Thursday, 27 March 2014

Writer’s block

Tulip Frobisher stared blankly at the cursor blinking accusingly from the top left hand of the empty screen. 

She huffed, pursed her lips in precisely the way she knew a woman knocking on the door of 50 shouldn’t, and glanced over at the chair to her left. From its depths came an equally accusing blink from Blott, her white cat named for the black splodges that made him look like someone had shook an old-fashioned fountain pen over him. 

Or perhaps it was an unconscious tribute to Tom Sharpe?

A sip from the ceramic imitation of a cardboard take-out gourmet coffee cup made her feel a little more like a Hampstead hipster than she really was. She looked back at the screen and hovered her hands over the keyboard. The Peruvian Fairplay coffee fought with the whipped milk topping it as they slipped down her throat and completely failed to deliver the double shot of adrenaline and inspiration she was looking for.

“Stop worrying about what you’re going to write – just start typing, and the words will come,” she muttered.

Her fingers stayed stubbornly levitating an inch above the keys, quivering slightly in anticipation of the words of wit and wisdom (or perhaps utter wankiness) that were waiting to spill from their tips – any minute now….

A slightly discordant ‘ding!’ alerted her to a new addition to the growing list of unattended mails in her In Box. Guilt kicked in and her index finger dropped to the mouse to click and see what was waiting for her ‘paid for’ attention. Blah, blah….   800 words, snappy headline…  blah, blah… get all the corporate buzzwords in and make sure you quote X, Y, Z as well as Ms Alpha and Mr Omega too. Deadline: 3pm today.

Tulip glanced at her wrist. That didn’t help – no watch. A look at the bottom of her screen told her she had just over two hours to churn out the blurb. Sighing heavily, but secretly slightly relieved to escape the blinking cursor on her blank page, she set to…

…90 minutes, three coffees and a sloppy cheese sandwich later, she has her first draft ready – bar the blanks waiting for missing info, inevitable discussions about who says what and demands to jam the hated jargon back into her copy – and was gleefully hitting the “Send” button that would put the ball back into someone else’s court.

She could churn out the words for others, pretty much on demand. So why couldn’t she do it for herself?

Back to the blank screen, this time with a cup of green tea in her hand, in case the missing ingredient was a little touch of Zen.

“Write what you know,” she said, repeating the mantra of her old English teacher a lifetime ago.

But really, would anyone WANT to read what she knew, when it was pretty much the same thing that every second woman born in lower-middle England in the 1960s knew? She’d been beaten to it on the confessional diary front by Bridget Jones and the rampaging herds of chick-lit, Mummy-lit and Menopause-lit stream of consciousness novels she had spawned.

She was simply too ordinary, too normal. She had not overcome any massive obstacles to make her way in life – not even a smidge of dyslexia or depression to make her date with her ordinary destiny heroic. Nor did she come from privileged but potty Bohemian aristocracy to give her story an edge of high-born eccentricity.

She was just plain ordinary, without blood, sweat or tears or mad auntie in the ancestral attic.

Her name wasn’t even Tulip Frobisher – nothing so Primrose Hill, much to her regret. Her real name, like her, was much more middling. She had picked her non de plume with her second favourite spring flower in mind, after she realised that Daffodil Jones was just a little bit too “Look you, Boyo” for whatever masterpiece she was eventually going to turn out.

She cast her mind back over the week’s headlines. The media had pretty much all the angles and maddest scenarios for disappearing aeroplanes covered, and anyway they’d already been beaten to it by the writers of “Lost” and, long before them, Stephen King in ‘The Langoliers’.

The state of the economy and the political posers pretending to do something  about the mess they themselves had created just made her fume, and there were already more than enough ranters out there without adding to the racket.

“Look inside” she said out loud, startling Blott from his slumber to throw a sulky stare in her direction. She shuddered the goose that had walked over her grave off her shoulder and remembered the voices she used to hear, or thought she heard, from the top of her wardrobe when she was an awkward ten-year-old with pretensions of becoming a poetess. What had they been? Her overripe pre-pubescent imagination? Lurking psychosis? Ghosts? Or the spectres of some deeply-buried trauma?

No, she wouldn’t be going there. Not today.

Anyway, those voices – one male and silkily sarcastic, the other female and with a harsh edge like a slap across the cheek – had made their appearance around about the same time she got all Evangelistic, learning huge chunks of the Bible by heart and having nightly catch-up chats with God (He didn’t answer, which was probably just as well, and she figured He was just too busy). They stopped a couple of years later when her reading habits landed her equally compulsively in the arms of H.G. Wells, George Orwell,  Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, George Orwell, Jules Verne and (her greatest and most enduring obsession) Douglas Adams.

That, she decided, was probably the problem. She had read and worshipped the words that seemed to spill so effortlessly and eloquently from those minds packed with original ideas that she felt like a literary cripple whenever she tried to emulate them.

But surely even those great minds had their moments of doubts before they started spewing their worlds onto the page? Didn’t they ever sit bewildered in front of an empty page or screen wondering who could possibly want to read any words they might find to fill it with?

One thing’s for sure, if you write nothing, no-one would read you.

Tulip threw the last of the bitterly insipid tea down her throat, clunked the cup onto the table and poised like Blott when he was ready to jump on a house fly, or a sun beam, preparing to attack the keys.

A double “ding!” brought her back. That urgent article, back to her with a long list of changes for her to accept or argue.

Her literary debit would just have to wait. Again.  

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