F is for Fog
The Fog for me best describes what happens when I can’t think of the words. I’ve had an idea for a story or the next part of my novel. Quite often it starts during half sleep. The time after dreaming and before you become fully conscious. It’s when the story I’ve been mulling over slips in there and for a while appears to be complete and beautifully written. But then I get up and sit in front of the computer screen and there’s nothing. A grey mist descends and out of the corner of my eye I see the unopened post that hasn’t been dealt with. I suddenly remember the invoices I have to send to get paid.
When I’m working - when someone is paying me to be creative and full of fresh ideas - there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Weather fronts are clear and the day is full of glorious sunshine. It may not be the best thing I’ve ever written but knowing it has to be finished and submitted by a certain time is a great motivator. So why the fog when I’m writing for myself, when I sit down to continue with the novel I’m working on? How best to describe the demon that stops me from getting on with it? There’s the twinge in my shoulder. Too much working on a lap top - obviously. I need to exercise, maybe it’s really bad and will end my writing career?
Don’t get me wrong, the Fog has its uses. I get other things done. At times the bathroom has never been cleaner, the bedroom cleared out and all my hand-washing dealt with. I read the books that I haven’t got round to yet and I dream up work projects. But then I get a fog about those when I have to sit down and write them up into proposals. So if I call myself a writer and love writing, why at times is it impossible to sit down and put one word after another? And what’s the cure to get rid of the fog?
I’ve come to the conclusion that every writer has their own version of the grey mist. And there are times when even authors I look up to experience this. It’s one of those questions I ask whenever I’m at book events. What do you do when you can’t write? Most say they write anyway even if it’s nonsense. I’ve just spent half an hour hunting for a short story which illustrates this. In that time, I found a letter from my uncle which I have to reply to and post, which reminded me I haven’t actually booked flights to go and see him in a couple of weeks. I’ve come back to the computer and had to stop myself from looking up flights.
The story is ‘No Love Songs’ by Charles Bukowski in his collection, Septuagenarian Stew: Stories and Poems. It starts off as a letter to his editor explaining why he hasn’t met a deadline. Beginning with excuses a story unfolds about the misadventures and distractions he encounters on his way to renew his driving licence. It’s taken me the best part of a couple of days to find the story. Every time I sat down to write I’d think about it and start to hunt for it again.
Another great Scottish-based writer said sit down and write 500 words off the top of your head. A way of getting warmed up. I need to go and look up who this was but that would drag me away from the task at hand. Here at my table I can see the grey mist starting at the left hand corner of my living room window, waiting to spread. Or maybe it’s just dirt.