On Writer’s Block

“What things there are to write, if one could only write them! My mind is full of gleaming thought; gay moods and mysterious, moth-like meditations hover in my imagination, fanning their painted wings. But always the rarest, those streaked with azure and the deepest crimson, flutter away beyond my reach.” ~Logan Pearsall Smith

I’m the type of person who rarely runs out of things to say. A simmering stew of thoughts, questions, and random statements roll around my brain spiced with the heaps of stories and characters that fuel my need to write. Not all of it is golden or even good, but it’s there waiting for the opportunity to burst forth and possibly wow and amaze some lucky person. Sadly, it’s usually my kids who listen and only because they have no other choice.

This morning I wasted time on the internet. (Yes I said wasted.) Sometimes I look for something and get lost in a Google haze, to emerge hours later with a headache and useless facts to share. But today, just as the haze blurred my vision, and right before the drool formed at the corners of my mouth, an ad popped up on the homepage. “Writer’s Block: Blah, blah, blah…we can help!” Well, that wasn’t the exact title, but it’s what I my brain registered. It got me thinking.

Would anyone actually pay someone to rid them of writer’s block? Do they really think that’s a legitimate affliction? If what I’ve I read on various writing forums is anything to go by, this problem is rampant, so I suppose it is possible. I’ve heard lots of moaning and crying about it, many frustrated and some near to panic because they’ve got nothing to do. They’re out of ideas. They’ve tried and tried to write but continually come up with steaming piles of nothing. Really? Nothing to write, nothing to edit, no ideas at all?

I will upset some people I’m sure, but you’ll get used to that. Eventually. So here it goes.

What? Are you kidding? Nothing? I don’t believe it. If you produce nothing, then you’re going about it all wrong. Perhaps you should consider an easier hobby like knitting. Because that’s all writing will ever be for you; a hobby.

You see, I don’t believe there should ever come a point where one, who calls himself ‘writer’ stares at a blank screen (or paper, your choice) and does nothing else. Perhaps the words aren’t there, or they refuse to come out just so, but that is no reason to stop working. Please refrain from throwing things about. You, there, the one at the back, there is no need for profanity. I’ll explain.

I began keeping notebooks a couple of years ago when I decided to write seriously. By seriously I mean I focused on learning to write for more than just my amusement; learning the rules rather than just vomiting on paper and patting myself on the back. These notebooks are full of stuff that resembles gibberish to anyone else. To me, the jumbled thoughts, random words and names are ideas. Stories. Recently, I started turning those into loose outlines—fleshed out ideas to work on when I have the time. How many of these ‘outlines’ do I have? I haven’t counted: less than a dozen but more than a handful. How’s that? But I have several notebooks written in my illegible scrawl, packed full of snippets of conversations, what if…? questions, and other gems that I just had to write down at some point.

Along with those outlines and jumbled thoughts I have several manuscripts in various stages. Some finished but desperately needing a few rewrites, (if infinite can be considered few) more that are half completed but halted for one reason or another. (Actually, many of them I didn’t think through entirely and I’m currently reading and rewriting and finding direction for them, but it wasn’t writer’s block that stopped them, it was writer’s stupidity). I also have a manuscript on its final edit, almost ready to go to publishers and agents, a manuscript I’ve just begun (so excited I can barely stand it about this one) and one that is currently enduring a first rewrite. It’s holding up well, but I fear it will never be the same. I’m told that’s probably for the best anyway.

Writer’s block? Come on. With all of this stuff filling up my hard drive, sitting in notebooks and on various disks littering the tiny table in my garage/office? No, not possible. I don’t think any writer can be completely unproductive. You don’t have to churn out brilliant prose every day (although, wouldn’t that be awesome?) but you should never find yourself staring at a blank screen with nothing to do. Someone once told me that in order to have a career in writing, you have to produce every day. That someone knew what they were talking about. (But I don’t tell them that too often, a writer with a big head is rather annoying) Career means job, and job means work. If it were easy, we’d all be writers.

So? What the heck can you produce if you’re not writing? What about your 4000 (yes, I’m being ambitious) words a day? There is so much more to being a writer than just ‘creating’ the story and churning out ridiculous word counts day after day. Sadly that’s just the fun part and often the shortest.

