Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Writer's block?

Kitty wrote, "I'm pea-green with envy that you are such a prolific writer because I've been trying to break through my writer's block for months. Have you ever experienced it? If so, got any suggestions for me? So far, the 'just do it' approach isn’t working."

Although this probably isn't the answer you're looking for: There's no such thing as writer's block.

You either write or you don't write. It's that simple.

I view writing as a job. (I have to because it's how I put food on the table.) Just like any other job, I have good days and bad days. I have days when I am stunningly brilliant and other days when I even bore myself. I have days when I'm highly productive and other days when I barely manage to put two words together and spell both of them correctly. I can't afford to have a "block."

Think of it this way: If you were a plumber, how long could you afford to have "plumber's block" before you found yourself living on the street? If you were a doctor, how long could you have "doctor's block" before creditors started hounding you for repayment of all those school loans? If you were an airplane pilot, how long could you have "pilot's block" before your jumbo jet hit the ground?

That said, I realize writing--particularly creative writing--requires more emotional involvment than, say, snaking a drain. Our emotions can interfere with our productivity.

The key is to work around whatever is interfering with your ability to write.

If one of your parents just died, your spouse just walked out, or your cat's in cardiac arrest, for God's sake take care of the situation. Writing can wait.

If you can't pinpoint an external reason preventing you from writing, perhaps it's the particular project you're trying to work on. Maybe you're forcing yourself to work on something you shouldn't be working on. Unless you're writing on assignment and have a deadline, set the work aside. Start a new project. Pick something in a different genre (if you're a mystery writer, try writing a science fiction story) or a different form (if you're a short story writer, try writing a poem).

One of the ways I manage to be productive is by project-hopping and genre-hopping. If I get stuck on one piece of non-assigned writing, I stop, set it aside, and start something else or pick up something else. I constantly have three dozen or more short stories in-progress at any given time. Some I'll write in a matter of hours or days; others may take years from first word to final draft.

One last thing you can do if you just aren't getting words on a page: Work on your writing career. Spend your non-writing time studying (reading books about writing, perhaps), researching markets (go to the magazine section of your local supermarket or bookstore and look through a couple of dozen magazines you've never looked at before), or clean and organize your workspace so that it is comfortable and inviting.

One last suggestion: Don't obsess over your inability to put words on a page. If you're a writer, it's only temporary and you'll be writing again sooner or later. If you're not a writer, it really won't matter.

1 comment:

kitty said...

Well, I did have 2 significant deaths in the family in '06. I thought by now I'd see some improvement. Instead, the question I've been grappling with is maybe I was a writer and now I'm not.

Thank you for your answer.