Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Writer's Block Isn't Real (So Stop Complaining About It)

Think back to the first real job you ever had. You know, the one where you had to clock in for a shift, or actually hand a customer an invoice for the job you did. Maybe you flipped burgers, or waited tables, or washed cars, but whatever you did you knew when you showed up to work that you were getting paid to do a job. So you rolled up your sleeves (literally or metaphorically), and got down to business.

Now ask yourself what your supervisor's reaction would have been if they saw you weren't doing the job you were being paid to do, and your answer was, "I just don't have the inspiration to work today."

Odd, I don't feel inspired to pay you, either.
It sounds patently ridiculous, doesn't it? Yet, for some reason, people think that being a writer gives them a special dispensation to just stop working because the job gets hard. People call it writer's block, and they need to stop. Immediately.

Writer's Block Is Not Real

I'll give you another scenario. Say you want to get in shape, but you've never been an athlete, and you have no idea how to train your body. You had gym class in school, but you're pretty sure you didn't really learn what you need to know there. So you go online, you watch workout videos, read exercise blogs, and you try to get a grasp on how this whole thing works. Maybe you do a small routine on your own at home, just to see if you can get a feel for it. Before you walk into the gym and just start trying to lift something nearly as big as you are, though, you call up a friend of yours. You know, that friend who's been doing this for a while and who can show you around, give you a spot, and offer you a few pointers.

So you go to the gym, and you start lifting. You're naturally pretty strong, and you feel good about yourself. Your friend tells you that you're looking good, and shows you how to adjust your form for better results. Then when it's his turn on the bench you notice he's lifting double your weight. Not only that, but he's doing it with some ease. He's still sweating just as much as you are, but he isn't struggling. How come he can do that?

Do you even write, bro?
In this scenario your natural strength is your talent as a writer. The blogs you're reading are the advice guides written by authors who've come before you, and your friend is a mentor with more experience as a writer. The weight, in this case, is the project you're writing. The reason your mentor can rack out a short story with no problem, and even bench press a novel without slowing down, is that he's been practicing this craft. He's got his form down, his writing muscles are developed, and he has an intrinsic feel for the balance of a story because he's been doing this a lot longer than you have. Even on an off day (because we all have off days), an experienced writer will be able to put up bigger projects without losing good form.

If you just walk in off the street without any experience, throw a novel on your bar, and find you can't push the weight up it doesn't mean you have a "lifting block," it just means you need to work up to that level.

No Excuses

Writing isn't easy. You're going to have those days where you realize your plot twist is falling apart, your main character is too shallow, or that your story has a big damn hole in chapter four that you didn't notice. There will be days that you only get a few hundred words in before your brain cramps, and you have to put the weight down. Sometimes you just need to grunt, and grumble and drop the weight because you lost your form, your grip slipped, and you need a moment before you can try to pick it up again.

What matters is that you take responsibility, tug your gloves a little tighter, and go back to your project.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and all that.
Writer's block puts the onus on something else; something that isn't your fault. You have writer's block, but it's not like you can change that. It's that silly muse, not giving you your daily dose of inspiration so you can be an auteur genius and tell the story you want to tell.

You don't have writer's block. Maybe you have a story with a plot snag, or you bit off more than you can chew with your word count, but those are problems you are fully capable of fixing. So pour yourself a cup of caffeine, bust out a notepad, and if you need to, call up that friend of yours who can always knows just where to put your story Spackle. It won't be easy, and in all likelihood you're going to have to strain a muscle or two, but you are in control of your own story.

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  1. As a writer, I'm not sure if I agree with this. Writing is a form of creation; it's not like working out or going to a mundane job where there's no real thinking included. You simply pick up your schedule and just get to work. However writing is different, character creations, character development, plot twists, etc you have to stop and take these things in consideration or better yet something that this article completely missed, you have to put in detail. It's ease to say "a boy woke up and went outside" that's not a writer. A writer is someone who explains to you what that boy did outside. What he said outside. What obstacles or challenges did that boy face? None? Then peer me into the life of that boy while he did what he did. That's a writer. That's a person who is invested into their work not just ran through it based off of routine. So as a person who does workout, or complies to his boss based on the tasks asked of him. Writing is different, it's creative structure of a series of invested details. You need to feel your story just as much as your reader. Because if you don't care about the work you're presenting your audience, why would you think anyone is gonna invest themselves in your half-ass story. No offense tobthe writer of this article, but that's literally the first rule of writing.

    1. We will simply have to agree to disagree, then.

      Writing is creative, but it's also a job. If you're a musician, you don't get a pass because you don't have any new tunes, or because your chord progression is giving you trouble. No more than being an architect, and not finishing the blueprints for the building you were commissioned to design. Just because you're writing a murder mystery, or telling a sweeping tale of love and vengeance, doesn't mean you get a special shield that lets you not do your job.

      If you're writing for you, by all means, do what you want. If you're writing for money, and as a business, then you have to produce on command. If you miss deadlines, your contracts get torn up, and you may not get new ones. Or, if you're a self-publisher, then your fans may decide you aren't worth waiting for, and move on.

    2. Sorry! As a chef, writer, and musician, I can safely say that the latter two, while both as creative as being a chef, differ greatly. Writer's block is a real issue, one I have faced with varying degrees of difficulty in both music and writing in general. There is only one way around it: switch topics. If the topic of your blog, or the song you are working on that day just isn't working, go to a different one. This clears the mind and allows focus on something other than the problematic issue. The scenario you are describing, where one is just "not going to work" due to "lack of inspration" or "chord progression is giving trouble" only happens to those not dedicated to their craft.

      A variation does happen to chefs, but we rarely have a hard time not coming up with new ideas, especially when we are surrounded with other chefs.