Ready for some Tough Love? Okay, brace yourself: There’s no such thing as Writer’s Block. That’s right. I went there. How do I know Writer's Block doesn't exist? Well, can you physically write? Can you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? Then you can create a series of words that march across the page doing your bidding, no matter what.
So what's the catch?
I never said they'd be good.
If you insist on believing in The-Writing-Obstacle-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named (that was for fans of a certain teenaged wizard), the following three approaches might be just enough to rev your engines when you feel a block approaching:
• Type "I remember" and describe personal memory after personal memory, using imagery that's clear, specific, and precise. Take advantage of all your senses. When the memories trail off, type "I remember" again and start all over. This also works with “But what I really want to write is. . .” (courtesy Natalie Goldberg)
• Put your character in a room with a famous person and have them interact. Interview your character about secrets from her past. Write about your character from the point-of-view of a minor character. From the point of view of Romeo. Or Tom Joad. Or your ex-boyfriend. Or Oprah. Whatever gets the juices flowing.
• Stop the project you’re working on and write something else. Something shorter. Longer. Funnier. Sadder. Write a poem. An essay. A joke. A one-act play. Switching up the genre or the style might break the block and unshackle your muse.
Whenever you freeze while attempting to put words on the page, remember that this paralysis comes from many different places–some of which have nothing to do with writing. Whenever you’re drawing a blank, ask yourself: Am I afraid of failure? Success? Is some structural problem in the work holding me back? Are creditors banging down my door? Am I worried about my husband, wife, children, or parents? Once you've answered these questions and removed the hurdles, the fog may have lifted.
And while it’s true that I have never experienced Writer's Block, it’s not because I'm the luckiest writer in the world whose words flow in perpetuity from his computer as if from a font of Holy Water surrounded by a chorus of seraphim. More likely, it’s because I come from a journalism background where newspaper editors don't give a rat's ass if you're "inspired.” The deadline is the deadline and your copy better be on the editor’s desk in time for the next edition. Consequently, I have always thought of writing a craft as well as an art.
Furthermore, quality writing time is hard to come by for me, so I don't have the luxury of being stuck. I write something. . .anything. I write and write and write until the good stuff comes gushing out like crude oil in Jed Clampett's back forty. So, as a general rule, I choose not to believe in Writer’s Block in the same way that I choose not to believe in The Tooth Fairy, vampires, or Steven Tyler’s presence on American Idol (that last one, I suspect, may have more to do with a case of garden variety denial).
Sometimes, of course, I struggle, too. My syntax blows or my vocabulary lags or my tone rings false or my message tanks. But that’s why God invented The Second Draft. No matter what, though, I keep typing. If I stop tapping keys then Writer’s Block wins (if such a thing existed, I mean). And I’m not gonna let that happen.
Who cares if I’m left with reams and reams of writing I’ll never use? I envision myself as a musician running scales. A jogger running in place until the light turns green. A magician perfecting sleight-of-hand, playing card by playing card. Sometimes I stare at the exercises and the false starts and the poorly-written pages whose final resting place will not be a shelf at Barnes and Noble, but rather the cavernous bowels of my circular file, and I think: it’s not that Writer’s Block doesn’t exist, it’s just that—at my writing desk, anyway–it goes by different name: Crappy writing.
And Crappy Writing, I tell myself, is better than none at all.