Writer’s block (or not)

typewriterAmongst the questions I am most often asked by journalists and small children (along with “Do you like Eastenders, miss?” and “Can I be in a book, miss?” and once “Was you in Les Miserables, miss?”) is the million-dollar “What do you do when you get writer’s block?” To which I smile, and sigh, and say with a “sorry”: “I don’t.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve never had it. Like trying to give up smoking, how could I possibly understand something I’ve never had to go through? But that is kind of the point. I never smoked because I couldn’t afford to, financially, health-wise, or shout-wise (Mrs Nadin snr is forensic in her ability to sniff out a Benson & Hedges). Likewise I have never had writer’s block because I have never been able to afford to.

Writer’s block seems to be a luxury enjoyed or endured only by those who can spend months on end being bankrolled by their partners or parents. Try being a broadcast journalist, or a political writer – when someone asks you for a piece they don’t mean maybe in a few weeks if you can muster up the creative energy, they mean in half an hour.

So you write, even if you know it’s not Faulkner or Hemingway. Even if you know it’s not the best you’ve ever done. Even if you know that if you wrote the same thing tomorrow it might be actually good rather than good enough. That bit is what second drafts are for. And editors.

I write because I love it. I write because I don’t want to do anything else. But I also write because it’s a job, and you don’t not do your job just because you’re having an off day. At least, not if you have council tax to pay. Or a rather splendid sixties coat that is begging you to try it on every time you walk past the window.

I know that’s possibly not helpful. I know it’s a bit ranty and holier than thou. But if you will ask…

About Joanna Nadin

A former broadcast journalist and special adviser to the prime minister, since leaving politics I’ve written more than 80 books for children and adults, as well as speeches for politicians, and articles for newspapers and magazines like The Guardian, Red and The Amorist. I also lecture in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and hold a doctorate in young adult literature. I’m a winner of the Fantastic Book Award and the Surrey Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Booktrust Best Book award and Queen of Teen among others, and twice nominated for the Carnegie Medal, for Everybody Hurts, and for Joe All Alone, which is now a BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated BBC TV series. I've also worked with Sir Chris Hoy on the Flying Fergus series and ghost-written Angry Birds under another name. I like London, New York, Essex, tea, cake, Marmite, mint imperials, prom dresses, pubs, that bit in the West Wing where Donna tells Josh she wouldn’t stop for a red light if he was in an accident, junk shops, crisps, Cornwall, St Custard’s, Portuguese custard tarts, political geeks, pin-up swimsuits, the Regency, high heels, horses, old songs, my Grandma’s fur coat, vinyl, liner notes, the smell of old books, the feel of a velveteen monkey, Guinness, quiffs, putting my hand in a bin of chicken feed, the 1950s, burlesque, automata, fiddles, flaneuring, gigs in fields on warm summer nights, Bath, the bath.
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4 Responses to Writer’s block (or not)

  1. It’s only in the last few months that I’ve realised that my feeling towards ‘writers block’ are exactly the same. I’m not yet published (well, I have to finish my novel first!) but it’s about sitting down and getting it done. I’ve just started writing up a post about ‘how I write’ and I think I’m going to use this quote from Norman Mailer in it: “Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day”.

    Anyway, it’s always inspiring to seeing other writers succeeding at what we all love doing. Keep up the good work!

    • Joanna Nadin says:

      Thank you! And thanks for the quote. I am going to use it from now it. In fact I have just stuck it on my wall. If you don’t do the writing you’re not a writer, you’re a thinker. Very different Jo x

  2. wendymeddour says:

    I’d quite like to be a thinker. Sounds clever and all sophisticated. What do you have to do again? 😉

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