Something completely different

Saturday July 8, 2006

I watched a snatch of a movie this evening in which a writer sat down at his typewriter to write ‘the novel’. He typed the title page, something like:

A novel
John Bailey

Having removed the sheet of paper from the typewriter, placed it on the desk, carefully aligned with and a precise one inch from the edge, he took a new sheet, inserted it in the machine, and typed:


This sheet, too, he removed from the typewriter, stacked it carefully on top of the first, inserted a new sheet, and began:


… and then, he stopped, terminally blocked.

I laughed so much at this devilishly clever device that the tears ran down my face. Missed the rest of the movie, a light comedy, but that doesn’t matter. I seldom watch a TV comedy movie all the way through anyway—they’re generally too sugary for my taste.

The notable thing about it is the recognition of the situation. I don’t know how many times I’ve done something just like that over the years, and I doubt there’s a writer anywhere in the world who doesn’t have the same horrid memory. Cruel, but precise.

The first two pages I put down to that ‘getting ready to write’ ritual that many of us observe at the start of a writing session.

Some people sharpen a pot full of pencils. Others stack up the sheets of paper they intend to fill. Me, having formatted the files needed for the piece, I play computer solitaire, game after game, until I’m convinced that my brain is working. Then, once I’m satisfied I’m ready, I turn back to the input screen and rattle off the first sentence or phrase quick as I can, before it evaporates. If there’s any writing in me, and there almost always is, I press on until I feel I’ve finished or reached a good break point.

That third page, though, stands for a really cruel situation. You can almost smell the frustration and despair in the room, hear the clock tick and the window rattle in its frame. Long or short in duration, it’s a punishing experience for any writer, and the awful thing is that it lurks in the corner of every writing room, waiting to pounce.

Do I have a remedy for it? Nope. Best I can say is that it’s a good idea when the clock ticks and the window rattles to snap the machine off, get up, leave the room, shut the door, and go do something completely different. Applying bottom to chair is good advice but it’ll not get you out of this one.

Walking away and doing something completely different is a fair description of what I did at the house today. I’d opened the windows to air the place through, brewed a mug of coffee and settled down to drink it with a sandwich so’s I could call it lunch. Then I looked across at my bucket, sponge and bottle of sugar soap, all waiting to be pressed into use once more.

I simply couldn’t face it. No particular reason unless you discount the vague feeling of discontent with which I woke this morning and which seemed to stay with me all the way through to that point. Of all the activities open to me, donning rubber gloves and washing down walls, important though the job is, was right at the bottom of the list of desirables. Washing down walls was something I really didn’t want to do, not today.

So I left the cleaning equipment where it was, sent Graham a text message to warn him I was returning early, closed and locked up the house, and headed back to the caravan. Some days aren’t made for work, writing or whatever, and when they come along it’s best to go away and do something completely different.

Having apologised for the loss of another day, I snuggled up on the sofa with Dolly the Mega Cat so we could snooze the rest of the afternoon away in comfort and peace. That’s about as completely different an activity from washing down walls as I can devise but it’s strangely akin to the most constructive part of writing. Leastways, it is for me.


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