pratchett – one of my life heroes, to be honest, as well as my literary ones.

There was a section  where he was talking about writer’s block, and saying that he’d never suffered from it . . .

Terry Pratchett

Paraphrasing here, but in a nutshell, he said: “There’s nothing that cures writer’s block better than a narky editor screaming over your shoulder for your copy.”

He went further on the subject, perhaps his most famous quotation on the topic is: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.”

Like me, Pratchett had been a journalist, although he had bailed on the industry to work as a press officer for a number of nuclear power stations.

But there is something very true in what he says. If you work as a reporter then the notion of writer’s block is something of a mystery. 

If you’re not filling your quota, then someone further up the food chain will be having a word . . . sooner rather than later.

If your copy isn’t sharp, interesting, concise and accurate, then much the same. It is a requirement. Working as a reporter of as a feature even more so, you need to be able to craft words, to build a story with letter after letter after letter, a little like a bricklayer building a wall.

One of my favourite Pratchett novel

Here’s something that I was told when I first went to journalism school . . . 

A news story is the same shape as an upside down triangle, a feature is circular . . . at least if it’s done properly. 

And I do think that is absolutely true. 

A straight news article has all of the big information at the top – the most important bits in the introduction and second and third paragraphs. Then it continues down, getting thinner and thinner with the least crucial information going downwards.

The reason for this is that, back in the day when sub editors still existed, if a news story was too long and had to be cut, it was easy to cut it from the bottom.

But a good feature is definitely circular . . . it should end, pretty much where it starts. So, if you’re writing a feature about a police operation in a now-dodgy part of town and you decide to go in at the start, or near the start, saying that your aunt Flo’ lived there just after the war, then towards the end you need to reintroduce aunt Flo – it takes the reader back to the beginning, and makes it ‘circular’.

Now for me, Pratchett was a genius of the English language, and possibly one of our finest wits since Oscar Wilde. But I also think he was doing himself, and the rest of us lesser mortals, a bit of a disservice on the subject of writer’s block.

“Writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on”

Terry Pratchett

Writer’s block happens to all of us, or most of us to a greater or lesser extent. I can always rattle something out for the paper or the website, but when I’m writing creatively, I want it to be perfect, or as near to perfect as it can be . . . as I’m sure do you, if you are a writer.

My writer’s block tends to come if I’ve not plotted properly, if I’m hoping that it will all just somehow come together in the end.

Although that’s all part of the journey really. You’ll start something, get lost at some point and abandon it, at least that’s how it works for me. So now I plot meticulously. I treat a work of fiction like I treat one massive feature and make it obey the same rules. I make my chapters circular for one and, with A Garden of Bones, the whole book. It ends where it starts. It gives the reader closure, I hope.

You need to enjoy writing, love writing even, to stick to it night after night after night.

And as the late, great Terry Pratchett once said: “Writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”

See what I did there?

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