How to Cure Writer’s Block

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How to Cure Writer’s Block

You guys know all about Emily Dickinson, right? Of course you do, you’re writers and you read stuff. You know Emily Dickinson was a total shut-in. You probably spent those fifteen minutes of your middle-grade English classes where she was introduced totally, and I mean totally, pitying Emily Dickinson. I mean, she was a shut-in. There were flies and poems about death and stuff.

Then you got older. You got a job, got a car, got a family maybe. And at some point in all this–some day where you sat back and realized you got a grand total of five minutes alone today, and you spent most of those five minutes trying to pay your electric bill by phone with your husband’s credit card, which you may or may not know the security code for–you realized.

Emily Dickinson’s life of shut-innery was starting to sound pretty goddamn good to you.

Not all of us get to just sit around the house and write whenever the mood strikes us. If you do, bully for you, but there’s even less of an excuse for you not to write. Most of us, if we don’t have jobs, have house duties, payment duties, cooking duties, kid duties. Real life, whether we want it to or not, has this irritating way of filling up our time. And when you finally do get to your typewriter/word processor/fancy journal, you realize you’re so damn tired, and you have no idea what to write.

Before you know it, you’ve been doing that for a week (even on your day off), and oh my goody gumdrops goober goodness, aren’t you just so delicate, and soooo creatively blocked, boo hoo hoo.

Here’s the trick, and where my post title starts getting involved: you are not a unique elegant snowflake. Your life duties are not so special they exempt you from writing. If you want to be a writer, you have to do one thing, and one thing only, to earn that title, and that is, unsurprisingly:

You gotta write.

Mind you, I don’t think writer’s block exists. At least, not in the way it’s frequently portrayed as existing: there’s not a lot of sitting around on your bum imploring the Muse, grasping a stylus in your ink-spattered hand, cursing the gods who have stolen your own particular herbal infusion of talent. If there were, I’d be doing it. It’s good theater.

Writer’s block is what happens (and note my italics on this) when you don’t write enough to keep going.

Writing, like any other task, has momentum. Yes, your own story-time isn’t the same as time in real life. However, when you’re writing something long, there are parts that are easy and hard to write, and you’ve got to write both of them, because who the fuck else is going to do it? And here’s the thing–

–if you stop for a while. If you put off writing that hard part for too long. You, like a bike wheel in a pothole. Are going. To get. Stuck.

On the other hand: if you keep chipping away at it, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. If you keep slogging away, even though you got three hours of sleep last night and your boyfriend expects dinner simply because he gets home later. If you devote your coffee break at work to writing a few sentences here and there. If you, in short, ignore every possible rule telling you to wait for inspiration to strike, and fit in as many minute wordgasms per day as possible:

You’ll get to a point, eventually, where inspiration does strike, and it all gets easy again. For a little while. Until it isn’t any more.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no muse. There’s no divine voice of inspiration, no ‘right moment’ to write, no special place or music you need to produce a few lines of type on a blank page. Writing gets romanticized, demonized, portrayed as an art form of capricious difficulty, and it is none of these things. All it is, in its basest form, is stringing characters together until they form words and sentences on a piece of paper. A child can do it. Somewhere, a child does do it, probably better than you or me.

There are moments you’ll be able to do it better than others. (I do believe in inspiration, as long as you don’t sit around on your ass waiting for it). There are moments where you write something you think is pure fucking genius, and these are the moments you write for.

But these moments aren’t every moment (and I want you to think for a minute about other aspects of your life, and, really, when was the last time you expected those to all be heartbreaking works of staggering blah blah blah?) And the only way you’ll reach these moments–the only way you’ll ever ‘un-block’ yourself–is to keep writing, even though you’re blocked.

Do the sandwich guys as Subway stop making sandwiches whenever they feel they aren’t creatively sandwichwardly motivated?

No. Fuck no, they’ve gotta get paid. Why the hell do you think it’s so different for you?

Long story short: if you want to get over your writer’s block, force yourself to write something. If you want to get over a ‘hurdle’ in a particular story, force yourself to crawl over it, one irritating inch at a time. Who cares if you’re producing literary geenyus every moment of tappity-tapping? That’s what editing is for. If you want, you can come back and write the whole damn scene over later, when you have your Best of Bjork limited edition vinyl and your Bedazzled typewriter to hand and the yarrow stalks predict a good writing day.

For now, just get it done. And once it’s done, you can go on.

This is how you get anything, anything in the world, done.

Happy tough love motivational post Friday. I’m here to answer any questions you might have, field any invective you might throw, etc.

EFR

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8 thoughts on “How to Cure Writer’s Block

  1. I’m not a big fan of “muse” inspiration, myself. In my experience, if the writing isn’t working, it’s because something in what is already written isn’t working or the writer doesn’t have a clear idea of where they are going. Writing around the problem or cutting the little darlings works wonders for both of those problems.

    I work for a thousand words a day. I’ve found that it is a useful set-up because you can’t edit what doesn’t exist. I do love self-editing, before it ever hits the Official Editors, although I know that can be creativity blocking for other people.

    Do you write to a word count or just aim to get words down on the page?

    1. I aim for any words. I’m not a big fan of word counts, usually–I think they can leave a writer focusing on how much is being said, whether than what (I need to do a post on this someday, actually, I have the terrible NaNoWriMo experiences to back it up). Then again, I tend to have very little time to myself, so I wind up writing in weird blips and bursts–it probably works better if you can just sit down and get it done.

      I think it’s important to just get something down–keep the momentum of the story going and yourself in the groove, insert your favorite writey cliche here. I have days where I write fifty words and days where I write five thousand, and oh gosh yes, I totally always check. 😛

      1. I think it might be a little different for me because I’m a very heavy plotter. My entire series was plotted out before I started writing. When I sit down to write, it’s less “write an arbitrary 1000 words” and more “heroine needs to have done this, this, and this by the end of the session”. Because I tend to write in scenes that are, for the most part, about the same length and number of “beats”, this works relatively well. Also, coincidentally, it works out to about 1000 words or two or three scenes per chapter.

        I know from discussion with others that this *really* doesn’t work for everyone, but it has worked out relatively well for me.

        I really enjoy getting other perspectives on the writing process and I’ve been very much enjoying yours 🙂 Thank you!

      2. Ha, true. My plots are more like Kool Whip to an ordinary plot’s whipped cream, so this totally makes sense. I also freely admit to not having ever outlined anything in my life, except possibly hands for Thanksgiving hand turkeys as a kid–so of course word counts don’t work for me. I don’t know what I’m writing down.

        It’s been good hearing your perspectives too! Everyone’s different, and I think there’s entirely too much talk of what ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be done and not enough comparing of notes these days.

  2. I feel like with any highly technical creative endeavor you hit these points where the work becomes particularly challenging. Although I shouldn’t admit this on open social media, when I’m at work and I hit one of these difficult spots (I do a lot of research related computer programming and I consider this a creative process), I sometimes avoid it and find other stuff to work on. However, the work needs to be done, and I don’t particularly want to lose my job, so I always go back to it. I tend to look at writing in the same manner, I’ll get to a tough bit or a part that’s not working and then I’ll want to avoid it. In the end, if I want to finish, I know I’ve got to deal with it. I don’t assume inspiration is going to strike. I assume that if I keep coming back to the problem every day thinking about it, then I’ll come up with a solution sooner than if I just think about it every now and then. It feels like inspiration when the idea comes, and it is, but inspiration doesn’t just hit you, you have to work for it. You have to open your notebook or laptop every damn day and stare at the last sentence you wrote, if necessary, running through dozens (hundreds?) of things that could happen as a result of that sentence. Sometimes I employ rubber-ducking (talk to a rubber duck, or actual duck if you have one) to explain the problem. I find that this helps me and more often than not I have at least a partial solution.

    Anyhow, thanks for this. I think it’s spot on and it’s something that every person hoping to write or finish a book should hear.

    1. Huh! Weird, I have to approve your posts again. Very odd. Anyway.

      I agree, totally, that inspiration is something you have to work for. And one of the things working for inspiration involves is powering through the hard stuff. I see the advice ‘just skip ahead and write another scene’ frequently applied to writer’s block, and, while I don’t think it’s bad advice, I think it’s an easy way out, and one that can get a little addicting if you try it all the time. Sometimes you just have to power through, or the scene goes cold. Nobody wants to hear ‘just slog through it’, it’s unwriterly and there’s no neat trick there, but to get the job done that’s what a person has to do.

      So I hear you on the rubber ducking. I just use my boyfriend, but a rubber duck is probably more humane for your significant other. 😛

      1. Oh, I changed my e-mail last week so that notifications don’t clog up my primary. I’m guessing that wordpress interprets this as someone else having taken over the blog. I had to change my gravitar too. I’ve seen a bit of advice saying not to skip ahead. I’ve concluded that as long as you’re writing and making progress, then it doesn’t matter. I try to avoid skipping ahead myself, instead, I prefer to go backward, if possible, for polishing and rewriting. A lot of times it’ll uncover problems that are making forward movement more difficult than it should be. Right now, I’m trying to finish the last chapter, but I keep having to go back and revisit the preceding two chapters to tweak the circumstances. It hasn’t helped the last chapter yet, but I’m still making forward progress.
        I also use my wife as the rubber duck, she’s usually kind enough to not tell me ‘would you shut the hell up about your book!’ A lot of times just the explanation out loud of what’s going on helps. Of course it’s also nice to have the feedback of ‘I don’t think that character would do that.’ Either I’ll have an explanation for why s/he would or I have a problem to deal with.

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