Writer’s Block is an enemy all writers face at one time or another. It can be paralyzing. Sometimes it can last for hours or days or more, and it’s always exhausting. Amazing how doing nothing is so tiring and so troubling.
Although I occasionally stare at a blank page and wonder what to write, it does not happen often. The reason is that I found a way to beat Writer’s Block, and it was a complete accident.
Now here’s the thing: the more you write, the less the dreaded Writer’s Block will attack. It’s a truism, which by definition, is an obvious truth hardly worth mentioning. I mention it here because there was a time when I was puffed up with the cavalier claim, “I’ll write when the mood strikes me. Can’t rush the muse, after all.” What a fool!
Write. Simple. Much of it will be drivel, but here’s the caveat: those trite writings will grow into the foundation of your talent. Trust that.
Writing, like all skills and talents, grows and blossoms the more you do it, the further you stretch your skills into unknown territory. Obvious, right? Then why do so many would-be writers await the arrival of the mischievous muse, creating little and filling drawers with unfinished stories? “Stories” in this context is a generous description because, while created in a frenzied outpouring, the writing withers and dies, snuffed by inactivity. They are not stories at all and may not even be vignettes. Either way, a discarded incomplete story or novel is like a house without any residents—empty.
That is not to say that I do not have unfinished stories in my drawers (in the modern world, this is a File in a Folder on the computer). The difference is that each is at a certain place of creation, but not forgotten. Some are character sketches or first scenes, many are completed first drafts that need to be stylized and polished. Each will be completed in their own time. That they are planned to be finished is the difference, and in the same way Isaac Asimov had several typewriters with sheets of paper for different projects around his office, we have the simplicity of only opening another word document. Use that to your benefit.
Some days I’m more about working on a developing short story than a novel. So, I have several projects in the works at the same time, each in a different phase of development. Perhaps work on a blog article today, or maybe after reading a new book you’re compelled to finish that tenth chapter of the novel you’ve been pecking away at. The brain is a wonderful thing, far from stagnant, and thrives when stimulated. Tantalize it and it will respond, and in so doing, will banish the enemy.
The single greatest lesson I learned and the number one weapon against Writer’s Block: write everyday, regardless of appointments, chores, a job, mowing the lawn, even reading the new novel by a favorite writer. There’s a time to read and it should be part of a writer’s routine, but not at the cost of writing time.
Alas, Writer’s Block does happen, and though steps can be taken to limit its occurrence and debilitation, it will have to be faced.
At the moment when you’re faced with the blank page and your mind shuts down, realize that the writing will likely be far less than you hoped for, and perhaps even gibberish. If you let it, that destructive thought can send you spiraling into the abyss that I call the Confidence Hole. Don’t let it. Do not doom your creativity to a place of discarded dreams. Instead, embrace it and know that everything is fixable; the most important thing at this point is to get those thoughts—your view of the world—on paper.
Sometimes I write 100 words a day, sometimes 500, and on many days I will string together over a 1,000 words, oftentimes initially incoherent. That’s okay. As long as words and sentences, phrases and paragraphs accumulate, I have completed the task I set before me: to write. Revision in the form of a second draft, and then a third (and perhaps more) will shape and define the writing into flowing prose.
On those occasions when I do find myself stranded on the desert island of my thoughts without a clue where to begin, and having re-read yesterday’s writing three times, there are a few exercises I do to get the creative nectar flowing.
I’ll pull out one of my favorite How-To books on writing and find a section that might offer benefit to a particular difficulty I’m having, say dialogue. I’ll find myself reading more, slip over to the characterization section, and Wham! That was the real problem. Elayna is out of character when she faces Bett in the courtyard. I’m now opening my file in pursuit of correcting a wrong.
Hemingway would leave the last sentence of the day unfinished and would reclaim it the next and complete the thought. I finish a sentence and then make a note where I want the scene to go: Frank tells Angie that they will have to put off the wedding.
When all else has failed, having paced and huffed and poured that second cup of coffee, I retrieve a book, article or story by a beloved writer. I begin to type their words. I did this once long ago when stuck on an article for a newspaper and my deadline loomed. It saved me that by-line and the ire of an angry editor.
I learn several things during this exercise. Typing the words as they appear, complete with all the punctuation, gives me a sense of sentence structure and syntax … how it “feels” as having to do with flow. I also trick my mind into thinking about words when associated with the pictures revealed in my mind during the typing.
A short time later, I put their writing aside and take that “feel” and make it my own. At times the writing is only a rewrite of what they have created or a petty diatribe, but finally I begin my own scene or character reflection. It doesn’t matter; again, writing is the goal and typing a favorite writer’s words fuels my need to create and I’m off. It has not failed me yet.
Comment and offer the thing you do to ward off Writer’s Block—your fellow writers will appreciate it.
Now, go fill that blank page . . . .
This Week’s Quote:
“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’” — Helen Simpson
This Week’s Links: