I was going to title this post “Writer’s block – myth or not?” but I didn’t. Here’s why:
A lot of writers who blog, or Tweet, or whatever address the issue of writer’s block at some point. Some say it doesn’t exist, that to write – to really write – just takes the application of bum to seat and fingers to keyboard. It’s a job, they say, and writing every day like it’s a real job will carry you through the days when you just don’t, you know feel it.
Other people say “No, that’s not what I’m talking about. I want to write, I really need to, and I am sat here ready to go, and the WORDS WON’T COME!” It’s a genuine blockage, something preventing the flow of words that is normally, if not effortless, then at least easy.
So that brings me round to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: People are different. We KNOW people are different, but we still determinedly lump together people who share one aspect of their lives, or their personalities, or their medical diagnoses, and we treat them all the same.
Writing. I’ve been a published writer for over twenty years. I’ve earned actual money from the stuff I write. Now, I don’t make my entire living from writing, so maybe you can discount me that way, but I don’t think so. I’ve written fiction and non-fiction and sold both. I’ve done magazine articles and short stories. I’ve done novels. I’ve certainly done plays. But what I’ve written over the last three years could be fitted on a pack of cigarettes without removing the government-mandated warning pictures. And yeah, some of that is because of regular life – remodeling the house, buying an apartment, Mrs Dim’s medical condition, the trip to England… There are always going to be interruptions. But I’m saying for the record here that there has been plenty of time for me to write, and I haven’t done it.
Is that Writer’s Block? Maybe for me. It’s not the first time I haven’t had ideas fighting to get onto paper, though it is the longest. I’ve had ideas during that time, obviously, and some of them got noted down in various places, but nothing developed beyond that scribbled note:
“And then my husband got fat”
“Small, Good Wolves need not apply”
“Famous Last Words”
“The Gardener of Crystal Palace”
Last week I was shuffling through a bunch of old files. One of them was an outline of a play I started to write. It was called the “Not Bertie Wooster” Play, because I had listened to the complete Jeeves and Wooster series on audio, and the style of Bertie’s speech was burned into my brain. I had a lot of fun, writing the outline using Bertie’s eclectic terms of affection and disbelief, and was building up quite a Wodehousian plot. Naturally, I ran out of steam about a third of the way through, but that was five pages. Five pages of outline. Since I didn’t have any other writing work on, I thought it would be easier to try writing out the script from this outline, rather than trying to write something new (or, actually, finish the outline first!)
That was a week ago, and I am pages into the script and haven’t caught up to the end of the outline yet. Writing this is fun , it’s not difficult, and I’m not worried about running out of outline because it feels like this is one of those plays where the characters will take up the story and run with it if I let them.
I haven’t “broken” a writer’s block. I haven’t found a method that will work for other people, or even for me the next time around. Everyone is different. But for now, I have rediscovered my own joy in writing, and it may well carry me through to the end of this script.
If YOU are suffering from Writer’s Block, or some similar condition that is preventing you doing your own creative thing, then firstly, I believe you. No one can tell you that block does not exist. It’s YOURS.
Secondly, because everyone is different, there are a million different pieces of advice out there that claim to break your block. None of them is going to be right every time for every person. But because there are so many, and hey, aren’t you desperate? Then you can try as many as you like until you find one that works for now.
As a fellow writer who’s sold their words for money, I can say that I can easily overcome writer’s block when someone’s breathing down my neck. So in that sense, I don’t really believe in it.
But sometimes the words flow less readily than usual, and that’s when I employ my secret technique: writing as badly as I can, adverbs and all. That usually gets me somewhat writing again, which is more than I can ask for.
Anyway, thanks for this post!
Thanks Stuart – and it’s always good to hear someone else’s method for kickstarting the muse. I’ve heard “rewriting is easier than writing” before, the idea that getting anything down is better than staring at the blank sheet. Thanks again.
I love that you point out we’re all different. What unblocks some doesn’t work for others. Forcing myself to “just write” doesn’t work for me at all. And thanks for the dose of Spaceman Spiff. I’m off to hunt up some more Calvin smiles.
It’s something I think we don’t hear enough. Everyone who’s starting out hears “Write every day” and “write what you know” and a ton of other stuff, but I think “Try everything” would have been useful to hear too. Not everyone is a novelist (thank goodness!) and there’s more to writing than books. Also, Calvin and Hobbes makes everything better, even my blog posts!