Defeating Writer’s Block

So what is writer’s block?

“Writer’s block should really be rendered “creativity block.” Nobody is forcing a writer to stop typing. The thing stopping us is more nebulous—some void of creativity caused by dissatisfaction with the writing, an uncertainty about where to go next, a lack of faith in the project. A writer might feel there is a flaw in their story, and doesn’t want to keep going and risk magnifying the problem, or they might have an image in their head of how the book should be going, and get frustrated that it’s not turning out right.” – Brandon Sanderson

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” –Ira Glass

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.” –Jennifer Egan

Concluded solution: Don’t stop! You must soldier on, as the mighty warrior of words that you are.

But how do we soldier on?

Some suggestions:

1—Before you attempt to plow through, reengage your creativity.  Most of us have a kind of “writing reservoir” inside of us. Consider it a creative well that can be tapped only so far in a given day. Once it runs dry, it’s often hard to create anything, even if we have the time to do so.

  • If you’ve been subsisting on nothing but Diet Coke and lots of Sour Patch kids for the past three days, your creative well might be running dry not from overuse, but because your brain has turned to something resembling gray sludge. Get some sleep. Eat a real meal with vegetables. Drink water, take a walk, and then see how you feel.
  • Get away from your laptop/notebook, but don’t dismember yourself entirely from your story. Do something that doesn’t require much attention and use these off moments to delve, mentally, into your story without the pressure of producing anything as a result of your thought.

2—When you return, if you still find yourself staring at the mocking last sentence, unable to continue:

  • Just do it bad anyway. It may be hard to waste time knowing you’re going to delete all of it almost as soon as you’re finished, but many of us have to write badly before we can write well.
  • Drop in a dragon/ninja/rainstorm of meatballs. Something. Anything. Even if your story isn’t fantasy, just do something unexpected. Remind yourself that while you’re still the conductor of this gravy train (and can therefore send in a wave of Furby babies at your leisure), you don’t have to be the engine. Your characters, if well developed, will direct themselves if you merely open a few windows. Once you’ve seen what crazy people you’ve actually allowed into your book (who knew your main gal was so good with a pair of num-chucks?), you may be able to put them back on the right path and let them go.
  • Conduct an interview with your characters. Hold a group session meeting—the kind where everyone sits in a circle of chairs and introduces themselves. “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m the primary antagonist.” Let setting, plot and voice have their say too. More often than not, they might tell you what the problem is.
  • Tell your story with a different medium. Try longhand, with a pen, or draw it out as a comic. Narrate your story into a tape-recorder and write it out later.

Do not fall prey to the idea that “taking a break” will release you from WB’s captivity. I personally don’t believe moving on to another project will help you either. Do what you have to do, but keep going.

I leave you with these quotes as parting thoughts:

All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it? ~Philip Pullman

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write. ~Terry Pratchett

Writer’s Block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing. ~Giando Sigurani 

2 thoughts on “Defeating Writer’s Block

  1. I like the idea of holding a group therapy session with your characters. I had to laugh at that one. It works for dreams, too, by the way.

    Just keep writing. If your writing is drek, so what? All first drafts have places that are drek. If you can’t force yourself to write on your story, write something else. JUST KEEP WRITING.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s