The first rule of Writer’s Block is there’s no such thing as writer’s block.
I’ll pause while you sharpen your spears and light the Tiki torches.
Angry mob all ready then? Good. Let’s go on.
For something that doesn’t exist, I hear an awful lot about this funny little trope—kind of like chemtrails and compassionate conservatism.
I can’t turn on a movie without seeing some bestubbled scribe swilling whiskey in a cabin and lamenting the mental clog between he and his masterpiece.
“Damn this writer’s block. If only a block in my writing organ weren’t preventing me from writing I could write such beautiful writing … but, alas, I am blocked. Blocked from writing. You might call it a writer’s block.”
How stupid that last paragraph was … that’s what you sound like when you go on and on about writer’s block.
But, you say to yourself, I’ve seen at least 50 people just this morning complaining about this totally real malady on Twitter.
Well, just like anyone can call himself a “writer” … anyone can blame their unwillingness or incompetence on writer’s block.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a genius setup.
Don’t feel like writing today, blame writer’s block.
Can’t figure out why your 700,000-word dystopian middle-school romance about the girl on the pogo stick isn’t gelling, blame writer’s block.
Can’t come up with a good reason why your wife is still supporting you 10 years after you promised to make a go of what can best be described as a neglected hobby…
That’s right, baby, blame writer’s block.
But famous writers have complained of writer’s block, so it must be a real thing!
Calm down, junior.
Sure, some very famous authors have blamed their alcoholism, mental illness, laziness, lack of ideas, apathy, and creative constipation on writer’s block.
But, the fact is—and I know nobody wants to hear this—there is no such thing as writer’s block.
I know, I know. What makes me the expert?
After all, I don’t have any bestselling or even published novels. I haven’t got an agent yet. Hell, in the two years I’ve been querying literary magazines (only seriously for one of those years) I’ve yet to earn more than a supportive rejection letter and be named as a finalist for a creative nonfiction prize.
But, I have written to completion four novels—three of which I am proud. That first one, woof!
I have worked as a journalist writing many thousands of stories over the course of 15-plus years. Penned hundreds of poems and dozens of short stories, not to mention a few hundred essays.
If writer’s block was going to happen, it would have happened by now.
I know I come off as harsh but the anger I feel, and it is anger, when I see people blaming writer’s block for their work stoppage is twofold: one, I hate to see anyone serious about their craft not working at their full potential.
I have a few friends and family members who are good at art and music—really good, like get paid to do it good—and instead they chop their way through dreary dead-end jobs because they don’t have the confidence to trust their own abilities.
The other reason it pisses me off is that there are so many pretenders out there who would rather talk about writing than actually do the work.
You can usually find them on social media, round-the-clock, talking about their WIPs and their nonexistent agents and publishing deals when the truth is most of them are dabblers at best who think writing three pages of bad poetry about their cat and sharing it with mommy will make them Stephen King.
It’s hard enough to get a book deal these days without the glut of garbage choking slush pile readers into submission.
So, when some lazy “author” blames their laziness or unwillingness to plan or research or whatever the true reason for their blockage is, it bugs the shit out of me.
But, always the happy helpful type, here are some tips to help you determine why you’re having difficulty and what you can do about it.
Causes other than writer’s block for your stoppage:
You’re tired – Worst thing you can do when you’re exhausted after a long day of work and kids and life bullshit is to try and write.
I know, lots of folks think they have to power through so they can finish that manuscript.
But the fact is you can’t write coherently, let alone creatively, when you’re in zombie mode.
Do yourself a favor and get some sleep. Come back to the page when you’re rested and your efforts will be rewarded.
You’re overwhelmed – You don’t need me to laundry-list your life bullshit. Everyone’s got a bushel basket of somethings tugging at your pant legs for attention.
Trying to write with a shitnado of worries in your head works about as well as writing while tired.
Good news is you can find the head space you need to be in by doing a little meditation. You don’t need incense and a gong. Just sit somewhere quiet and comfortable and close your eyes and breathe for a few minutes.
It’s amazing what that little five-minute break will do to recharge your brain.
Stuck for ideas – Your protag just shot her abusive father in the face and the sirens are a-wailing and she’s packed a bag with canned food and her pet hamster and she runs out the backdoor and … shit … what happens next?
This isn’t writer’s block.
Part of the creative process of writing is allowing the lightning bugs in that big magical brain of yours to do their bad-ass trapeze act.
When I write my books, I do it a chapter at a time.
There is no word minimum or limit; just my little sentence or two synopsis about what’s going on in this chapter.
