“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” –Sylvia Plath
Everyone, even non-writers, is familiar with writer’s block. We first encountered it in elementary school when we had to write stories about summer vacation, a time when we were brave, or what it would be like if we found a dinosaur in our backyard.
In high school English, we ran into writer’s block when we were given lengthy passages from classic literary works and told to list the rhetorical elements that defined a certain character (As I Lay Dying was a doozy!).
Depending on your major in college, the number of writer’s block bouts might have dwindled and the affliction is now non-existent in your present career. But if you’re a lifelong writer like me for whom writing is a compulsion as much as it is a passion, writer’s block is a frequently faced obstacle, if not a constant anti-companion.
Writer’s block, to some writers, is nothing but a writer’s version of the boogeyman. Here are a few quotes from writers who consider it imaginary mumbo jumbo, as real as the BFG and Clifford the Big Red Dog:
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” -Terry Pratchett
“I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” – Barbara Kingsolver
“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block.” – Jefferey Deaver
“Writer’s Block is just an excuse by people who don’t write for not writing.” – Giando Sigurani
Is that all true? Is writer’s block simply a myth? A made-up crutch used by wannabe writers who don’t have the drive, discipline, and ideas to turn plain white paper into literary gold day after day? Should we aspiring novelists, screenwriters, and short-story writers throw in the towel and shut down our laptops when our minds go cloudy like condensation on a shower door? Should we write “The End” before we even begin?
As you can probably guess, the answer I give to that question is a resounding No! I have written a total of ten books and experienced writer’s block on every single one. I write two blogs a week and usually get blocked on those too. Last night, I wrote an article for MovieGuide and had to take Ms. Kingsolver’s advice by holding the muse hostage until I completed my assignment; the coveted writer’s “flow” had eluded me yet again.
However, I am of the same opinion as Giando Sigurani who said that writer’s block is often “just an excuse.”
As someone who regularly lifts weights and does CrossFit, I equate writer’s block with “lack of motivation.” There are some days – many days, actually – in which I don’t eagerly count down the minutes to workout time and then arrive at the gym all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, rearing to go and sweat my buns off (it takes copious amounts of caffeine and a crisp, partly cloudy, 64.5-degree fall day for that to happen).
Most of the time, it’s habit that carries me from Point A (“I don’t wanna work out!”) to Point B (“Workout done! I am a rock star!). It’s the going-through-the-motions routine that punches “lack of motivation” in the face and helps me stay healthy and fit.
Writer’s block must be dealt with in a similar fashion. It must be shown who’s boss in no uncertain terms and with no small measure of mental muscle.
When I sense writer’s block creeping into my mind and telling me I’m just an amateur who has no business writing this novel/fitness book/article/blog post/you name it, I will my fingers to type one word after another, even if all I’m writing are the lyrics to “I’m A Little Teapot.”
I turn off all distractions, adjust my glasses, and sip my coffee like the story-crafting badass that I am (confidence is key to conquering writer’s block). After a while, writer’s block will grow bored, disappointed that I haven’t yielded to its taunts and accusations, and will pick up its toys and go home.
I mean it when you say confidence is a must if you want to defeat writer’s block. The majority of the time, writer’s block doesn’t come from a lack of ideas or inspiration, as Mr. Deaver said. It comes from what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance, that nagging fear and debilitating doubt that poisons our psyche by trying to convince us that our writing, our heart’s desire, is doomed to fail. Even if you’ve successfully completed a manuscript or published in the past, Resistance will rear its ugly head and whisper, “Betcha won’t be able to do that again. That was lucky.”
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” – Steven Pressfield
Resistance is a lying son of a Harpy (I hate Harpies). It hates your guts because it knows that there’s something beautiful, inspiring, and life-changing inside of you that can only come out through the words you write. Writer’s block is nothing more than a euphemism for this miscreant, but should be called what it is: absolute rubbish!
We mustn’t beat ourselves up when we feel “blocked,” that is to say, “resisted.” But we also mustn’t roll over when it arrives and say “Woe is me, for the muse hath not alighted upon my dainty phalanges this morn…” We need to, as the kids these days so poetically say, put our gangsta rap on and deal with it.
Show Resistance who’s boss by writing even when flying to Mars and back by supper time seems more doable than writing a paragraph. Do this day after day, not expecting that writer’s block will one day give up and be gone for good, but knowing that one day it will be no more of a nuisance than a honking horn outside your window…or a smudge on your badass glasses.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post! Do you experience writer’s block? If so, how do you conquer it? Please leave a comment below or tweet me at @dandersontyler. I love hearing from you!