‘Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.’ ~ J.K. Rowling
More out of a sense of mulish determination than anything else, I try my hardest to get out a weekly column for my blog. I achieved this with reasonable success when I had a contract with a daily newspaper as there was pressure to meet a deadline. The newspaper industry is presently going through the doldrums and light-hearted columns such as mine are generally given the short shrift. Apparently, nobody wants to laugh these days, and who can blame them? I exclude those that do include a very short, humorous column once in a while, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. And the imported cartoon strips featuring Dennis the Menace or Charlie Brown cannot be taken seriously either, if you get my drift. I am talking about writing. You know, words, sentences, paragraphs – that sort of thing. Humorous writing is a serious business, not to be trifled with. It is a craft that is shaped and honed over many years.
Ever since I started my own blog, I experience a sense of freedom. No time or word limit, but somehow that has not come in the way of being able to consistently churn out risible columns which a handful of my friends have found worthwhile to skim through. If I can raise even a few giggles, I consider myself that much ahead of the game. However, there are moments when one is stumped for a topic. I mean, how many times can one write about the Covid19 situation, even as it mutates in its own scary way, which keeps the medical profession all excited and the world at large, all of a twitter. Pun intended. Speaking for myself, the subject is done and dusted. I have covered Christmas and New Year jollifications extensively in previous years, and other than wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, giving the receding 2020 a swift kick in the pants will give me immense pleasure.
Then there’s India’s alarming debacle on the cricket field in Australia that everyone’s had their fill of. Those not terribly funny and overwrought jokes about our batsmen’s single digit, ‘telephone number’ performance in the recently concluded Test match at Adelaide are also sorely testing the law of diminishing returns in terms of public interest. ‘Nuff said, is the expression that springs to mind. As for the China situation, all the poor soldiers on both sides are clearly snowbound, and only muffled noises are coming through. They could be echoing singer-songwriter Donald Fagen’s lyrics, Snowbound / Let’s sleep in today / Wake me up / When the wolves come out to play. The farmers and the government are involved in a never-ending game of footsie, also known as ‘who-blinks-first.’ Amit Shah and Nadda are making Mamata go ballistic in Bengal while the Prime Minister’s flowing beard grows longer and longer by the day. All he needs to do is don a fur-lined red suit and cap, and he could be a doppelganger for Santa Claus! All these topics are in a reverberating mode, an absolute nightmare for aspiring column writers seeking fresh pastures.
They call it Writer’s Block. This is the problem statement. With the best will in the world, inspiration eludes you. The big idea is not even a speck on the horizon. No light bulbs going off in your brain. Wallowing in a bathtub and waiting for the Eureka moment like Archimedes, is a non-starter. For one thing, my bathroom is not fitted out with a bathtub as there’s not even enough room to swing the proverbial cat. Secondly, the thought of rushing out of the non-existent tub in my birthday suit, yelling something unintelligible, simply because I might have hit a upon a brilliant thought, is not going to make me hugely popular in the household. The domestic staff will have a fit and the good lady wife will throw one. To say nothing of all the displaced water to swab.
An American going by the name of Jameson Parker whom I have never heard of (my bad) and whose provenance is a closed book to me, has a nice line of thinking on dealing with writer’s block. My research reveals that this Parker is a part-time actor and a part-time writer. Little wonder that I have not come across his oeuvre, but he came up with a snappy one. ‘I work on multiple projects simultaneously, so if something stops up on one article/book/story/whatever, I move to another and let my sub-conscious work on the problem. Of course, like P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, I’m not entirely convinced I have a sub-conscious.’ My thoughts, exactly. The fact that he delved into one of Wodehouse’s treasure trove of gems makes Mr. Parker a man after my own heart. That said, I asked myself why not turn to the Master himself? What did the humourist nonpareil have to say on the vexed subject? It was simplicity itself. ‘I just sit at my typewriter and curse a bit,’ observed the creator of Jeeves and Lord Emsworth. Believe you me, it works. The level of profanity you wish to expend on your laptop or desktop, is entirely a matter of personal choice.
I have said this before, that the daily fare that our newspapers provide or television channels spew out can often give us little nuggets of information of an off-beat nature that can provide fertile ground for a writer to explore. ‘Villager cuts off unfaithful wife’s head’ or ‘Woman cuts off unfaithful husband’s John Thomas’ or better still, ‘MP caught watching mobile porno during parliamentary proceedings,’ – headlines like these are fecund grist to a satirical writer’s mill. The comic possibilities are endless. I once wrote a piece based on an actual news story of a villager, deep in India’s agricultural heartlands, who ceremoniously married a block of wood (suitably attired and made up) because he failed to find a bride! Sadly, these things don’t happen all the time. Which is when one finds oneself mulling over where the next idea is going to come from.
In the final analysis, sitting in front of your computer screen and hurling filthy abuse at it may not always be the best way to invite the muse. A tried and tested method is to just think of something completely at random, never mind what it is, and just type out a couple of sentences. And just walk away from it. Even if it is complete nonsense. When you come back to it after a day or two, you will find the opening sentence leading on to another sentence, then on to another and so on. Before you know it, you have managed an entire paragraph. After that, it should be smooth sailing. Perhaps this is what Jameson Parker meant when he talked about the sub-conscious mind going to work. While you sleep, I should add in parenthesis. I guess I cannot provide a better example of coming out of a writer’s block quandary than this very piece that you, dear reader, have been patiently going through. I started off having no idea what I wanted to write about, having exhausted most of the current hot topics in my earlier blogs. I just kept rambling on about my predicament and before I could say ‘writer’s block,’ I have almost completed an entire column. Writing a piece on not being able to write? Now there’s a thought plainly pregnant with potential, with a neat alliteration thrown in to boot. As the German-American novelist and poet, Charles Bukowski so pithily put it, ‘Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.’ I second that.