Chapter five of “Finish the Damn Book!” is titled “Writer’s Block is Bullshit, but I know I said it plenty in there, and for good reason.
As they say, “the struggle is real,” but that doesn’t mean that writer’s block should be puffed up to be more powerful than it really is. People talk about it as some kind of super-villain that runs around bashing creativity at every possible interval. They cower in fear from it. And worst of all, they listen to the long stream of lies and deception that it weaves.
In my book, I mention Writer’s Block as being a mythical monster that artists and musicians who wish to pursue their passion must battle with on a daily basis. I even wrote a little flash story about it, well, sort of. The story still needs a ton of tweaking, and I can’t decide if it would fare better as a children’s story (kind of like the stories in Arabian Nights) or if I should try to tweak it for a submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Whatever it becomes–possibly nothing–the story is one that I think of often, especially when thinking about artistic blockages.
The hero is a brick-maker in the village, and runs off every morning to fetch a magical stone which will produce bricks where they are needed, so that he can spend his afternoon sculpting statues for the village children. Each day, the monster gets bigger, scarier, and more deadly. The monster isn’t evil by nature, but the purpose of the monster is to spawn in front of the cave that houses the stone, and the stone is needed for the hero to make his statues. In the end, even though they fight to the death each day, the monster and the main character become friends, and their brief meeting before the battle becomes normal.
So, there’s some weird magic happening in the story, but this is exactly how I view the dread of most artists, and I think those who likewise are motivated to get words down every single day will see my point. Writer’s Block may be a big scary monster, but it’s not evil, or good. It’s a force of nature that prevents us from getting what we need to do the work that we want to do. Whether that’s inspiration to create a new story or song, motivation to break out the pain and brushes, or the dedication to spend breaks and spare minutes working on our business or building a dream. One you accept that the monster will always be there, and it’s never going away, then you can embrace it as a friend, do battle every morning (or before a “session”), and defeat it. Every day.
It’s okay, the monster doesn’t hold grudges. And even if you kill it, it’ll be right back the next day to face you again, often bigger and scarier than the day before.
Actually after a while, it stops feeling like a fight. Nowadays, I kindly tell the monster to take a seat, and I’ll be right with him, once I finish getting my work done. He’s no longer a force stopping me, but a friend who reminds me, every day, that you have to want your goal, whatever it is, bad enough that you’re willing to fight for it. You’re willing to die for it. And you don’t care how big or scary he gets, you’ll charge forward into the arena without a weapon, and face the sharp claws.
So How Do I Do It?
This is what I do. First, I have two goals every single day. It doesn’t matter what else I’m doing, what I have to miss, who I have to turn down, or what’s happening in my life. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired or hungry or lost. I WILL:
- Write an entry in my Journal
- Write 500 words
In a close second, I’d like to brush my teeth, shower, change clothes, get coffee, do some editing, get my regular “job” work done, say “hi” to one person I’ve never met before, interact on twitter, etc. But these are all second. Those 500 words and my journal are my primary objective, every single day. If I’m working on a novel, it pivots to “add something to the first draft,” but it’s still in the same park, and I still try to get 500 somewhere.
If writing isn’t a priority, then writer’s block will win.
Even right now. This blog post is due tomorrow, but I did 1000 words of storying before I made time.
Clear your plate. If you have to, then turn off your phone and disconnect the Internet router. Tell family and friends that you are on “writing time,” and that if they know what’s best, they’ll stay the hell away. Find somewhere and sit with your favorite writing tool (Unless you’re like Christina, and prefer to stand).
Open the file, the notebook, the folder, whatever. Place the pen on the page, or your fingers on the keyboard, and fucking go. Hit keys or scribble words.
Now, before you start backpedaling, and say “easier said than done” in a condescending voice, have you tried it? Nothing above is creative, inspired, or motivated. These are MECHANICAL things that you are perfectly capable of. If there’s time for TV, email, twitter, or blog reading… ehem, then there’s time to write, or paint, or sing, or dance, or draw up a budget, or design a floor-plan, or brainstorm a new app or website.
Now, onto the next concern…
Okay, Pen’s Moving, all that’s coming out is squiggles
Fine. Write crap them, but keep the pen moving, or fingers typing. There’s nothing you can do in writing that cannot be undone. It isn’t some scary monster that stops you from creating it’s fear.
I used to be deathly afraid of heights. Standing on a chair would make me dizzy. How I went from tree-climbing monkey to chicken, I have no idea, but in high school and college, I would get really nervous with heights. One day, I had enough of it. There was a wall outside of the Science Building at SIUE (should still be there) that could be accessed from the normal walkways near the stairs. The drop was 15 or 20 feet. Every day I would walk to the corner, at the highest point, and I would sit there and look at the ground below me. Before long I was walking the wall, then jogging it, on narrow bricks. (I don’t recommend this by the way, it was a foolish and dangerous thing to do) I actually got to the point where I would get a running start and jump from one part of the wall to another. Stupid? Yes. But it cured my fear of heights. Not completely, but that fear doesn’t rule me anymore. I rule it. I’m careful with my footing, and very respectful of heights, but I won’t let that stop me from whatever I need to do that involves being in the air.
Writing is no different. What’s the fear? That if you start writing, it won’t be any good. So what? Write anyway. Write short stories and long stories and poems and blog posts and funny meme text. Write songs and news articles. If they suck, after they’re done, then stick them in a secluded corner of the hard-drive, or tuck them away on the bookshelf. Who gives a shit? They’re only words, and every single one that you put down in a prime effort to create good works is writing experience that will make you a stronger writer.
I still have the fear. Every time I sit to write an article for a client, fear buzzes all around. “What if he doesn’t like this one? What if I lose this client?”
When I write a story? “If someone hates this, then they’ll never buy anything written by me, ever.”
I’m still waiting on a grammar-nazi to besiege my blog. This is a first draft, as are most of my blog posts. I used to have to rewrite blog posts three times to make them presentable. Now they are passable on the first try. You know how? All that writing experience. A million words on a page. Studying the art, craft, and history of the written word. Reading. And more writing.
If you don’t want to acknowledge that writer’s block is nothing more than fears and doubts, that’s fine. But if you are being crippled by it, I encourage you to start jotting down all the reasons that you tell yourself that now isn’t a good time to write. Make a list, and read it, and see how many of those items are true, and how many are excuses. How many reveal that you don’t prioritize your writing? How many are deep seeded fears of not being good enough? How many are complaints about time? We all get the same amount, you know? 24 hours.
Of course, people define “fear” differently, and I tend to be pretty liberal with my use of that word, so take that into account. The end points are these:
- 95% of overcoming writer’s block overcoming fear
- 95% of overcoming fear is by doing the mechanical thing
- Don’t decide if you “feel like it” until your fingers are on the keys, and the file open
- If you can’t write the story you want to, then write something else
If the fear thing is resonating, then I’ll leave you with this, one of my favorite quotes of all time
Fortune favors the bold. ~Latin Proverb
Good luck, god speed, and get writing.