I may write one page or 25 and sometimes it’s a straight shot without stopping and others I need to take a break. When I come to a spot where the flow has reached stenosis, I take a break.
Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I do the dishes (which is basically another form of meditation) and sometimes I go for a walk.
The restorative powers of taking a walk followed by a hot shower and a good meal cannot be overstated.
FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. You’re working on short story or novel and suddenly this idea hits you for a 9-part series about a woman and her magic pogostick who fights Nazis in New York in the year 3000.
Yeah, you’ve already begun the cat poetry project but this shiny new pile of story guts got dropped into your oddly sweaty lap and now you can’t think about anything but jamming them together in a frenzy of 1970s orgiastic glee.
Will somebody cue the fuckin jazz bass already!?!
Truth is that’s not creativity calling—it’s laziness.
Wha-wha-what!!! you scream with indignance.
You heard me right. That a new idea pops into your head is fine.
It’s kind of what brains were designed for.
Well, that and keeping your heart beating and your eyes blinking and your butt pooping.
It’s fine to get new ideas. It’s fine to write them down in your official Benjamin J. Gohs Journal of Shiny New Ideas (now available for the high-high price of $19.99 plus S&H).
What is not fine is you doing the Rabbit, Run as soon as a smooth pair of supple hairless legs go sauntering on by.
You are a writer, not a dog.
If you loved your story idea enough to start it, then, barring alien abduction or death, you should see it through.
Because, lemme let you in on a not-so-little secret: shortly after you start on that slutty new idea you were so horny for three days ago, another little minx in a shorter skirt and with much bigger adjectives is going shake her premise in your face and you’ll be tempted once again to divorce yourself from what might have been a good piece of writing.
Fear of failure – Call it fear of failure, fear of running out of ideas, or perfectionism—the fear of not being good enough can paralyze anyone in any field and leave them feeling incapable and unwilling to even try.
It’s a scary thing to hammer and nail a big old art baby into existence only to have to lead it to the eight-lane highway of public opinion and sit helplessly while you watch it try to get across in rush hour traffic.
Chances are, more than one 18-wheeler is going to leave its tread marks upon yon infant’s ample forehead.
However, my lovelies, if you’re in this craft for a penny then you’re in for a highly devalued dollar.
Sure, you can write only for yourself and leave a pile of unknown work for the landlady or your estranged children to find after you kick it.
But the second best thing to writing something you believe in is getting a sexy new pair of eyeballs to look it over.
Do yourself a favor and focus more on the reading and the writing and less on the fear that folks won’t like it or that you’ll never get published. I wasted a lot of time being paralyzed by the realization that I was a talent-less hog working not in fine ideas but merely wallowing in a puddle of my own shit.
*One quick word about perfectionism—It’s not a good trait. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you have higher standards than everyone else or that you do things better than they do. Perfectionism is an excuse for you to actually do less. After all, if a thing isn’t perfect, then you don’t have to bother doing it at all. And that’s what perfectionism usually leads to—a big fat nothing.
When someone says, “I”m a perfectionist” what I hear is, “I’m a lazy moron who thinks I’m superior to everybody else.” So, you know, something to think about.
You’re not serious – The only thing worse than a lazy writer is someone who claims to be a writer but isn’t serious about the craft.
When one approaches any kind of work or hobby with half-assed intent, chances are they’ll quickly grow bored of the thing.
And that’s fine. Nobody expects you to keep playing tennis if you don’t like tennis.
Hate that weekly chess game? Quit.
Don’t want to be a knitter like grandma? Put down the needles.
We already have enough books and the universe doesn’t care whether you write.
But, for some reason, people who have no business writing either don’t seem to understand that they should stop or, more likely, won’t stop because going around telling people they are a writer gives them confidence and purpose.
Problem is, pretending to be a writer while not actually doing lots of reading and writing is like scoring really high on Pac-Man—it’s a false sense of accomplishment and nothing more.
What happens when a person who doesn’t really want to put in the long, lonely, fruitless years of reading, writing, revising sits down with pencil and paper?
Writers block! Blam-pow-boom. Right in the kisser.
Of course you’re blocked up. You’re forcing yourself to pretend to do a thing you don’t really want to do.
Christ’s sake, if I forced myself to watch basketball or paint watercolors or do whatever the hell those guys in animal husbandry do, my creativity would fall over dead and dramatically kick at the air as well.
But it’s still not writer’s block.
It’s just a case of holy-fuck-I-don’t-wanna-be-doin-this syndrome.
And that really is a thing. Look it up.