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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Fun Writing & Beating Writer’s Block

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So, I’m sitting at the park as I often do on the weekend, my mind fuzzy and my focus like the last bit of a candle’s flame sputtering in its own wax. I open my laptop and stare at the blank new document, but instead I grab the book I brought for times such as these.

When my mind glazes over, I do what I call Fun Writing, that is, creation without a goal. I harbor no intent to “do” anything with the writing such as turn it into or a blog post, short story, or novel; however, there are times when gems float to the surface of otherwise unpalatable prose.

This is how it works: I read a favorite author, and after a chapter or two, I set out to create something, anything in that author’s particular style. While typing the author’s words, I pay close attention to the length of the author’s sentences, the phrasing, and the flavor of the yarn.

Why, you ask? Study. By imitating a favorite writer, I gain a sense of how they use language, at what point they show versus tell, and how they accomplish pulling emotion from the reader.

I first did this many years ago while a reporter at a newspaper. Over the course of a month, I went into Dickens Mode: I read Tale of Two Cities followed immediately by Great Expectations. I noticed my sentences lengthened, the aura of what I wrote took on a dark and foreboding tone. (The sports editor was not amused when my weekly article began, “It was the best of games, it was the worst of games . . . .”).

I then read several Edgar Allen Poe stories and did same. At that point I coined the name Fun Writing and occasionally partake to this very day (I’m currently reading The Hobbit).

I learned something very valuable during this exercise: mimicking another writer is a great way to beat the dreaded Writer’s Block. After having exhausted every trick to add to a blank page, and getting no where, typing another writer’s words inevitably leads me into my own creation. If I am in a quandary about a piece of dialogue, I’ll concentrate on a special interaction between two characters, or if my problem is description I’ll find a favorite section where I can “see” a particular scene. See more about Defeating Writer’s Block here.

You will probably not match the favorite author you choose (they are in all likelihood a best-selling author or prose master), but you may uncover a gem from the stony writing associated with first drafts. The gem may even be a clever turn-of-phrase suitable for a current work in progress.

I have done the Fun Writing with several different writers: John Jakes, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Twain, Jim Butcher and a host of others.

A side note: there is a website entitled, I Write Like, which uses a few paragraphs of your writing to determine who you write like among famous authors. It’s fun, but don’t put too much emphasis on it. I posted six different writing examples and it gave me four different writers (Poe was one of them, oddly enough).

I challenge you to take a few minutes and do some Fun Writing; you never know what you might find during this exercise.

Comment and let the Knights of Writ followers know how this mini-challenge helped you be a better writer.

See you on the next page,

Rick

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Winning Against Writer’s Block

 

vintage-typewriter-screenshots-1Writer’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 . . . .

Rick


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:

“Gritty” Fantasy Before Game of Thrones
Creating a Fictional Culture
Mastering Fear
Write Full-Time?

Knightsofwrit