Tag: writer’s block

The 3 step cure for writer’s block

http://20px.com/blog/2013/02/09/the-curious-case-of-rainbow-pooping-unicorns/#.U1qtMvldXE0I know that it may seem insensitive to say that writer’s block isn’t real. If you’re on my blog right now because you’ve been up all night desperately trying to Google your way out of a crippling fit of writerly inertia, you’d probably like to reach through the World Wide Web and poke me in the eye with a freshly-sharpened pencil. But when I say it isn’t “real” what I mean is that it isn’t hardwired into anybody’s biology and it isn’t the inevitable lot of creative minds. To me, the thing called writer’s block can only happen when we think of writing as some sort of conjuring trick that certain Illuminati-like geniuses can spew forth from their star-dusted fingertips. I don’t think of writing that way. Instead, I think of it more like digging a really long ditch. And so, I want to share a 3-step no-nonsense, ditch-digging guide to demystifying the writing process.

Step 1: Realize that writing isn’t hard

I know that we all have heard stories about tortured authors who spend each miserable day trying to wring little word droplets out of their husk-dry brains. One day, if they’re lucky, they experience a downpour of inspiration and the reservoir of their creativity fills. They write like demons until the well once again runs dry. Then it’s a return to waiting — days of lamenting, opium taking, and a slow descent into madness. Or whatever.

But writing just shouldn’t be that hard. For Pete’s sake, my 7-year-old can do it. You know why? Because she doesn’t stress about whether what she writes is good enough to win the Booker Prize. She just sits down and writes because she enjoys it. I’ve never understood people who are tortured by the writing process. I know we all have dreams of becoming successful, but for the vast, overwhelming lot of us, writing will always be a hobby. Or at best, a sideline that brings in a bit of spending money. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you’re probably not going to get rich off of what you write. So enjoy the process. Or find another hobby that you do enjoy, like bass fishing.

Step 2: L’ego your Ego

The fact that writing isn’t hard doesn’t mean that it isn’t work. It’s easy to sit down and barf forth a jumble of ill-conceived ideas and poorly-delineated characters. If you’re going to have any shot at winning that Booker Prize, or even bringing in enough money to fund the occasional Joss and Main shopping spree, you need to be willing to admit that sometimes you just waste a lot of time writing something that has the literary merit of a 13-year-old girl’s love notes to Harry Styles. Give yourself permission to write badly. Become friends with the delete button. To return to my ditch metaphor, if you were digging a ditch and realized that the path you’d initially laid out would take you straight off the edge of a rather steep cliff, would you keep digging along that same course? No, ma’am. Or if part of your ditch caved in, would you give up the whole project and go home? Your answer should be a resounding nope!

Letting go of your ego also requires that you get honest input on your work from people who did not give birth to you and who do not owe you money or a kidney. Find a reliable writing group (electronically or otherwise) and solicit honest opinions. Be willing to have skilled ditch constructors say that your ditch sucks.

Step 3: Write the damn book

Many of us work or have young children. Our days are sliced into units of time as wafer-thin as supermarket deli meat. But writing something, especially something as long and intricate as a novel, takes time. Each little chunk of time you devote to your writing project is another shovelful of dirt, another rock removed, another…thingy that you do when you’re digging a very long ditch. (Okay, I’m realizing that I know very little about the process of digging ditches).

If this doesn’t work for you, then buy my book A Murder in Mount Moriah. Included with each copy is a complimentary visit from the Magical Writing Unicorn. The MW Unicorn will visit you while you’re sleeping and bestow extra special writing powers on you. This is the secret that all great writers know — forget MFA programs and endless revisions — it’s all about the damn unicorn. I can guarantee that if you look on Sue Monk Kidd’s bedroom floor, you’ll find it marked with glittery unicorn hoof-prints.

Is writer’s block real?

I was tempted to make this a one-word post. That word? Nope

But on further consideration, that nope might need a little bit of explanation. Writer’s block is, after all, so enmeshed in the popular imagination that even my 7-year-old has claimed to suffer from it. I have never believed in it myself. Sure, there are days when almost every word that appears on my screen is utter garbage. Sure, there are times when I’ve painted myself into a plot corner so tight that only a major rewrite can get me free. And of course, there are days when the prospect of writing seems so utterly horrifying or painful that I’d rather be doing almost anything than sitting down to write.

Fundamentally, though, I agree with the great Ann Patchett, who thinks that writer’s block is a form of procrastination. Patchett recently published a wonderful collection of short stories titled, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. My favorite is “The Getaway Car”, in which she describes how she came to be a writer. In it, Patchett describes people’s incredulity when she says that she never suffers from writer’s block, as well as their extreme defensiveness when she says that she thinks it’s a myth. 

Her secret is similar to the wisdom of the late Tom Clancy. When he was asked how to go about writing a novel, he would famously advise, “Just write the damn book.” You will encounter roadblocks, set backs, whole chapters that need to be scrapped. Your first draft will probably suck. Your second will probably suck, too. But fundamentally, the only way to get a book written is to sit down and write it.

There are those who would take issue with my argument; they would say that writer’s block is a very real, diagnosed form of anxiety. There are those, like Samuel Coleridge, who wait for the muse of inspiration to alight on their pen (or keyboard), and claim that once the muse departs, they are rendered incapable. 

I have great sympathy for these positions. However, I’ve always thought of writing like anything else. You may or may not have a natural talent, but either way, if you don’t put in the work, you’re gonna end up with nothing, or with junk. Did Martin Luther King start off delivering world-changing oratory? Probably not. Bill Gates probably spent a lot of time tinkering before he built his first computer. Did Dominique Dawes spring from her mother’s womb doing triple flips? For her mother’s sake, I certainly hope not. 

Anyway, you get the idea. You want to be a writer? Do the work. Even if it’s hard. Even if the first draft makes your eyeballs throw up. Just find a way to put words onto paper. 

Enough procrastinating for me! If you need me, I’ll be back at the grindstone, writing my damn book.