A manuscript is never ready with the first draft, (Never, I don’t care who you are.) and it’s never ‘finished’, although you may deem it good enough eventually, there is always room for improvement. Rewriting (properly) requires hours and hours of work. From rough to final draft, an author’s eyes should be strained to the point of bleeding from the attention he or she lavishes on each line of prose. (If you’re like me, avoiding rewriting is the goal most days). But if you have nothing to do…there it is, waiting. A rough draft lying there staring at you with its adverb ridden, settingless lines hidden among beautiful bits and pieces begging for attention… So you begin. Within a couple of days, your brain will produce new ideas in a desperate attempt to break free of the hell that is editing.

Of course, if you’ve edited all you have (I am sooo jealous and slightly mistrustful of such a person) then there are still those ideas waiting for you. Even if you can’t seem to get the words just right, it’s no reason not to write them. Eventually you’ll get something grand, something wonderful: something worth writing.

What is my point? Good question. My point is a ‘writer’ never succumbs to the convenient excuse called Writer’s Block. A writer writes no matter what. Whether it’s working on something new, rewriting something already finished, scribbling ideas, or researching, a writer writes.

One manuscript does not make you a writer, and heaps of ideas written down and never used make you wasteful and lazy. No one said it would be easy, and it shouldn’t be. If it pours out of you without effort, spilling onto the page faster than you can type—so that you can barely keep pace with your brilliance—it’s likely a bunch of crap. Of course, that’s just my opinion. I might be wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

If you can’t work on the current idea, grab something else, try a short story (which often turn into something more) or go for a walk. Jeepers, just sit down and read. Never stop writing just because you can’t get something sensible down on paper. And definitely never pay somebody to ‘cure’ your block. The block is in your head, imaginary, not real, and only there as long as you believe it to be.

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating. Niyi Osundare

If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow. Louis L’Amour

Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties. Bonnie Friedman

8 thoughts on “On Writer’s Block

  1. Well said. Friends of mine have stories but don't write them because they don't know how the story goes from here to there. Telling them that they should write anyway has proven pointless. They don't listen to me.

  2. Amen. I am starting a cult worshipers for you. There is always an idea or a project waiting to be finished. I often have trouble focusing or I find myself getting restless so I need to step away from the keyboard. So I go for a walk, or grab my notebook and sit at the bar/coffee shop and make notes. Or better yet, just review something somebody else wrote, whether is something for a friend or a new book I just got. Frankly, the best thing to do when you get stuck on something is to work on something else. Which is why is best to have several projects going at the same time. Something, I may add, that you have truly mastered my friend. Good post, Ms.Renee.

  3. Thank you Henry. I work very hard to do that anyway, not that I'm always successful, hence my Google adventures, but I do try. Rita, but a 'writer' would listen. That's the difference. But you know that.

  4. I have several notebooks written in my illegible scrawl, packed full of snippets of conversations, what if…? questions, and other gems that I just had to write down at some point.That's me. I was in the supermarket's deli the other day and looked at a young couple a few tables over and 2 words hit me: traditions and superstitions. I found an old receipt in my purse and wrote the words thinking they will fit somewhere. I'll find a place for them. epiphanies come to me that way. Writer's block simply means that I've gotten lazy, then I know it's time to re-read, to wake up my muse. But once I had a block for 2 months because personal problems blocked out everything. Yes writing is an obsession if you're a true writer. Well said, Renee.

  5. Thanks Minnie. I used to do that too, scraps of paper all over the place, but my problem is that if it isn't 'tied' down I lose it. I do have a few ratty old envelopes tucked into my notebooks though. I always have about twenty of those stuffed into my purse. Now, if someone would stop stealing my pens…

  6. Great blog, great post, Renee. Ref scraps of paper – hideous idea for me. My writing is illegible, insights consequently ciphers puzzled over many days later. Sometimes I think a oortable dictaphone or something would be useful but my mumble is even worse than my scrawl 🙂

  7. I've been tempted to get a dictaphone too, but I wonder if I'll be able to hear myself over the background noise. (it's crazy loud in my house). Wow, you can't understand your writing or your speech. That's rough. You need an assistant. I do keep more notes on my computer than I used to, but only if if I'm home. The notebooks and paper are handy for when I'm out and can't carry the laptop with me. I think someone here might draw the line if I took the laptop out of the house. My daughter just commented on facebook that if I were a piece of furniture I'd be a 'laptop holder'.

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