So I don’t actually believe in Writer’s Block. Not really. Not in the way most people use the phrase. (Wow, David, spoiler alert way to ruin the buildup).
As a full disclaimer – something I do believe in is that everyone is different. So if you suffer from Writer’s Block, truly believe in it, and will get offended if I don’t, don’t read the below. Or maybe do read the below if you want to have your mind changed or like making yourself angry on purpose.
To me Writer’s Block is one of those mystical ailments that afflicts only the most whimsical and broody of people. You know to whom I’m referring (great use of ‘whom’, am I right??) – the people who like to talk about how much they like to talk about stuff, who like to think deeply about how their profession forces them to think deeply, who want to do something for the rest of their lives but go weeks at a time without being able to sit in front of a computer, who start blogs to write about the act of writing…
Wait… I think I’ve seen that last one before.
Writers… what a bunch of weirdos, right?!
But I don’t think Writer’s Block means that you can’t write. I think it’s a sticker slapped on top of some more concrete problem, created by some jerk who wanted to f*** with writers everywhere and cause mass procrastination.
There’s no need to make a big deal out of it. We don’t have Writer’s Block. We’re just stuck.
Writer’s Block means we don’t know what comes next. If we were to really analyze why it is we can’t write, we’d find out how simple the problem is. We’re actually confused! We don’t know what comes next! When we just cant seem to find the motivation to sit down and write the next scene, it’s either because we’re low on inspiration and need to power through, or because our subconscious is telling us that what’s next on our plot outline doesn’t feel right. It needs to be changed, and once it does, poof! Magic! The motivation and ability to write returns.
We simply don’t have the answer… yet.
Once we dispense with the mysticism of Writer’s Block, the path forward becomes clear. We’re stuck on something. The more specific we can be with that statement, the easier it becomes to move forward. Think about how much easier the below progression is to fix.
- I have Writer’s Block (vague, difficult to overcome)
- Something about the next scene doesn’t motivate me to write it (less vague, still difficult)
- The next scene lacks excitement and tension (more specific)
- Sandra is acting out of character in this scene. She’s not usually this passive and needs to assert herself more (much better)
- This scene feels wrong because Andy’s accusations wouldn’t make Sandra run and hide, they’d make her angry. She would attack him with flaming cookie dough zombies (most specific, easiest to fix)
What’s easier, trying to overcome Writer’s Block, or rewriting your scene because it lacked the logical and genuine reactions that put you off of it (flaming cookie dough zombies should obviously have been included in the first outline).
Getting stuck happens to everyone, but it’s important to recognize it for what it is and not attribute it some broad and vague issue that has no real solution. When we’re stuck, we can get unstuck by figuring out what the problem is (99% of the time it’s that we don’t know what comes next in the story, or that what comes next feels off). Get specific. Why doesn’t the next scene make sense? What plot point can we not fill in, what are the options we’re working with, what do we need to change in the outline or with the characters to move forward? Why didn’t Sandra just open with the flaming cookie dough zombies in the first place?
Looking at other professions, too, we see that we’re not actually all that special. When a senior executive at a company has to create a strategy to turn around falling sales figures, they’re bound to have difficulty. It might take days, sleepless nights, weeks, or even months to come up with the answer! When they spend the night staring at a blank screen because they can’t figure out what the first step in their strategy should be, they call it a tough problem to solve, not Tough Business Strategy Block. “Sorry Mr. Phillips, cancel the shareholder meeting. Yeah, next month probably. I have Tough Business Strategy Block right now, it’s not gonna happen.”
Or when a physicist spends months or years or even their entire life trying to hypothesize how the laws of the universe work in extreme conditions, they don’t have Quantum Mechanics Block, they just have a difficult problem that takes work to overcome.
So it is with writers. Writer’s Block is nothing more than being stuck on a problem. The more specific you can make the problem, the sooner you can get to work on it, the sooner you can fix it and move on to the other glorious parts of your writing.
Personally, I’ve actually had ‘Writer’s Block’ these past 3 weeks (but David you just said you don’t believe in it!).
I’ve actually been stuck these past 3 weeks.
I started my new (and much anticipated) project while waiting to hear back about the one I just finished. I expected to rocket off to a quick start, but actually found it hard to get excited by the ideas I had. It was difficult to go from a polished, intricate, clever, finished product where all the tiny details tie together, to something rough and blank and full of big ideas that are really just amorphous messages and conflicts.
But I kept working and writing every day. Butt goes in chair. Fingers go on keyboard. Mouth drinks coffee. Eyes stare glassily at the screen.
I knew that my momentum would eventually smash through whatever barrier was holding me back, and three days ago it did. I figured out what issue I was stuck on, fixed it, and now I annoy everyone at the coffee shop with how enthusiastically I smash the keys (think Donkey Kong with a Macbook).
Writer’s Block -> Rail Against The Gods -> Stuck -> Get Specific About Why -> Work On Problem -> Solve Problem -> Mash Keyboard Like Donkey Kong.
And yes, if you’d like to print out that deeply poetic progression and frame it above your mantel, you may.
What about you, do you believe in Writer’s Block? Have you ever suffered from it? How did you get over it?