Repeat after me. There is no such thing as writer’s block. There is no such thing as writer’s block. Apparently this is the truth in spite of the state itself – writer’s block – being referenced notoriously throughout creative history.
There is no such thing as writer’s block when it comes to most types of writing. I can agree with that bold statement.
Just write the damn thing. You have all the info. You’re not writing the next great Canadian novel, unless of course you are. In comparison to writing a novel, journalism is like the Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Donkey game at the kind of birthday parties my mom hosted for us as kids. It’s like those old black velvet paintings, the ones with numbers in them. Just pick the colour and move the brush. You’ve done the interviews. You have what you need. Get on with it. Not that there aren’t other problems associated with it. Sorry to any writers who don’t agree. But, if you have writer’s block and you work in journalism, or corporate communications or magazine writing, you’re probably in the wrong profession.
But, when it comes to writing a novel or a memoir, I’m going to venture being slapped by those who have gone before, persevered, and succeeded in overcoming, but I do believe there is a thing called Writer’s Block and I think I have it right now. Give me a pill. A shot. Early onset dementia. Amnesia maybe, at least that way I could forget I ever thought writing anything other than email was a good idea. Put me out of my misery.
I know what I’m supposed to do to move through it. I’m supposed to just sit my butt down, like now, in front of the computer and just start writing whatever comes to mind. Stream of consciousness, get the fingers moving, get words on the computer screen or the page. It was a surprise to me to learn that it doesn’t matter if your first draft is crap. If you don’t think it’s crap, I hate to tell you this but it probably is crap and you just don’t know it yet. Heck, your second draft might be crap as well. Just get the ideas/words down.
Right away I can feel my resistance to that advice. I’m wondering if that type of advice may have contributed to Dick and Jane readers being published. Not that they didn’t work to teach us, the tail end of the baby boomers, how to read.
And, one more thing. Do no editing as you’re writing that first draft. Think of writing as the good part of what you do in the bedroom. Writing is sex. Editing/re-writing is making the bed. Do not try to do both at the same time. They are distinct activities. Or so I’m told.
I like the suggestion by Philip Pullman that you need to substitute the word writer for the word plumber and then see if you can justify something as ridiculous as Writer’s Block. Do plumbers want to go to work every day and deal with #@#$. Of course not! They just do. Of course fixing a drain seems a little more straightforward to me than creating something from scratch that people will want to read. I mean, you don’t want plumbers getting all creative on you now do you? But there’s that resistance persisting again.
The other surprise to me, in the process of writing this thing that I’m working on (or not working on as is the case currently) is that structure is more important than just about anything else. The foundation is important. Who knew? It’s not just for carpenters.
This is a shock to someone whose modus operandi is stream of consciousness, a way of being that seems to work well for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but not so much for the rest of us.
Structure will make the difference between helping the reader, giving them a map, comforting them, and allowing them to feel like they are a part of something or feeling, instead, like you have just led them into one of those corn mazes, they’ve been in there for hours, they’re getting frustrated, dehydrated, and bored and they can’t find their way out. Pretty soon they’re screaming or they’re wrecking the corn maze hedge. They don’t want to play. Book closed. Take it back to the library.
Readers don’t want to feel like that. I know. I’m a reader. I want to feel that I’m with my best friend and we’re having the best day of our lives, the most interesting conversations. We’re going somewhere we’ve never been before and damn it’s long overdue. Maybe we’re even learning something along the way. I want to feel like I’m on a journey. I don’t want to know all the answers up front. I want to feel a little different in some way by the time I crawl back into bed that night. I want to keep my memories that were created throughout the day, with me. I might even enjoy mulling them over again if they creep into my consciousness the next day and the day after that. That’s the experience you’re aiming to create when you write a book. Maybe not exactly, but something along those lines.
Laundry. Dishes. Grocery shopping. The Artist’s Way. Morning papers. Getting enough Vitamin D. Convincing myself to find a real job. Trying to figure out how I could move back to Salt Spring. Envisioning my probable homelessness. What to do to celebrate yet another birthday whipping around again at warp speed. Wondering if I’ll ever meet a man who’s interesting to me ever again, and vice versa. These are all consuming my creative energy to an inordinate degree. It’s like the blank page is trying to tell me something except I need a braille translator.
Can you relate?
Here are some suggestions by 13 writers for overcoming that non existent writer’s block thing.