You Can Beat Writer’s Block With This One Simple Trick!
…man, writing that clickbait line made me feel bad. Okay, here’s a more practical article. Writer’ Block would be a dangerous, deadly foe of all writers if it were real, but it isn’t.
Did you hear me? No such thing. It’s all an illusion.
Granted, a lot of things in the world are illusions, so much so that they have their own fancy name: Social Constructs. A social construct is something that everybody decides is true, and thus it might as well be true, and no you are not allowed to talk about religion in the comments. Okay, you will anyway, but don’t expect me to join in.
As a non-controversial example of a social construct, look at the dating process. A gentleman is expected to ask a lady out without any prompting on her part (because she has to play “hard to get”). She must then weigh your option (ask her to coffee – this is socially acceptable) under the rubric of “relationship or permanent shunning,” which puts unnecessary strain on both parties. Does the guy ask and endanger the friendship, or keep quiet? Does she say yes out of obligation, or file a restraining order? They then attend a painfully stiff and awkward pseudo-courting session that really does not matter until weeks or months later, when both parties are comfortable enough to drop social pretenses and talk like normal people.
But even then there are further social constructs for marriage – proposals must be formatted in a certain way, responses have to be phrased appropriately, and even the dollar amount of a ring is set in stone (three months’ salary or nothing). Why? Because that’s the “proper’ way to do it – this is how it is done. And yet… in plenty of societies throughout history, marriages were arranged by parents like business deals. Others have essentially run things like an elaborate kidnapping. In one village in China, the bride and her mother are expected to cry uncontrollably for weeks whether they want to or not, because this is how it is done.
Nothing that we in the western world take for granted can be counted on in other cultures, and vice-versa. Essentially, everything aside from two people agreeing (or being persuaded) to cohabitate is a social construct that varies from culture to culture. Am I saying that we should ignore tradition and just turn marriage into a business deal? No, of course not. But even the most intimate details of our lives and interactions are governed by rules which only exist because people believe in them. Writer’s block is the same thing.
We as writers have this crazy idea: In order to write, you must have “a muse.” When this muse leaves, then you are afflicted with “writer’s block,” and cannot write further. This is a lie. A lie from the pit.
If you are stuck and cannot move on, then there is a reason for it – perhaps the scene is awkward. perhaps you have lost interest. Perhaps you lack motivation. Perhaps you have forgotten something. perhaps the scene is boring but necessary and you just don’t want to write it. Perhaps you are intimidated. But the thing is, and I am about to use bold text again, is that a certain aphorism really is true:
A Writer Writes.
That’s it. A writer writes. A firefighter fights fires, a chef cooks, and a building contractor steals. Writing is a skill that takes practice. If you’ve suddenly stopped writing completely, you need to ask yourself why. The thing is, writing is just another skill, and the writer’s famous “muse” does not exist! It is… wait for it… A Social Construct! Successful writers write whether they feel like it or not. If they don’t like their output, then they go back and fix it, but the fact is that they keep working. Having a burst of creativity is nice, but it is not something to rely on – you need to take control of your own creativity, and force it to serve you. It’s an aspect of your mind. It is your servant, not the other way around. This just brings up another social construct:
Writing Is The Same As Any Other Skill
Did you read that? Writing is a skill. Accounting is a skill. Marksmanship is a skill. Web design is a skill. Music is a skill. Yes, natural talent does make a difference, but that difference really just amounts to a starting advantage. Someone who is naturally good at numbers has an easier time becoming an accountant than somebody who can’t do long division, but he still has to practice and work to become good at accounting. Likewise, natural writing talent can only account for so much – in the end, it’s all practice. It’s the same with every art. Professional singers sing all the time. Musicians play and practice. Painters paint.
But we in the western world have a flawed American Idol mentality which teaches that if you aren’t flawless right out of the gate, you should give up and go home. But imagine if we took that mentality for everything! Imagine trying to be an accountant in a world where if you weren’t the greatest number-cruncher ever on your first day, you got fired? Or imagine trying to become a boxer if you had to win your first match without taking a punch? It’s silly! And its the same with writing.
Are you frustrated? Are you having a difficult time? Is writing hard? Well, good! It’s the same for everybody else! Even your heroes have had to slowly slog through manuscript, cursing as they went on. The greatest authors in the world have written crap, but the difference is that they kept at it until they improved. And the way to beat writer’s block is to deny it. Look it in the face and tell it that it doesn’t exist. Hit it on the head with a steel chair and then suplex it into the mat. And work – work hard. This is a very rewarding job, but it takes effort. Find whatever method works for you – maybe you need music, or rewards, or peace and quiet, or deadlines. But do it. Don’t let your writing excuses take over. Fight laziness. Fight the Blerch. Fight, fight, fight!
I remember seeing an interview with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame where somebody asked him how he became one of the greatest blues guitarists in the world. He said, “Well, I’ve been doing this for thirty years. You’ve gotta practice.” And that’s it. Practice. Apply yourself. Ignore the social constructs and work. Goodness will come, but you have to commit yourself to practice.
Put words on that page! Want a personal testimony? Fine. I wrote the first draft of Vintage Soul during the 2013 NaNoWriMo event. For those not in the know, National Novel Writing Month is a special event/charity/contest every November with the simple premise: Can you, as an author, write 50,000 words of a manuscript in 30 days? There is no entrance fee, the rewards are what you make them, and the organization offers a huge support network. Quality does not matter in this, only output does – it’s a month-long assault on writer’s block in ll of its forms. Or, if you think about it this way, it’s a contest where you fight something that does not exist.
For years, I would let every November slip by – I’d make excuses about being busy or something, when I was really just insecure. My sister and my mother always tried to encourage me, but I kept my head up my ass and pretended that I couldn’t do it. And then my mother passed away in 2012. In late 2013, I realized something: Now if I wrote, I couldn’t share it with her. Ever. I wasted years wallowing in imaginary writer’s block, and lost an opportunity forever. A dear, dear opportunity. So I decided to give it a go in 2013. Maybe I would win, maybe I would lose, but at least I’d go down fighting! Sure, I assumed that I would fail, but I would fail spectacularly!
So I said to myself, “There’s no way I can hit 50,000 words in thirty days.”
I hit it on the ninth day. Then I said, “There’s no way I can finish this first draft before the month ends.”
I hit it on the nineteenth day. Understand, I am a procrastinater supreme. I am writing this post in the middle of the night before it is scheduled to go live! I had plenty of moments of “What do I do next?”, but the difference is… I went on. I fought. I wrote anyway. I did my job. And sure, that first draft was flawed. But every draft since then has gotten better. And here’s the thing – I wrote a 90K novel (current draft is closer to 100K) in under three weeks. I, Lazypants McWastetime, conquered NaNoWriMo.
And so can you.
Because writer’s block does not exist, and writing is a skill.
Now go practice your skill! And if writer’s block rears its ugly head, kick its ass and do something great!