A confession: I don’t get writer’s block and I’m not convinced it exists.
This isn’t to say that I don’t sympathize with writers who find themselves uninspired, frustrated, or stuck. I do sympathize, and I’ve been in all of those positions.
I also understand that it can be really tough to find time to write. Demands and noise and obligations scream at us from every direction, at best distracting us and at worst completely preventing us from seeking the Muse.
But the truth is that when I sit down to write, it doesn’t matter how uninspired, frustrated, stuck, distracted, or tired I am. I can always write at least a few hundred words. And when those few hundred are written, I’m usually able to keep going.
What’s the secret? A little thing that you all know, deep down in that secret writing place you don’t always talk about…
You have to—wait for it—WRITE.
Those few hundred words that I bang out when I’m brain dead are usually crap. I almost always delete them all. But the few hundred after them? Sometimes, they’re damn good. Occasionally, they have a flash or two of brilliance. I just have to get started, and the words will almost always flow. Even if they don’t, I can at least rest in the knowledge that I’ve done 300 – 500 words of crap. To me, that’s better than nothing.
Here are some things that I think help me avoid writer’s block:
I worked as a commercial freelance writer, and over the course of several fairly large ghostwriting gigs, I learned to produce a lot of copy very quickly with tight deadlines. I also wrote for a construction trade journal with some tight deadlines. Deadlines are “very clarifying,” as one of my friends says.
With fiction writing, we often don’t have “deadlines.” I suggest setting your own. Once I said that my novel Ravenmarked would be published by February 1, 2011, I found it a lot easier to make time to edit and revise and format.
Granted, I only officially started my blog about four months ago, but I’ve managed to blog almost every day. Even when we took a vacation in November, I set up posts to publish before we left.
I don’t have a big following, but it *is* a following, and I feel some sense of obligation to post at least some small thing every day. That obligation forces me to write at least a few hundred words, which often puts me in the right frame of mind to write other things.
This may not work for everyone, but I do best when I’m multi-tasking. I’m happiest and most productive when I have several projects in various stages—something in first draft stage, something in rewriting stage, something in development, etc.
For one thing, when I’m stuck on one project, I have other options, so I’m always flexing some portion of my writing muscle. For another thing, I don’t have time to ruminate or wallow or ponder my next idea when I finish one thing. There’s something right there to move on to, so I keep moving forward rather than waiting for new inspiration to strike.
Too often, brain-death encroaches when there’s nothing waiting in the wings.
It’s true this is more of a self-talk kind of thing, but it works for me. I have about six hours of uninterrupted writing time every weekday when my kids are at school. When distractions encroach and I find myself tempted to run errands, have lunch with a friend, go shopping without kids along, watch a movie, or surf the dreaded Interwebz, I have to remind myself that my writing is my business now.
At any other job, I wouldn’t be allowed to just blow off my work for no good reason. I have to remember that if I want to earn a living as a fiction writer, part of that process involves making the decision to keep my writing time sacred.
I realize that not every writer has the freedom to write basically full time as I do. But I know some writers who have insanely busy day jobs (sometimes even more than one) and still manage to produce high-quality pieces on a fairly regular basis. They use their limited time very wisely and don’t seem to let distractions or illusions of writer’s block get in the way. They just sit down and write.
Writing begets writing. Sit down and write.
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