Back before I started my first novel, I asked my full-time writer friends how they did it, how they sat down at their desks every day without that feeling of dread, that feeling that their desk was repelling them like a magnet. None were very helpful, I must say. I got some blank stares, maybe a few, “Y…es, I remember that it was like that once…” but no definite answers as to how to combat that particular form of writer’s block that sometimes affects new writers: the inability to get started and keep the momentum going.
When I was a young student just beginning to tell people (in a reticent murmur without looking them in the eye) that I might want to be a novelist someday, someone gave me a classic book on writing that said something like: “A writer writes every day. If you’re not the kind of person who can do that, quit now.” Ouch! I can’t tell you what book it was—I have wisely thrown it away—but it was perhaps the most unhelpful present I have ever received. Sure there are good arguments for writing regularly, but writers aren’t always born with this ability. Sometimes it takes years to develop good writing habits.
The thing that finally got me over the hump and on the right road was having a writing partner. Mine was called Aino. I would trek to Aino’s house every Thursday to write for three or four hours. Sometimes we’d read what we’d written. Aino’s rough drafts were far better than mine, and her output was about double, but her good company and the commitment we had made together kept me coming back.
Once I had it in my mind that, whatever else happened during the week, I was going to be writing on Thursday, I somehow found that I could do a little more. Someone suggested writing just 15 minutes every day before work, and I found I could do it now. Momentum in writing is a miraculous thing. Once I finally started to gain some, I was amazed by how many story problems my subconscious would unravel for me between writing sessions. I learned that writing regularly is simply more productive for me than writing in agonized bursts, and once I really knew that, it was hard to go back.
This year, when my friends Rob and Ruth asked if I wanted to write with them (every Thursday, as it happened) I knew it wasn’t something I really needed anymore, but I said yes anyway. I’m glad I did. For me it serves another purpose now; it breaks up the monotony of my writing week. Plus, it’s great to see that Rob isn’t quite so repelled by his desk anymore.
Occasionally, “the dread” will rear its head again (usually about the time when I start bragging to myself that I’m over it) but it has never been quite so bad as when I started out. If you’re feeling it, a writing partner might be for you.