Writing is just like driving. It takes practice, you need a license, no one else is good at it (except you, of course), and you’ll eventually have to find ways to bypass roadblocks.
Unlike writing, roadblocks in the driving experience are inevitable. Daytime construction. Collisions. Road closures. Entitled pedestrians. People who forget how to drive in the rain/snow/sun.
In the driving world, yanking the emergency brake in the middle of the highway and forgetting where you’re going would be insensible and unexplainable. That’s not a legitimate roadblock. That’s not even rational. I wouldn’t know what to call that.
But do you know what we call that in the writing world? Writer’s block.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
I’m sure you’ve gotten this question before, but I’m hoping you’ll take the time to answer this for me. How do you overcome writer’s block?
—Ellen London, Hebron, Ill.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Unless you’ve got legitimate issues with the frontal lobe of your cerebrum (rare) or have a telepath psionically impeding your creative abilities (also rare), then there’s no excuse. And if you do have brain issues, consult a specialist. And if you do have a telepath doing that psionic impediment deal, politely ask them to stop, or get a special kind of helmet for that.
Writer’s block is what you get when you stop thinking, stop writing, and forget how to cope with inaction. Perhaps it’s not finding the right words, losing a thread in a story, or losing interest in the endeavor. Regardless, it’s avoidable. Here are some parlor tricks that should help you skirt this inevitable roadblock that’s neither inevitable nor a roadblock.
1: Read a book.
Sure, you’re thinking “That’s not a solution!” It is a solution. To create, one must study creation.
2: Re-read what you’ve written.
Look at writer’s block as a way of backtracking and getting a feel for where you’ve come so far. Lost anything before in your real life? Retrace your steps. Same applies to writing. You find the way forward by moving backward.
3: Edit what you’ve already written.
The force of Nature could no further go, it said, “You need to go back and fix this mess.” (If you get the reference, maybe you shouldn’t be reading this blog.) There’s nothing like a natural inhibitor to continued creation when you’ve probably done it wrong for the past fifty pages or so. Inspiration has its checks, but you’re responsible for the balances.
4: Work on a new scene (part, section, whatever).
Your story should have more than one thread or at least a strand or two hanging around. Those ideas, sub-plots, and novelties you’d wanted to get to later on in the narrative? Might want to work on them at this point, as they’ll fire up the creative faculties. Consider it a detour, but don’t derail your work with these. You’ve not been given license to fool around for the sake of impetus.
5: Work on a side project.
What? Abandon the main endeavor? You bet. You’d be surprised how many ancillary works you can add to your portfolio in your detours. If you’re a writer worthy of writing, you’ll write something. If you have to re-focus that energy into something completely different, then do it. Anything’s better than slamming one’s forehead on a blank template.
6: Write a new story.
Why not? You’ve probably had another story on the back-burner or side-burner anyway. Get that one off the ground, mire yourself within, hit another impasse, and come on back to the work you left behind. Finish the task. Complete the cycle. Put aside the Ranger. Become who you were born to be.
7: Read bad writing.
Nothing motivates hidden greatness more than exposure to unhidden lameness. When you can’t bring yourself to write, remember that many other writers somehow managed to do it. Not only did they manage to write, they managed to write poorly. Not only did they write poorly, they managed success with their poor writing. There are thousands of authors making a decent living by writing worse than you write right now. The difference? They’re writing, and you’re not. Also, they’re making more than you right now. Get to work.
8: Start over.
If you can’t bring yourself to finish it, just give it the ol’ Command+A (Control+A, if you’re still using Windows in the Age of Enlightenment), then hit that Delete key. Don’t look back. Put your failure in the past. Start something you plan to see to its completion next time.
9: Stop writing altogether.
Yes, this may be the cosmos telling you that this isn’t your thing. Why insist on persisting if writing just wasn’t what you were put on Earth for? It’s not writer’s block. It’s a guard, pleading with you to turn away from a path not meant for you. Not everyone was meant to golf like Tiger Woods, play basketball like Michael Jordan, or breathe underwater like Aquaman. There’s a reason Tiger doesn’t shoot hoops, Jordan doesn’t golf (professionally), and Aquaman doesn’t fly. They were good at what they do from the outset. They never failed. They never encountered obstacles that kept them from success. If you’re not immediately successful with this writing ordeal, it may be time to hang it up. Your destiny will thank you.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and paired with a ’59 Mouton-Rothschild.