Repeat after me: There is no such thing as writer’s block.
You with me there? Good.
Now, let’s talk about that (translation: I will now write about that, feel free to comment below)
The biggest lesson I’ve learned about writing since doing Nanowrimo in 2006 is precisely this: there is no such thing as writer’s block.
If you’re sitting around not writing and thinking (or worse SAYING) “Oh, I haven’t written a thing since X because I have writer’s block” and you sigh, then get up from your computer. Get up right now. Look around and pick up the heaviest book within arm’s reach.
Go look in the mirror.
Smack yourself with the book. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Are you back? Good. Now I say the next bit with a lot of love (and genuine self loathing because I wish someone had said it to me)
Grow the fuck up and lose the emo shit.
There is no such thing as writer’s block.
Sit the fuck down and write something. Are you able to type? You can write. Are you able to speak and have someone else transcribe? You can write.
Now let’s talk about blocks because the above, while very true and needing to be said every once in a while, is spectacularly unhelpful when someone runs into an actual block that stops their writing. It’s like saying to me “You’re a stress eater. You overeat because when under stress” Gee thanks, now wanna help me find a way to stop scarfing these chips by the bagful? It doesn’t work. It’s true, but it doesn’t help.
I bring this up because I’ve run into some blocks this week and I wanted to share the experience (I’ve knocked them down by the way and the writing is coming back, thank you for your concern).
Once again, there’s no such thing as writer’s block.
However, here’s a couple of things that can block you and crush the spirit of a new (or an experienced) writer:
1) The “I didn’t think this through enough” block:
This is the block that I’ve run into a few times this week. It’s a weird one because it has several different symptoms.
“What the fuck am I writing about?”, “I have a scene where I need to do X, but I don’t know why.”, “why the hell would my MC do this?”, “I don’t know how to get to my end scene from X”, writing a scene that’s 10 times as long as it needs to be because you don’t want to tackle the next one.
Think about it, write about it. This kind of block sneaks up on you. You’ll start your story and all is well, you’re in love with it and the words flow but when you hit the middle, you sputter and your word count goes from 2000 words a day to 200. Often, you won’t really know why, you’ll just get a feeling of aimlessness.
I ran into this several times in the last two weeks. Every single time, going back to the source, the ideas helped. Every single time, more prep work saved the day. My main character’s actions and voice weren’t working. They didn’t fit my imagined premise for the novel and the character arc was flat. I thought about the plot and the premise. I did some character exercises to clear the head and after a while I came to an epiphany. The premise was the problem, not the character or the story. I changed the premise slightly and adjusted my scenes to match and BOOM! I’m in love with my story again! Another block came from, ironically, the solution from the first block. I couldn’t quite fit it in. Something was off. The solution? I went back to the character notes and realized that a secondary character that wasn’t really fleshed out had become a lot more important. Fleshing that character out led me to adding another character and fleshing that one out. Result? A more meaty, yet tigher story and BOOM! I’m excited to be writing it again!
Prep work. It can save your story.
2) The “This is getting hard” block:
Skipping scenes. Turning on your word processor, seeing which scene you’re up to and sighing in frustration. Working on dialogue. Going back to edit stuff endlessly. Avoiding your computer completely.
This kind of block is sneaky. It’s different than the “I didn’t think this through” block because in this case you know what you have to do, but you don’t want to do it. It might be that you aren’t comfortable with the subject matter of the scene, or you don’t feel confident. I get that way when it comes to any love scenes. Thank god I don’t write romance novels.
I don’t have a lot of advice on this except to sack up and try it. You WILL screw it up because you’re outside your comfort zone.
That’s ok. It’s ok to get it wrong.
That’s what second drafts and edits are for.
It’s GOOD to write scared. It pushes you to become a better writer.
3) The “There’s no way this can be any good” block.
Writing a paragraph over and over and never finishing any story you start. Never letting anyone see what you write.
Writers are crazy. We make up shit because we like to do it. We tell stories and talk about our characters like they are real people. Most of us have little to no hope of seeing our names on a bookshelf, but we try anyway.
We all have a voice in our head that tells us we suck. Every word we type, there’s a little squeak that makes us doubt. Some have a very loud voice, some, not so much. A friend of mine (who is always rather pithy) calls that voice “the shithead”, others call it “the inner editor”. I like to call it shithead, thank you Daphne!
Here’s the god’s honest truth if you’re just starting out and it will continue to be the truth during your whole writing career.
You suck. You will always suck.
At first. It’s ok.
You might be the very lucky one who can shit a manuscript fully formed. If you are, go to hell, sell your book and enjoy the pile of money. The rest of us have work to do.
The important thing is to get it down on paper. Write it down. Finish your story. EVERY TIME.
It will suck. That’s ok. That’s where you look at it and see if you can fix it. Do it. Fix it. Your second draft will be much better. You may need a third or fourth or fifth (or ninth). If it’s a story you love and believe in, it will get better.
Now here’s the kicker. If you do this a few times, you’ll notice that whenever you write a new story something pretty cool:
You suck less. You’ll never NOT suck, but you’ll start sucking a lot less and you might need less editing.
The end result will be pretty awesome. Trust me.
There’s no shortcuts.
Do your prep work. Outline if you wish, but get to know your characters, know your story, ask yourself questions. The more you do this, the less you’ll have to deal with blocks.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block.