The One Thing You Have To Know About Writer's Block
Before I begin, allow me to prepare for what I’m about to tell you. First off, I need to drag out my soapbox to stand on. Give me a second, the sucker is huge. It used to be one of those rolling staircases they use at airports to board passengers onto airplanes that apparently can’t make it to the terminal for some reason. Almost there, I have to go slow so it doesn’t clip the top of the garage/hanger that I keep it in. Last time I took out a light bulb, shot glass all over the place. But, thankfully I just used the staircase to change the bulb, no big deal, except for the glass shower. I found tiny shards of it in places usually reserved for sand when you go to the beach. Not fun.
Okay, I’m there. I’m positioned right in the middle of downtown Main Street. I’ve got my own little section of road from which to launch my crazy rants. It’s the perfect place, well, that is if you can ignore the honking, hand gestures and interesting suggestions from angry passersby.
So my staircase soapbox is parked, the break is on, and I’m climbing to the top. It’s nice here, my voice gets a good reverberation off the tall, glass windowed buildings. And I’ll need that extra vocal boost to get what I want to say, as far out there as possible. I really want people to not only hear, but understand what I’m about to say. I’m at the top, got a light breeze going on, the smell of Cinnabon in the air, and some woman down below walking a dog with three legs...interesting. Deep breath and here we go…ready?
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WRITER'S BLOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’ve been writing for about fifteen years and while I don’t claim to know everything, I do claim to know this. I think Steve Martin said it best, “Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.”
I heard about writer's block when I first started writing. People talked about it like it was some disease you got from your keyboard. It was a scary ghost that was doomed to haunt you at some point in your career. Since I was new to the sport, I believed it. Why wouldn’t I? So many people before me believed in writer's block, why shouldn’t I? What did I know, I was the new kid on the block. So for years I lived and wrote with this cloud of doom hovering over my laptop, just waiting for the day I was going to be struck down by writer's block… it never happened.
Have I ran into situations where I stopped working because I didn’t know where I was going next? Of course I did, everyone does. Why stick a label as intimidating as Writer's Block on it? Here is what Writer's block really is, laziness, lack of preparation, distraction, burn out, and boredom. Let’s say a little about each of these real life culprits.
Laziness: Writing is hard. Stephen King said it, “If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things, read a lot and write a lot.” King writes every day when he’s working on a project. I’ve tried to do that myself. It doesn’t always work for a myriad of reasons, the same reasons that stop everyone from writing, work, kids, school, illness, just flat out laziness. That’s seems to be the dog that grabs me by the ankle the most. But if you want to be a writer, you have to find a way around all of the obstacles. King wrote his novel Carrie, while sitting in a tiny back room of his trailer in Maine, balancing a typewriter on his lap. It was his fourth novel, but the first to be published, and he did it all while helping to raise his two kids and working as a school teacher. It can be done if you’re willing to put the time and effort into it.
Lack of Preparation: Not all writers are alike. Some people have their story all outlined and plotted before they put pen to paper, or fingers to keys. And some do not. I hate to keep using Stephen King as an example, but he’s a good one to use. King doesn’t like plot, well, that’s putting it mildly, he hates plot, he distrusts it. To paraphrase King, “It’s the dullard’s first choice, and the skilled writer’s last resort” King likes to put a character in an interesting situation, then he sits back and watches to see how the character gets out of said situation, and he basically just takes notes. I don’t agree with King on this point. I think plotting is key. Most people want to know where they’re going before they start their journey. Plot is the roadmap you use to maneuver your way through your story. Plot keeps you on track. If you have an ending in mind, which most writers do I believe, than plot keeps your eye on the target, the target being your ending. Without plot as a guide, you’re apt to wander off the road and end up stuck in a ditch…or, as some would call it, with writer's block. So, you started your book, screenplay, whatever it is, you didn’t plan ahead before you started, and now you’ve hit a wall. You don’t know where you’re going next, and you tell yourself you have writer's block. (Insert eye roll here.) How do you break through that wall? It’s simple, you do what you should have done before you started, you plan! You sit down, you take a nap, you take a long walk, you go to the gym, you do whatever it is you do when you need to think. Even when you plot out your entire story, there will still be times when you’re writing from point thirteen to point fifteen, but you have to figure out fourteen before you can move on. It happens…TO EVERYONE! So, you take the time you need to figure it out.
You think! You think about your characters. You think about the story you’re trying to tell. You think about why you’re writing the thing in the first place. And if you need to take a break from thinking, do it. Often the answer will come during those moments when you’re not thinking. Either way, don’t slap the convenient label of writer's block on it as an excuse to give up. All it means is that the project is going to take more work and time than you thought it would. And once that one thing clicks, you’ll open a floodgate of ideas and it will all come together. You’ll rush home, grab a pen and paper and start taking notes, as if the universe is dictating the solutions to your problems. As long as you’re not too busy beating yourself, you’ll be able to hear the answers when they come. And if you didn’t plot and plan this time, try doing it on the next one. See which way works best for you. Not all writers are alike, but we all have one thing in common. We all want to get from A to Z, the only difference is how we get there. Find one way, or many ways that allow you to get there, and don’t give yourself an excuse to quite mid stride.
