The Myth of Writer’s Block


Newly minted writers sometimes ask me how I deal with “writer’s block.” I tell them there is no such thing. They are not happy. I assume that is because they are experiencing some level of frustration in their writing and can’t seem to overcome it. They have “writer’s block” and they are seeking the solution. To be told that there is no such thing is not what they want to hear. They want the formula, the trick that writers use to break through. There is no trick because “writers block” does not exist.

Nonsense, you might say. It does and I have experienced it—so there.

If you say so, it is so. I, on the other hand deny it exists and therefore it doesn’t.

You see where we are going here? When I run into a time when the words will not come, I do not shackle myself with writer’s block. I am stuck, I am on the wrong track, I am temporarily out of inspiration. I am not blocked. If I am stuck, I can get unstuck.  If I am on the wrong track with relation to my story, I can go back and straighten out the line. If I am temporally lacking inspiration, I focus on the temporary part. It is all about how you talk to yourself. At one of those dreadful pep talks we all get dragged to every now and again, a motivational speaker once declared “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” Well, there is something to that. It’s all about positive head talk, you see.

Too many of my acquaintances tell me they have Writer’s Block like they have an incurable disease. See, that’s how it works …. I am diseased. It is beyond me. Send the medicine. Sorry, no medicine available because it is: a.) Not a disease with a cure, b.) temporary, not permanent, c.) easily remediable. For way too many, “Writer’s Block” is an excuse for lack of performance. Stop excusing yourself . If you have a story to tell, tell it. If not, take up pottery. There is no such thing as “Pottery block.”

Now, let’s assume you are stuck (not blocked). You are for one of several possible reasons.

1.)    This one obviously does not include you, the reader, because you are a real writer, not some dilettante. However, on the oft chance you are one of those people who believes you were chosen by some deity to write the next Great American Novel and have sailed into you writing with the expectation that the words would be delivered to you by the Story Fairy (cousin to the Tooth Fairy) under your pillow and onto the page.

I doesn’t work that way. Yes, some of us are “Pantsers.” That is we just sit down and write−usually without benefit of outlines. But, that does not mean we don’t have a story in mind when we start. You, who are “being creative” by free-writing−well good luck with that. I have no palliative for your inertia. First rule of storytelling−You have to have a story, Dummy.

2.)    For the rest of you. Maybe you are writing too fast and you sailed past a plot point and missed a critical turn. Now you are staring at the blue sky and ocean a mile from the turn that would have taken you in the right (write) direction. Reverse and go back to the point you missed when the majesty of your prose took you far, far away. Delete the stuff that took you away, and continue on.

3.)    Maybe you believe you believe you are a “pantser” and you aren’t. Maybe you really need to outline what you had in mind after all. I assume people with outlines are stuck less that those who don’t. I don’t know that for a fact as I do not outline, but I would think so. So, try outlining−at least the broad scope of the story.

4.)    You are a “pantser” and you know the story but, because you haven’t outlined, are not sure what comes next. Hint: what comes next is what you write next. Come on … it’s called cut and paste. Just write something. You can fix it later.

Or, you might try outlining the next two or three chapters. It can be your secret. It may get you unstuck.

5.)    You are stuck because you are distracted by a scene you plan to write in a later part of the book and it is on your mind to the exclusion of what you are doing now.

This one is easy. Write that scene and get it over with. Tuck it away on the hard drive and pull it up when you need it. (Cut and Paste−remember?)

6.)    The story is tumbling around in your head and you can’t keep all the parts straight. So, write it out of sequence. With word processing, you can riffle-shuffle whole chapters like a deck of cards. Yield to the technology. I once wrote a book front to back and back to front simultaneously and passed myself in the middle. I had to change some dates and times, but it worked. I wanted a story that lasted three days and it came out to five. Well, shoot.

7.)    You are sick and tired of the damned thing. Every time you think you have it worked out a character misbehaves.

You need a vacation.

8.)    Being stuck, you know, is like having a car mired in mud. Sometimes you can wait it out−the mud dries and away you go. Sometimes you can dig yourself out. Certainly you should try. It’s character building. Sometime, you need a friend to give you a push− to read your pages and see where the difficulty is. And sometimes you will need a tow truck. Take the pages to a conference, to a group and get some heave duty lifting done.

9.)    If all else fails, pause and go do something else. Read someone else’s book. Ride a bike. Open a bottle of cheap red. Write a short story, a non-fiction piece. Or, God forbid,  maybe a blog.

Remember: NO RULES!




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