Writer’s Block is a Myth

(To celebrate Knights of Writ’s 100th blog post, I offer this lie-buster)

Every week of every year writers compose articles and blogs about how to defeat the dreaded Writers Block. Each is a lie—Writer’s Block does not exist.

“Wait,” you cry out, “I’ve stared at the blank page for hours, paced the room, succumbed to a shot of Jack Daniels to loosen the thoughts. Nothing works.”

Before you scoff and click away—jettisoned to the next article entitled “Defeating Writer’s Block the Last Time,”—realize this: claiming Writer’s Block is only an excuse to not write.

You have bought the lie, and the price is a heavy burden indeed . . . inactivity.

Writer’s Block has grown to legendary status among writers (and by those composing articles to perpetrate the lie) and is a fodder field of articles entitled, “8 Ways to Guarantee You Don’t Get Writer’s Block,” or “10 Ways to Avoid Writer’s Block.” A recent Writer’s Digest Magazine published three articles under the umbrella heading, “Beating Writer’s Block.”

Although many articles about Writer’s Block contain nifty exercises or prompts to help creativity, their assumption is misplaced.

Why? Because writers have bought into the existence of the dragon.

The reason you feel gripped by Writer’s Block is simple—you have limited your options.

A well-known anecdote about Isaac Asimov explains how he had several typewriters in his office—this is in the 1940’s and 50’s before computers—each with a different writing project. When one did not shake his world, he went to another and worked. He explained the mind needs excitement and becomes weary when working day after day on the same subject.

Professional writers create whether or not they are “in the mood.” Does a doctor only operate when he’s in-the-mood, a lawyer defend when the mood suits them? Have you ever heard of a plumber’s block, or a longshoreman’s block, or a bartender’s block (heaven forbid!)? None exist; neither does Writer’s Block.

Writer’s Block is an imaginary entity we give credence. Perhaps it is our way of dealing with terror or maybe a self-worth issue. Although that may be the case, I usually find writers bemoan the “Block” when their work encompasses too few options.

So entranced and focused on a minimum of choices, a writer rolls over and over the same information, trying to fix the same problem, come up with the right idea, when all that’s needed is to let the subconscious sort it all out.

Writer’s Block is caused by an over-simplified expectation: you are ready to work on this particular project right now. Sorry, it doesn’t always work that way.

Often it does, and that’s when you stream through the story, fingers a blur, white spaced fill with squiggly black letters. Other times you have to take a deep breath, open a new folder, and work on a different project.

I have 5 books (3 fiction and 2 non-fiction) in varied degrees of completion, 5 times that many short stories, a dozen article ideas, 18 blog topics I wish to pursue—when I’m not tuned with a particular one, I find another.

I have a couple projects I work on most every day, but if I run into a wall for some reason, I have others to fall back to until I’m ready to re-tackle the primary item.

The point is this: writing every day is a given, and we must be ready to improvise and juggle when something goes awry, ie., when a specific piece of writing needs more simmer time.

This is a natural process, not a Block, writer or otherwise.

We must not give the Myth wings and let it carry away our sensibilities. It’s time to refuse to go along for the ride; instead, open another folder and work on a different project. In the end you will find you complete more, and in the process, improve your skills.

As a last word on the subject, I turn to Stephen King: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just sit down and get to work.”

See you on the next page,

Rick

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You Will Offend Someone

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We live in the world of the thin-skinned. Regardless of what you write, you are bound to offend someone, perhaps many someones. Although most people consider themselves open-minded and/or progressive, it is seldom the truth—simply another mask worn at the appropriate time.

When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was first published by Scholastic Books, droves of people were appalled a well-respected publisher of children’s books could promote such offensive material for youthful readers—sorcery and witchcraft, by God!

“Our children should not be subjected to this kind of material disguised as entertainment,” someone said.

That was 1997 and much has changed: the envelope has been pushed, and in many cases, set on fire.

Often, visual entertainment leads the way, the “keeper” of the envelope. What had been kept off major TV networks is now commonplace (sex, violence, and drugs, oh my), and in many cases are present solely for shock value with little purpose to plot or characterization. Books have followed a similar path.

For me, as a writer, everything needs to have a purpose within the greater context of story, whether to expand characterization, plot, foreshadowing, or theme; otherwise, it’s just fluff.

Some rejoice censorship is all but lost, others have cut their cable ties rather than sit through what they consider indecent or trivial programming.

I am not a prude or a puritan, but have little use for what passes as entertainment in today’s society: the foul-mouthed and profane just for its own sake, the half-dressed actors (or less as in the case of shows like Spartacus, Game of Thrones, and Orange is the New Black) whose writers exemplify the ultimate envelope pushers. As I said, these things make me neither queasy nor angry, but prompts a head shaking because most of it has no bearing on the plot and characters; instead, appealing to the mass voyeurism so prevalent in today’s world.

I recently finished Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and was surprised by how many swear words he used. He wrote the book in 2001—a few short years after Harry Potter appeared—and I wonder if he used his influence to push the envelope a little further into what had been considered off limits. I’m sure I will never get the chance to ask him . . . just curious.

How does this all relate to your writing?

I encourage you to be honest when writing, and by that I mean if the plot or characterization warrants the use of profanity, use it; be aware that overuse will water down the impact, which is the purpose in the first place, right?

As to scenes where people have a sexual encounter, I like to lead up with enticing sensual and sexy language, but close the door before the actual act. Why? Because no matter how well you describe the anatomy and the characters panting, the readers—most who have had sex, after all—can imagine (or remember) better than your portrayal.

Do not worry—or even consider—how you may offend others, whether intentionally or accidently, because as the detective would comment, “that shows motive.” You do not want to telegraph your motives; like theme, what you say should be an underlying sense and not a head-thumping lecture. But it must pertain to the characterization and/or plot— otherwise swearing, overt violence, or implicit sex acts are added only for shock value and will make the writing trite and predictable.

There are instances when we should be offended and even prompted to action: the abuse of a child or animal (anyone for that matter), flagrant inconsiderate behavior toward a loved one, and any number of others. After all, our conscience exists for a reason, a moral compass of right and wrong.

As an artist, there are times when you must write what’s in your mind and your heart—as long as it translates to characterization or plot—and just say, Fuck it, and the offended be damned.

See you on the next page,

 

Rick

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