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.