On Not Writing

If you’ve read any of my posts about writer’s block, you’ll know I don’t believe in such things, but it isn’t only the lack of inspiration that can get in the way of creativity.

A few months back, my father was taken into hospital and I drove down to my native Northumberland to see him. I expected he’d pull round, get better, or somehow return to his former self, but dementia, pneumonia and old age got the upper hand and he died. It was almost five weeks later that I came back to Scotland, and three months more before I started writing again.

Death, as they say, puts things into perspective: it made me think a lot about my life and where I’m going. So, I wasn’t surprised to find my usual need to tell stories went out the window. Understandable, you might say, except that this was a new experience for me. And unlike the usual reasons behind writer’s block, it wasn’t a lack of inspiration that held me back, but simply an absence of the desire to write.

I began to wonder if that desire would ever come back, or if I’d somehow lost forever any smidgen of talent I had. Maybe the sixteen books I’d pushed out over the last few years would turn out to be all I’m capable of, and nothing else of any worth would ever emerge.

Even with these negative thoughts buzzing around in my head, I did eventually scribble a few book reviews and spent a bit of time Twittering and Facebooking etc, but whatever it was that had inspired me to keep working on my novels, and wanting to work on them, had gone – the motivation pushing me forwards, ensuring my continuing journey through the literary waters, disappeared. And so far, it hasn’t come back. At least, not completely.

Of course, the more time I spent not writing, the more I worried about it, so I did what I’ve always done when any hint of a blockage lurks on the horizon – I forced myself to write. As some wise old novelist once said, writing is like a muscle – you have to exercise it, otherwise you’ll lose it. So that’s what I did, and even if some of what I’m churning out is utter drivel, there’s always the thrill of re-writing.

Though I don’t know exactly what it is that’s changed, I know something has. Maybe in another three months it’ll work itself out, but until then, I’ll do what the British always do – make another cup of tea and just bloody well get on with it.

27 thoughts on “On Not Writing

  1. Good post, Colin. My condolences. Your experience closely matches my own on the death of my mother eighteen months ago. ‘Lack of desire’ to write is spot on. Unlike you, I’v been unable to get back to it despite numerous muscle-building efforts, but if it is of any value no doubt it will return… sometime.

    Oh and drivel is good, so keep on writing it; I’m becoming rather proud of my own drivel which I suspect is much more drivelly than yours 🙂


    • Thanks JD, yes I think anything that keeps us writing has to be good, even if it’s drivel. You never know when inspiration will take over and the urge to create a story will get the better of our emotional difficulties. Good luck.


  2. I spent about four years not writing–or barely writing–due to illness. In hindsight, the interesting thing about that time is that my writing changed while I was silent, and I think who I was as a writer did as well.

    Sending my condolences.


      • Hmm. No, I don’t think absence from writing dictates its level of importance. Writing can’t grab your pants leg and demand help with a toy. It can’t cough itself awake at 1am and need snuggles and medicine. It doesn’t require meals cooked, clothes laundered, and so on. It’s the good child, quiet and self-sufficient, which means that some days it’s just not going to get your attention. But I’m learning that’s okay, because I used to harp on myself for that, and only worsen my depression. We just have to accept that some times life cracks new channels in us that we have to navigate before we can forge ourselves back into our creativity.
        If that makes sense…


  3. Yes, it’s easy to say that you don’t believe in writer’s block, isn’t it, (as I do) – until something like the trauma you have experienced happens. I like the way, however, you are not ina panic. Muscles need to be rested a little after an injury and I’m sure that your mind will be taking on all kinds of thoughts for later use in your writing. You’re not a machine. I’m sure when you feel ready, you will find your writing has somehow been enhanced. There’s nothing wrong with a time of reflection. My condolences, by the way. (Tomorrow I am having a (right) shoulder operation and will have that (writing) arm in a sling for a good while, so maybe I’m talking to myself too through this comment. Anyway, take care…you’ll be back.


  4. I’m sorry to hear about your father. Keep a look out for signs that he is near you, ie. a bird sits down by you at a coffee shop, you see a deer out of no where… it can be almost anything, but YOU will know in your heart that it is a sign from your Dad saying, “I’m doing fine, KEEP doing your BEST writing work, I’m PROUD of you and waiting for your NEXT BOOK!”

    Maybe you’ll make your Dad a character in one of your mysteries. Inspiration is coming!


  5. An excellent reflection thanks, and all the best for getting the engine up and running. I think writing is not dissimilar to other jobs – it has times of drudgery, but I refuse to call it writer’s block. In my opinion, creativity doesn’t lie in spontaneous inspiration but in the discipline required to impose limitations on oneself. (That thought comes from Stravinsky!) Incidentally, I wrote my “best” play after my father died, and although the play “sprang” from that sad occasion it was two years after the event.


  6. You’ve had such a lot to deal with… so have a cup of tea and enjoy it… you’ll be back, you’re just taking stock or maybe brewing up some story lines alongside that tea. Don’t rush it but make sure to take good care of yourself.


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