Writer’s block is a delicate beast. Some swear to be paralyzed by it, while others refuse to acknowledge its existence. I once heard a writer say, “I don’t get writer’s block. I don’t allow that shit.” Which is empowering and great, right? But it’s also not really advice in that it didn’t help me combat my perceived block. I thought, if he can chose not to allow it, then it must not be real. I carried on.
One good way to learn a lot about how to fight writer’s block is to apply for grad school. Then you have to write because the direction of your life depends on it! It didn’t help me symptomatically, though. True, I technically got everything I needed done in time for my writing sample. It got me in, got me a scholarship, but was it really my best if it took THAT many unfruitful trips to coffee shops and THAT many full fledged panic attacks to produce it?
Could anything truly great come out of those conditions? Debatable.
But then guess what happened at the next several deadlines? THE SAME THING. And I wanted to tell that writer, listen buddy. Just because you don’t suffer from it does not mean it is not a real and sometimes unpreventable thing. Right?! My entire writing career was a result of pent up writer’s block and procrastination leading to mass production and sloppy endings. The “I did the thing” had to be enough.
Here’s where the root of that advice hit me: He’s not saying it’s not real, he’s saying that you have control of it. How did I learn this, you didn’t ask? I finally got lost in a story.
When I was in Mexico for my sister’s wedding, I forced myself one morning to just sit by the ocean alone and write. I had a deadline two days after we returned and that I hadn’t written a thing for. I didn’t bring my laptop to look at old stories or look at the note on my phone about things I wanted to write about (but everyone does that, right?!). I just brought a notebook and wrote whatever came to me. After a couple months of desperately trying to make some of my old work worthy of turning in, I wrote something completely new that I hadn’t even realized I’d wanted to write about. I realized it was the first time in a while (ever?) that I was writing without thinking about the deadline or getting distracted. Was this just the bottomless mimosas and white sand and ocean waves talking? Let’s just say I’m sure that didn’t hurt.
I quickly forgot about this beautiful moment of clarity as soon as I landed on dry land. The next several months, I spent ¾ of the month working on the idea that I had on a continuation of that story I wrote so blissfully. I got so excited for the idea! I thought that was enough to beat the block. Instead, the opposite happened. No approach to this story could match the idea I had in my head. Each month, I’d spend 3 weeks fumbling through a couple pages only to have to spend the last week pumping out an entirely new story.
That’s not to say good things didn’t come out of that. I did a complete rewrite of a story that I stopped trying to fix long ago. It’s rough, but it’s going a whole new direction it didn’t have before. Then, the next month, during a peculiar but still ordinary day at work, I decided to take notes on the weird things that happened. I tried to think about how they could make up a story. Just one weird day. When I got home that night, I wrote the first 1,000 words easily. The next day, the next 1,000. I realized that the flow is what I’d been denying myself. If I had just accepted that first month that the story wasn’t coming, I could have stopped fighting it and looked around for something else. Sometimes you need something brand new that surprises you.
Last month, I decided to give that story idea a go. I still didn’t get what I wanted out, but I got some of it down and ready for feedback that will hopefully help shape it. Getting it down can be enough. I only wrote half the story so I would have less pressure and remember that this is just the first of many drafts. For the rest of my mailings, I wrote a couple shorter pieces. I felt so productive! That carried on into this month. I feel significantly less pressure.
I guess what I’m saying is the only way around writer’s block is through it. You wanna stop not writing? Write. Don’t feed it. Don’t waste time. Get something onto the paper.
Do you like how I’m giving advice like someone who doesn’t have ¾ of a story left to write this week? As though I have any authority on the matter? I take my baby steps and my narcissism and congratulate myself and move on. Now I guess I’ll go write the thing I should be writing right now. Tell me about your writer’s block coping mechanisms! This is a safe place.