My, that was an embarrassing pause. Sorry, I was addicted to reading.
I may have mentioned on here from time to time that I'm a big hobbyist photographer. (Here's my flickr.) One thing I enjoy about this pastime is the opportunity for--indeed, the necessity of--making quick decisions and acting on them without forethought. When you see something interesting, you have to react immediately to get the picture, and nothing really compares to the excitement of making something out of nothing in little more than an instant.
Writing a novel would seem, upon casual examination, to be the exact opposite--the product of long consideration, revision, and reimagination. But when I think about it, that isn't really so. I don't know how it is for all of you, but for me, when I'm writing at a good clip, I'm not thinking about anything at all. I'm making snap decisions and following them wherever they take me. If I have one particular strength as a writer, it's that I'm hooked on that feeling--of coming up with something and just going for it like a madman.
Of course, a lot of this stuff turns out to be gobbledygook, and eventually has to be deleted. But the best parts of my books, I think, have always been the things I've done with the least forethought. And the lion's share of work on a novel consists of supporting these sections and making them work together--not making up new stuff that's better than them.
I think that, when you practice something, what you're really doing is honing your instincts. We often find, in work and in life, that we spend days, weeks, months, debating in our minds things that we really decided in about a second back when the problem first presented itself. (I fell for Rhian after glancing at her at a picnic--maybe we should have just gotten married that afternoon?) And maturing as an artist, and as a person, is a process of learning to trust the instincts you've honed.
Maybe writer's block happens when you lose faith in your instincts. Here's hoping it doesn't afflict me this year. Or photographer's block, for that matter. Or, heaven forefend, marriage block.