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.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

I hate that example about plumbing because everyone uses it. I do believe in writer's block and it does exist.

I suspect that those who don't believe in it spend a lot of time in the non fiction realm and as such, have a different set of expectations writing wise. Often it is somewhat formulaic writing and as such, is a case of plugging in standard things. While the topic may change, the basic things remain the same.

However, creative fiction entails a totally different set of expectations.

Michael Bracken said...

If you believe it, it must be true.

A snarky response? Well, yes and no.

Attitude is an important part of writing. Heck, it's an important part of most creative endeavors. If you believe in "writer's block," then I suspect you're more likely to blame "writer's block" when you are having trouble writing.

Too many writers seem to stop looking for the reason they aren't writing as soon as they have something to blame for not writing. They've discovered a symptom--not writing--and think it's the disease.

It's not.

Dig deeper. Ask yourself: What aren't I writing? What prevents me from writing? What's interfering with my writing? Find the root cause and deal with it.

Then you won't be "blocked"; you'll be writing.

Anonymous said...

It's real, but I think writer's block is more about my emotional condition of the moment than about the piece I can't seem to write.

So (unless deadline looms)I get my life straightened out. This usually means getting a grip on why I'm angry, apologizing to my loved one for my misdeeds, talking time to listen and discuss the problem at hand, and getting the hormones flowing in the right direction. THEN I can really write - I soar!

writer1979 said...

writer's block i believe is intentional. If you are a true writer and have the passion for it then there will be times you find yourself not writing.It's not because you cannot come up with an idea, but rather because the time is not right for you to write or the idea hasent taken form yet. I truly believe that writers are chosen to send messages, to teach, to heal, and to entertain. If you have faith in God then you can also say that there are angels talking through us. It is them who decide what we write. we simply use our talent through observation, communication, and detail. A born writer has the talent to speak through words and to educate the world. The material will come to us when it is ready to. In the meantime we need to pay attention to detail. we need to keep our minds open and wait. that is the one solution. wait for the angels to bring down their next message for you to translate to the world.

Marje said...

I agree. No use writing if nothing"s coming. But you can usually have a conversation with someone, can't you? I can always write SOMETHING- whether or not it is worth reading could be another matter!!