Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On Writer's Block

Given that I'm throwing this post together specifically to escape working on my novel draft, writer's block feels like an appropriate topic to discuss this evening.

A few years back, I wrote a (long, self-indulgent) essay on how writer's block is this made up monster beast that's basically another name for some underlying problem within how you practice and perceive your own writing process. I called it, in a burst of creativity, "Writer's Block Doesn't Exist."

Cute, right?

I've had some time since then to think more deeply on the nature of what we identify as writer's block and have come to the conclusion that it absolutely exists. It's a thing that, for me, is conceived in self-doubt and fostered in a net of anxiety, avoidance, and simple fear, mostly of failure. The fact that this block is intangible and entirely self-imposed does not change the very simple fact that it's there.

And the usual advice--read a book, take a walk, watch a movie, start a fun side project--does roughly jack shit for me when I hit one of my slumps. And I tend to slump hard. If anything, all that time to myself to think and to reflect on other people's creative endeavors makes me feel even worse about where I am in my writing, not newly enriched with ideas. I get glum. And the writer's block gets worse.

If this sounds like your experiences with writer's block, then I commiserate with you totally and completely. And I'd also like to offer my strategies for divesting myself of the negative thinking that encourages our specific type of writer's block in the first place.

1. Make a schedule and stick with it.

Some people write every day. Others go every other day. I know some people who sprint entire books in a week or two and then spend months laboriously editing and rewriting. Figure out what kind of schedule your current project demands and maintain it. The simple force of repetition can be enough to get you through a sticky patch.

That said, don't beat yourself up too badly if life gets in the way once in a while and disrupts the schedule. It happens to the best of us. Or at the very least, it happens to me, so I'm fairly certain that the mediocre of us do that and that it's normal.

2. Learn how to reassure yourself that the world is not actually ending and you're not a massive fucking failure after all.

Often my bursts of writer's block are more like writer's crippling anxiety destroying any hope of productivity. I'm a worrier. It's true. I try to be a laid back person, but I tend to perseverate and overthink the things that matter to me. Writing happens to be one of those things.

So when that particular kind of writer's block overcomes me, I do one of two things.

Option one: I take a break from writing that night and do something that I enjoy (like working out or eating ice cream. actually just the latter. who am I shitting here) that is not related to reading or writing in any conceivable way.

Option two: I keep working, but I refocus my energy on rereading what I already have or more thoroughly planning what's going to happen next. I find it vastly reassuring to know where I've been and where I'm going on a project. It makes doing the middle bits that much easier.

3. Acknowledge if you're just being a lazy shit.

Don't confuse a lack of motivation with an actual mental block. There is an obvious distinction here, given that the former looks like me scrolling reddit for the millionth time, pretending to do research, and the latter involves staring at my ceiling feeling irreparably useless and incapable of writing anything worthwhile.

This post was a bit of a downer. Er. I didn't mean for that to happen.

I really am a chipper person. Ninety percent of the time my writing goes as well as I could possibly hope. It's that other ten percent of the time that I'm talking about here.

Til next time, friends.

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