You know what the hardest thing is about writing? It’s having to not use all the words you know. Over years of avid reading and a love for language, I have accumulated a lexical cornucopia, a plethora of parlance. Now I have to throw all of those out of the window and use everyday vocabulary. That makes sense, I suppose. Could you imagine a modern novel written like Dickens or Austen? The problem is that, as soon as I sit down to play at being a writer, my fist slides up under my chin, my lips purse, my brow furrows and I stare vacantly at nothing. If you’ve seen Uncle Rico having his photo taken in Napoleon Dynamite, you will know what I mean.
It’s not just ‘big’ words, it’s also fancy phrasing. I should probably say ‘the sun set’ rather than ‘the warm hues of an exhausted sun reached tentatively across the darkening sky, before slipping silently into slumber.’ No wait, I might use that! See what I mean? In trying to paint a picture for my reader, I often lapse into ‘purple prose’ – it sounds writery in my head. A phrase I have recently been introduced to, which was first coined a hundred years ago and has since been attributed to some of the greats like Anton Chekov and Oskar Wilde, is to ‘kill your darlings’. Get rid of the phrases you think sound wonderful. They probably aren’t great for the reader.
When I sit at my computer with inactive fingers or sit at a coffee shop with a blank piece of paper and an empty stare, it’s not ‘writer’s block’. I don’t believe there is such a thing. I know exactly what is going into my story. It’s just finding a way of saying it.
That seems to be the way I operate – knowing what I want to say, but having it come out wrong. When my kids were small they learned this. When I came home to find blue feathers by the cat flap (that sounds like a short story title) I wanted to break the news gently to my son. I said, ‘The cat ate your bird.’ He cried.