“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” — Kurt Vonnegut
“Writers Block” can be a debilitating thing. I put the phrase in quotes, because I just got done reading a fascinating article by Andy Ihnatko called There is No Such Thing as Writer’s Block. He asserts if you just keep working at it, using a variety of techniques you will never be “blocked.” And he’s right.
Ihnatko states “The fact that you’re not actually writing doesn’t mean that you’re not actually working. You’re also working when you’re thinking.” I think this is a problem for a lot of writers. When they’re not sitting at the keyboard type-type-typing away, the guilt can be crushing. But, if you can manage to stay focused, you are still working.
Step 1: Eliminate Distractions
For example, I do some of my best thinking in the shower, where there are very few distractions. My daughter is usually happily playing on the bathroom floor, my phone is safe on the vanity, my family members are all elsewhere. It is my quiet sanctuary, my best place to think. Perhaps think is too generous a term. Daydream might be better. In the shower, I like to pretend I am one of my characters, and imagine what they would do in various scenarios. I don’t have to devote any of my brain power to things like washing dishes, working, walking the dog and pushing the stroller, driving, or playing toddler games. I can just pretend. For me, the shower is the best place to eliminate distractions. But, this might not work for you. The key to staying unblocked is to find your own sanctuary. Maybe it’s in your car with the radio blasting, or in your office in total silence, or out walking on a wooded path, or having a glass of wine. It doesn’t really matter what it is.
The point is:
A) Not to feel guilty about taking time away from writing to go to your sanctuary. Because you’re not actually taking time away from writing. Your mind is still working! And the more your mind has worked out, the faster your fingers will fly across the keyboard!
B)Not to feel guilty about what your sanctuary is. Do I feel bad taking a long shower while my daughter plays on the floor by herself? Some times. Should I? No. Nine times out of ten, she is perfectly happy. But the mom in me sometimes runs away with me. Which leads me to step 2.
Step 2: Squash All Guilt
I was raised Catholic. And my mother went to Catholic school until her senior year. It’s safe to say I know a fair amount about the effectiveness of guilt. However, for a writer, guilt can snuff out your creative flame with terrifying ease. Guilt goes hand in hand with procrastination, another of the writer’s worst enemies.
So, you haven’t cleaned the garage in about three years. You told your significant other you’d do it months ago. Yet, the mess still sits, taunting you from afar. The guilt of not fulfilling your promise weighs heavily on you with each flash of the cursor on your screen. You think, maybe if I go clean out the garage my soul will be unburdened of the guilt, and the praise I’m sure to be showered with will spur my creative juices. And maybe it will. But maybe it won’t. Use caution when walking this line. Make sure you can distinguish between your sanctuary and flat out procrastination. If you’re thinking about your work while cleaning on the garage, that’s your sanctuary. If you’re thinking about how you don’t want to get rid of your genuine Green Lantern Lantern, that’s procrastination. Know the difference.
Step 3: Find What Works for You
In order to live Ihnatko’s theory that there are no such thing as blocked writers, you must be willing to take an active roll and work through it. The problem with the idea of writer’s block is that it gives you an excuse. And if you look, you can find a whole community of supportive writers who are doing nothing but complaining about their block. It’s an enabler, and a very dangerous one at that.
You succumb to the block, and tell your friends, “I haven’t written a word in weeks. I think I have writer’s block.” They all look at you sympathetically, say it will pass, and offer words of encouragement. But before long weeks turn into months, and years. You’ve picked up other things, moved on with your life. I consider myself a true writer at this stage of my life, and the aforementioned scenario is my personal nightmare. To become so lazy that you just let your gift of writing slip away, under the guise of “writer’s block” is appalling. Harsh? Yes. True? Yes.
So what can you do? Take an active roll!
1. Find a writer’s group, or workshop. I did this two weeks ago and found it very inspirational to be surrounded by like minded writers passionate about the craft.
2. Read! I can’t say enough about how important reading is. I know other writers say they don’t read while they’re writing because too much of what their reading leeches into their writing, but if you’re not reading, how can you claim to be writing? Read within your genre, especially if you’re stuck. See what’s successful, then think about why.
3. Frequent your sanctuary. Find your characters there, talk to them, ask them how they feel, what they plan to do next, and why.
4. It is OK to put a work down for a bit, but it’s not OK to stop thinking about it. Keep your brain focused on the problem, where you’re stuck, and why. Is the plot at this point uninteresting? Why? Did you write yourself into a corner? Where did it start to go wrong? Is your character unlikeable? In what way? Keep your mind working on these issues and you’ll never be blocked.
The point is, don’t succumb to the glamorous idea of “writer’s block.” It’s nothing more than laziness of those that aren’t true writers. Am I destined by karma to be struck down with the worst case of writer’s block in the history of the world for saying that, I suppose it’s a possibility. But only if I allow it to be so. And then, I have no one but myself to blame.