So what about writer’s block?
I had a conversation with a couple of the members of the Woodlands Writers’ Guild about writer’s block after our last meeting. I’ve thought about that quite a bit since, and decided to touch on it today.
Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some ‘blocked’ writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.” The article notes that “writer’s block is a common affliction that most writers will experience at one time or another.” It also quotes Mike Rose (Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension), who further defines writer’s block as “an inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment”.
The Wikipedia article lists the following as some of the causes of Writer’s Block:
- Creative problems that originate within an author’s work itself.
- A writer may run out of inspiration.
- Being distracted, feeling that something needs to be done beforehand.
- A project may be fundamentally misconceived, or beyond the author’s experience or ability.
- Adverse circumstances in a writer’s life or career: physical illness, depression, the end of a relationship, financial pressures, a sense of failure
- The pressure to produce work may in itself contribute to a writer’s block, especially if they are compelled to work in ways that are against their natural inclination, i.e. too fast or in some unsuitable style or genre.
- Feeling intimidated by a previous big success
Since this is a blog post (not to mention my opinion rather than a scholarly work), I’m going to limit the scope somewhat. Specifically, the last 3 listed causes are way beyond this post, “adverse circumstances” as requiring more help than cheerful advice can bring; the last 2 as being primarily observed in long-term, successful, and/or published writers, which is WAY beyond my experience.
I’m further going to discard the Wikipedia assumption that writer’s block is “primarily associated with writing as a profession.” We’ve all experienced what we’d call writer’s block. We sit down to write and . . . nothing comes out. We play a game of solitaire for inspiration, then go wash up the breakfast dishes, check our email, and still nothing.
Doesn’t sound too serious, except it’s like a slump in baseball. The next time you’re afraid that you’re going to swing and miss, and it thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My solution – you won’t be surprised to learn – comes from the sage wisdom of my T-shirt: “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.” Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. So if you run out of inspiration, you still have 90% of what it takes. Write something.
OK, so write what?
If you’re written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to go forward, make up a ludicrous ending that you know you’re not going to keep. Go back to where the current problem started and write an alternative chapter, getting rid of the problem. Write a letter from the character to you describing the problem. A dialog between you and your mother, where you describe the problem and she tells you her answer. Something. Anything
Here’s what’s going on: your mind is made of up two “co-processors,” your logical left brain and your creative/illogical right brain and/or subconscious. Your subconscious is sitting down there, full of new ideas and thoughts and wonderful things just waiting to get on the page. You just have to get your left brain, who sometimes thinks it’s in charge, out of the way. Plus, the discipline of writing something that you know you’re going to throw away works through the distractions of feeling that other things need to be done beforehand.
Remember: at your innermost core, you’re a writer. So don’t take any crap from yourself.