[ This is the second part of a series dealing with the Not Writer, an abstract concept describing a creative person who possesses all the drives and qualities that could enable them to be a writer, but who doesn’t produce much or at all. These posts highlight, explore, and propose perspectives and solutions for common experiences that often prevent Not Writers from being Writers. ]
Imagine the scene. Hip youngsters, well-read and literate all, lounging in a diner or cafe and discussing, over steamingly exquisite coffee, the pain of their writer’s block. How their prose is stunted, their characters mute, the well of their inspiration dry and dusty. Sophisticated music plays in the background, providing a mellow undertone to their sophisticated, tragic discourse. Thelonius Monk, maybe, or Annie Lennox. M. C. Hammer, perhaps.
“Finally I have the time to write, and now my muse has left me!” they wail, and take another sip of espresso. Adjust their turtleneck. Sweep back their shoulder-length hair, and clean their trendy ebonny-rimmed glasses. “I hope this writer’s block passes soon.”
Mockery, to be sure, but let me be clear: writer’s block is no myth, any more than impotence or claustrophobia. It can be the consequence of psychological stress and cause further stress on its own, it can have serious repercussions for one’s personal pride and self-image, a vicious spiral of disappointment and despair.
Thankfully, in reality, it’s surprisingly rare. The vast majority of cases of writer’s block can actually be classified as a heady melange of laziness and trepidation, or perhaps intimidation. And that’s a really happy fact, because there’s an easy solution to it.
SHUT UP AND WRITE.
Yeah, you probaly saw that coming. But before you complain that that’s no help at all and doesn’t get to the root of the problem, keep in mind that, unlike impotence or claustrophobia, only very, very few people actually suffer from real, honest writer’s block. Most people who self-diagnose it actually suffer from mundane afflictions related to fear and lethargy — and more importantly, those who do sincerely suffer from the condition may actually benefit from assuming that they don’t.
As I said in part 1, I know how it is – how humiliating and discouraging it is to feel that the story just isn’t gelling, that your ideas aren’t beign properly expressed, that your characters don’t come out as vibrantly as you imagine them and that you just can’t for the life of you figure out how to resolve the plot corners you’ve painted your characters into.
That’s not writer’s block. It’s just the wind and the rain.
Sure, it’s nicer to go out and do your shopping when the sun’s shining, but that’s no reason to cloister yourself away indoors just because the sky is grey and the road’s a little wet. It’s not unsafe to drive, you won’t freeze or dissolve, and you’re out of Mountain Dew and toilet paper so slip into your wellies, strap on a southwester and go to the shops, there’s a good lad.
If the prose isn’t flowing like it should, then that’s just too bad. Can’t be sunny all the time, and there isn’t a magic spell you can cast to fix it. You won’t get through that by Not Writing, that’s for sure.
You have a story on the brain that’s been percolating there for a dog’s age, you can taste its heady aroma, your mouth waters at its delights, but when you try to put the words down they’re dull and plain and lack the lustre and sparkle you see in your mind’s eye. It’s that succulent meal that you want to deliver, not the drab gruel you see yourself writing, and it’s very tempting to consider it (or yourself) a failure and head to the nearest café to drown your sorrows in caffeine-rich, hot black nectar.
Tough bones. Suck it up, and power on.
You’ll get your mojo back eventually, and you’ll get it back a damn sight faster if you write your way through the downturn. You can always go back and fix (or outright replace) the less-than-stellar portions you wrote. When you’ve completed the story you have to go back and do an edit pass anyway!
You don’t even have to continue the story you find yourself blocked on. Everybody needs a break sometimes, and for a Writer there is no better way to take a break from writing one story than to write another one. Pick something simpler, something spontaneous and small and fun, perhaps far outside your usual sphere of interest.
Don’t write for your audience or your own ambition. Odds are that’s what got you tangled up in the first place, so give yourself some breathing room and just write a neat little story that satisfies all your secret little desires. Go ahead, you don’t have to tell anyone.
Like the weather, Writer’s Block will pass in its own time, sooner or later. You might as well get some Writing done while you’re waiting, no?
– Alex F. Vance