Writer’s block afflicts genuine writers. Hacks like me have innate immunity against that literary affliction. One way to get around writer’s block is to write about it.
There have been times, admittedly extremely few times, when I have sensed an onset of the dreaded writer’s block. Those are the only times I have felt I might, after all, have some literary talent. It is paradoxical that my rather faint literary talent should manifest itself through its absence.
As I remain immersed in my upcoming novel ‘Car Puja’, I have occasionally wondered about writer’s block. It mainly happens when one is not convinced about the way the plot is unfolding or the manner in which sentences form or paragraphs break. I wonder whether someone like V. S. Naipaul experienced writer’s block. I suspect he did not because so much of his latter works are a result of long travels and serious reportage. Writer’s block is also perhaps peculiar to fiction writers.
There is a character in my novel who was originally named Bimbisara but later changed Bimbi Prasad Mohan. He is a minor functionary at a temple. He spends over 12 hours everyday in the temple doing odd jobs, including ritually cleaning the marble statues of the gods every week. He finds the experience rather unsettling but has over time managed to reconcile with it as his destiny. He is so conscientious that he washes the statue of goddesses with their private parts covered.
On a particular occasion before a major festival, a pujari or a priest asks Bimbi Prasad Mohan, “I have been wanting to ask you this ever since you joined five years ago. I never see you during the even aarti. Are you an atheist?”
Bimbi Prasad responds even before the priest has completed the question as if he has been asked that so many times before that he has his answered ready and well-rehearsed: “I am not an atheist but merely allergic to god.”
It was at this point that I sensed that what is popularly described as writer’s block. It turned out to be a false alarm. I slowed down because I was making sure that I was no subconsciously projecting my views on the subject.
I have been asked that question although never by an Indian. My answer has always been, “I was spared the burden of faith and belief.”
This is what I mean by not having writer’s block. What began as a possible essay about writer’s block has ended on the question of belief in a particularly short post.
Incidentally, I wrote about the same subject on October 3, 2011. This is how it read:
I frequently get asked if I am ever up against writer’s block. I am not, but if I am, I choose not to call it so. And if I do choose to call it so, I make it a point not to say it out aloud. And if I do say it out aloud, I do so in my basement when I am alone where the admission dies because of the poor quality air. Either that or whenever I run into writer’s block I write about it.
For as long as I remember I have never run low on things to say. That must not be confused with saying things which make sense or are relevant or readable or all of the above. My aspirations as someone who writes both to earn and churn are so low that I call them Plus 1, which is to say that if just one person other than me reads what I write, it should be regarded as worthwhile effort.
In the strictest sense of the expression it is absolutely true that I do not ever suffer from writer’s block. For one, I do not yet consider myself to be a writer. We will see once I have written ten books. However, in so much as it means being unable to write anything at all, such as news analyses or news stories or even this blog, I have never faced that. The trick is to write something else and not struggle with a piece of writing that is getting blocked.
For instance, yesterday was one of those rare days when I wrote absolutely nothing other than the customary morning post. I could sense that there may be a block developing. So I preempted it by choosing not write anything at all. Writer’s block is when you want to write but cannot. It is not writer’s block when you choose not to write at all. There have been days when I have rustled up a few thousand words despite early apprehension that I may not be able to write any.
One good thing about writing subpar material, which is what I mostly do, is that it liberates you from the demands of excellence. This sentence is a good example of what I am saying. On closer scrutiny you would discover that it does not really mean anything. The other day a younger colleague asked me for tips on writing, which in and of itself was astounding because why would anyone ask me for tips on writing? It took me no effort at all to tell her, “The best way to write is to write.” While you do, remember that more often than not writing begets writing. If you possess any ability to express yourself in words, the best way to crank it up is by just writing something, anything.
For instance, this morning I intended to write about the world’s most powerful millimeter/ submillimeter telescope in the Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama desert, Chile, and the images it is producing of galaxies tens of millions of lightyears away. I could have easily written a few paragraphs about the subject but it struck me that I may not be able to put across something the readers of this blog may be able to chew on. Instead, I wrote about what it means to have writer’s block.