I’ve just read and reviewed a novel which centred around an author who struggled to follow on from a successful first novel. He was offered a strategy to help deal with his writer’s block: write two thousand words of any old nonsense at set intervals. In Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasy this seems to have worked for him.
This fictional premise reminded me of an incident in the 1960s when I was in my teens. Around the age of sixteen and inspired by Treasure Island I began a novel set in 18th-century Bristol, having done some desultory research by cycling round the city’s historic sites. Unfortunately my parents got hold of the unfinished first chapter and made some really patronising comments, as a result of which I abandoned all attempts to write any fiction. That is, until I joined a creative writing class in my late 60s.
You’d think all those exercises I wrote — they eventually led to a Certificate of Higher Education in Creative Writing Studies from Aberystwyth University — would have stood me in good stead, and that the sluicegate holding back all those imaginative juices would have been opened—but no. Instead I pour all my energies into blog post after blog post—reviews and such—perhaps in the firm belief that I’m still learning the craft from the masters.
Yet I have many writing projects I would really like to get my teeth into. Here’s a sample.
- An extended work on approaches to Arthurian legend, literature, archaeology, history and pseudohistory, based on half a century delving into the subject.
- A children’s novel centred round a reclusive writer and the children who interact with her.
- A history of the Pendragon Society (1959-2009) for which I edited the journal over several decades.
- A magical realist novel riffing on Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies for which I have copious notes and drafts.
- A memoir of growing up in Hong Kong in the 1950s, long promised to our grown-up children.
What’s holding me back from getting started on any or all of these? It’s very possible that, having recently self-diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and with a partner who has been officially diagnosed as such, procrastination is very much concomitant with my condition; certainly I’ve procrastinated all of my life, and psychologists suggest postponing actions and decisions is linked to the chronic anxiety which is a common symptom of many on the spectrum.
For me the anxiety is partly due to a fear of failure, partly that the outcome of my efforts will be judged as wanting; it’s much easier not to hold oneself up to possible ridicule after having sweated blood to complete a task or project. Also linked to this, I think, is the stasis that comes when one is faced with too many choices, like the proverbial rabbit caught in headlights—and that is also a trait that some forms of autism manifest as.
In other news, I have five or more titles that I’m currently in the process of reading: some Jane Austen verse, Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Friedrich Schiller’s The Ghost-Seer, The Lord of the Rings, a Batman graphic novel, and Jane Austen and the Clergy by Irene Collins. I wonder why I find it hard to utterly commit to any one title at a time? (I think we can guess why, this is merely a rhetorical question!)
Do you too have projects you can’t settle down to? Like the child in the sweet shop do you find you don’t know where to start? Or are you ‘merely’ weighed down with the anxiety that most of us are now prone to, given current events?