Distraction: TV, Video games, sports, family, work, sleep, drinking, eating, you get the point. Some of these distractions, like family and work are necessary. They’re very real and very important. You have to find a way for your writing to coexist. But the other stuff has its time and place. You need to decide which is more important, binge watching Netflix shows, or writing your page goal for the day. And that goes for the rest, gaming, watching sports, there are in-numerous speed bumps in life, all designed to slow you down or stop you completely. You need to set your priorities and move forward according to your plan. You can be the type of person who, year after year, tells everyone that you’re working on a book, screenplay, yet never finishes it. Or you can be the type of person who, year after year has a new novel, or screenplay. It’s all up to you to decide what’s more important.
Burnout: Unlike writer's block, burn out is a real thing. The candle that burns at both ends, burns twice as bright and half as long. Some people type their fingers to the bone. They churn out page after page after page, all while working, raising kids, hitting the gym, volunteering at the homeless shelter and on and on, you get the point. So don’t be surprised if you find out passion for your project dwindling. It’s nothing to panic about, you’re just worn out. Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t be Superman, or Superwoman, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Unless you do have super human abilities, it’s just a fact of life, you’re going to get exhausted and burned out. Reorganize your schedule, rethink your priorities, take a break, get some rest, go on vacation, hit the human reset button on your brain and ease your way back in. They say time heals all wounds, it also allows you to rest your brain, which is what you need. So give yourself that time, but make it guilt free, or it will do you no good.
Boredom: If you get to a point in your project where you can’t move forward, it may just be due to the fact that you weren’t really all that excited about the idea in the first place. Maybe it’s not even your idea. Maybe it’s a job, someone else’s idea that you now have to take and turn into something exciting and interesting. Depending on the idea you’re working with, this can be a very difficult situation to be in. When I get excited about a story idea, the scenes fall from the sky like rain, and all I have to do is catch them in a bucket. I love when this happens. It’s a wonderful experience. It doesn’t always happen like that, but when it does, man it’s great. Other times, you might get a slight shower of ideas, and then there are other instances where you feel like a dentist and you have to rip the ideas out of your head. It’s very difficult to generate ideas for a story you’re not into writing in the first place. That’s just life. It has nothing to do with the myth of writer's block. It just means that you have a heck of a lot more work to do than you would if you were excited about the idea.
There are other times when you had an idea you were excited about, but you took so long to start working on it, that the excitement wore off, and now that you’ve started it, that passion is gone, or faded a little and you have to WORK HARDER at it. Other times, you’re in the middle of a book or script and you’ve “lost that loving feelin’.” You’re just not as excited as you used to be. So, what do you do? If it’s not a job with a deadline, you simply take a break, or work on another project. Wait for the idea to get interesting again. My mood and genres tend to change according to the seasons. Fall time is for horror stories, action, thrillers, and mystery. Christmas time is drama, romance. Summer is for comedy and romantic comedy. Does it mean I can’t write a horror film in August? Of course not, but I tend to get excited about different ideas during different times of the year. That’s just how my whacked out brain works. If you have to option, work on what excites you, while it’s hot. If you don’t have the option to work on what you want, then try to find a way to make the idea into something that you would be excited to work on. If that’s not an option, do the best you can and look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel, meaning, the paycheck awaiting you. I know that sounds shallow, but it’s not. Sometimes writing is just a job, but you look forward to the times when the job will be fun and fulfilling. If you never experience the fun, joy, love, fulfillment writing brings, then maybe you need to explore another realm of writing, copy writing, poetry, children’s books, etc. If that doesn’t work, than maybe writing isn’t for you. Find what you love and do that instead.
This list of excuses, distractions, issues, whatever you want to call it, is no way near complete. There are a thousand things that can stop you from writing. But writer's block, isn’t one of them, because it doesn’t exist. Don’t allow anyone to convince you otherwise. Especially yourself.
Simply do your best to pinpoint the issue and take the time and steps needed to resolve the problem. Don’t just slap a label on it and quit. Work on another project. Take a vacation. Take your spouse on a date. Go to Disneyland with the kids. Try starting a new hobby, like painting or skeet shooting. Realize that writing is a lifelong gift. You don’t have it one day and it’s gone the next. No one, and nothing can take it from you. BUT! Like an unused knife, left out of the rain, it can become rusty and dull if not cared for and sharpened.
So, the next time some stranger tells you they’re suffering from writer's block, kindly punch them in the nose for perpetuating such a terrible lie. Then, once you’ve been released from jail for assaulting a stranger on the street, help that stranger figure out what the issue is, then instead of him suing you for assault, you can help him resolve his writing issue. He’ll be happy and your bank account will remain untouched. Either way, sounds like an interesting beginning of a story.