Wednesday 21 January 2015

(vol 2) CHAPTER 02: “Writers Block”

2015 WORD COUNT = 2248 words


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If you discount the Flash Fiction stories and book reports (what happened to them?) then that makes today's post my 50th since starting last February.

And how do I celebrate this? By announcing that I have once again won the weekends Flash Frenzy over at The Angry Hourglass. I’m over the moon at this result. One of my goals for this year was to finally get a win at some point across the 52 weeks available. The resolution has now doubled in just three weeks’ worth of entries. And there was some really tough competition this week too.
Anyway, with that out of the way let’s get onto to more pressing matters.


My biggest problem with writing isn’t a lack of ideas (see here) but getting a story completed.

Flash Fiction solved this. I may pick and choose on a couple of the contests I take part in but, since starting Flash! Friday back on 30th May 2014, I have managed to produce at least one story each week without fail. Coupled with my weekly Wednesday blog posts and I seem to have finally discovered the ability to work to deadlines and produce something whether I’m in the mood to sit down and write or not.

Now I’m not saying that everything I produce is golden (trust me, it’s not), but I’d rather spend my time writing a story that doesn’t work and being able to learn from it instead of just shutting down the laptop and walking away.

But last week was different.


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Every Friday morning I wake up around 6:30am and head downstairs to get my son’s breakfast ready. While the kettle boils and the radiation box heats the milk, I switch my phone on knowing that my inbox will contain a link to that week’s Flash! Friday prompt.

I take a quick screenshot (in case I end up somewhere later with no signal) and then, as I drown a pair of Weetabix in a bowl of warm milk, I let my mind wander. It never takes long for an idea or two to start forming.

The rest of my morning will be spent in two worlds. 90% of me will get my son ready, get myself ready, go to work and fit in with society. But the remaining 10%, that little piece of my mind hidden right at the back? That’s working those ideas into something that resembles a story.

My lunch break contains the music of Hans Zimmer and a couple of peanut butter sandwiches while I get these ideas down and then, later at home, I type it all up and let my wife do her checks.

That’s what’s supposed to happen.


The 16th was different.

As the microwave hummed and the milk waltzed inside it, I stared at the prompt like it was a magic eye picture and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see that boat (schooner!).

I got on with my morning hoping that something would come up later. I tried chucking a few of my safe words at it (time travel, demons, spaceships) but nothing felt right. My imagination was as barren as the Gobi.

I figured that, like a man with erectile dysfunction, I was making the problem worse by stressing about it and all I had to do was relax and let it all drift away.

Sure enough it seemed to work as an idea floated from the ether and into the forefront of my mind. I grabbed a piece of notepaper at my desk and wrote down what I had.

A man works as a janitor at the Colosseum. It’s the end of the day and his son is helping him clean up the mess left behind by the spectators.
I liked the father and son working together. I liked the everyday aspect of a man doing the small, unnoticed job behind the scenes of the big event. But there was no story, no conflict, no nothing. I’d opened with the son finding a gladiators arm up in the stands but I couldn’t get it to go anywhere. It was clearly not a self-contained story. So I scrapped it.

A hitman called ‘The Janitor’ (He cleans up people’s messes) meets with a prospective client in the empty Colosseum.
I struggle not to include twists in my writing. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. The initial meeting with all the description was okay but nothing happened. So I thought “wouldn’t it be cool if the hitman had agreed to kill the man’s wife but, when seeing her, she offered more money to reverse the hit”. Then there was time travel because the client is having the meeting for the first time but the hitman has travelled back after accepting the wife’s higher payment. I love time travel but I hate unnecessary paradoxes. This story had a big one and I don’t think it even needed time travel. So I scrapped it.

Colosseum is an ancient spaceship that is about to leave.
I had this story being told from the point of view of the ships janitor. Nothing happened and even my awesome imagination couldn’t work out why or how a ship could be buried beneath this ancient structure. So I scrapped it.

It’s ancient Rome (again) and the Colosseum’s janitor is caught stealing while cleaning up and ends up thrown in with the criminals; fresh meat for the following days competition.
I thought this might be the one but I couldn’t get it to work. I wrote three drastically different versions of this before hitting the delete button. Nothing seemed to have an ending. It was all snapshot writing. So I scrapped it.

The Colosseum is just a small part of a large machine buried deep beneath Rome. The alien ‘janitor’ is ordered to use the machine to clean up Earth by wiping out the pestilence that is mankind.
For a second I thought I had broken through and come up with an entry. But after completing it I didn’t think it was great. I spent a while cutting chunks out and rewriting. I gave it a better voice and, despite how weak it was, WIPED CLEAN was as good as it could get. It would be my entry for the week. It was getting late and dinner was nearly cooked. I should have scrapped it.


My wife could see that I was getting stressed. It was at this point that she suggested maybe I skip a week. I snapped at her, telling her that she offered terrible advice.

But I wasn’t angry at her, I was angry with myself. I’d managed an unbroken run of more than six months’ worth of Flash! Fridays and I didn’t want to ruin that. And also, it would be turning away from the deadline and the prompt, the things that I loved about the contest, the things that had got me writing again.

I had a (poor) story to post and I could have walked away. My unbroken run would have been intact. And, as I mentioned to my wife, I’ve had stories I thought were amazing that didn’t even get mentioned and then I’ve had stories that I thought people would hate that have done brilliantly (ROLL BACK, I’m looking at you). So who was I to prevent my peers from taking a gander?
And then it happened. The idea machine woke up.

The Colosseum janitor is cleaning up the gladiator bodies that litter the arena. He is surprised to find the last body to collect isn’t dead, only faking. The ‘body’ asks to be taken to the pits as a way to escape the city.
Not willing to give up just yet, I quickly Googled a few things and discovered that, back in the olden days, the bodies of dead combatants were carted out to pits on the outskirts of town. My brain suddenly connected this to the end of Toy Story 3 where the gangs only hope of escape is through the garbage chute. While it wasn’t Shakespeare, I finally had a story I was happy with. The ending took a little while longer as I originally had the happy ending of freedom for the slave. But then I thought “No!”. If you haven’t read ONLY WAY OUT you can find out what happens here.


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I’ve never experienced what people would call ‘Writers Block’ before. I’m not bragging. It’s just as a side effect of an overactive imagination and a lack of writing discipline over several years, I have a huge backlog of stories to be getting on with. I’m never without an idea or two. But this was forced writing, something I had enjoyed until Friday 16th January (a date that will live in infamy).

My worry is that it could happen again.

I couldn’t believe the frustration I had from finding a wall between myself and the story I wanted so desperately to get to. I wish I’d found a magical solution and that’s what had got me through but I didn’t. I just kept going and going and going, scrapping one idea when I could see it was broken and getting on with the next. I guess that’s all you can do.

At the end of the day, if there is a wall in front of you and you want to be on the other side then you have to smash through. Walking away just means that the wall will be there next time you come back.

See you in seven. 

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