Friday, July 12, 2013

On Writers' Block

I dropped by a #litchat twitter chat a few days ago and the topic was writer's block.

Opinions on this topic vary wildly. But I've chosen to believe that:

a) it doesn't exist, you just need to push through, or
b) if it truly does sink in for you, it might be clinical depression and you should see your doctor.

Writing is hard. If it were easy to finish a novel, everyone would do it.

If it were easy to revise a lousy or mediocre novel to make it a good or exciting novel, more of the people who complete the first step (already very few), would do the second and there wouldn't be as many badly written self-published books out there. I know there are great self-published books out there, before someone yells at me. :) I know that these days self-publishing is a choice, not a last resort. But let's face it, an awful lot of the stuff out there, especially by writers who were never previously published traditionally, is crap. But back to writer's block.

Prolific and wildly successful romance author Nora Roberts has been quoted as saying (I'm paraphrasing): There's no such thing as writer's block, just lazy writers. She also says something like: You can't fix a blank page.

And I've taken those two quotes to heart on the days when the writing isn't going well.

I've also discovered that, for me, writing can cure writers block. If I'm hating my work, or it seems all wrong or I just can't think of a good plot twist or a clever way to say what I want to say, I just start typing (or writing in a notebook) about how frustrated I am, or about why I think the book's not working, or what might work, or ridiculous ideas of things I know won't work--and almost always (I can't think of a time that this hasn't worked) by the time I'm done ranting on the page, I start back into the work again because I've thought of a solution to the problem I'm having or I start to realize how to fix it. (That is one long sentence. Is there a prize for that?)

Or somedays, if the right words aren't coming, but I know what's going to happen, I'll just give myself permission to write it badly. Or write detailed outlines of the scenes instead of the actual scenes. Or put in things like "Glory does something that shows she's happy", instead of stopping to think of the absolute perfect and specific thing for my character to do. That works too. At least it keeps me moving forward to a point where my momentum and ability to form words into nice sentences might come back to me. I can fix it later. (You can't fix a blank page.)

I think the important thing is to keep moving. To treat writing as a job, even if you've never been paid for it, or even if you've been published but also need a day job, or a spouse's income, to make ends meet (as 99% of us do).

And today I stumbled on this Stephen King quote.


And this really spoke to me, too. Our best work, no matter what style of writer we are, or which genre the industry lumps our work in to, comes from deep inside us and sometimes hurts coming out. But the stuff that hurts, the stuff that's hard, is also usually our best work.

I also realize that most of these great quotes about not being too precious about your work, and being professional, and just getting it done, come from so-called genre fiction authors, who are often looked down upon by writers deemed more literary.

Well, okay. I get that it might take longer to write a truly great literary novel. I get that each scene might take more time and more revision might be required when you're writing a book where the words count more than the story. (I don't know if I actually believe this. Story is hard too. Great characters are hard too. Writing emotion is hard too... But whatever. I'm conceding for a moment that literary fiction might take longer.)

And my point is, no matter what you're writing, ultimately it comes down to "butt in chair, hands on keyboard" at some point.

I think too many creative people use the word muse as an excuse.

NB.  This doesn't mean I don't get to stare out the window, or play Bejeweled and call it work. Sometimes we need that, too. To let the subconscious do it's thing. Okay.
Just don't whine and call it writer's block.

4 comments:

valerierlawson said...

excellent post. totally agree that shoveling through the shit is part of the work. call it fertilizer, if you will.

Rosanne Bane said...

I absolutely agree with the Stephen King quote. A lot of "writer's block" or resistance if you prefer that term is caused by the unwillingness to write badly. We get in our own way when we expect too much (really much of anything) from our first draft. But I do have to disagree with you about the existence of writer's block. True writer's block is rare, most writers default to another form of resistance, but it is real and is caused when the limbic system is triggered and the creative cortex is pushed out of the driver's seat. For more about the brain science behind the causes of and solutions to writer's resistance, please visit http://baneofyourresistance.com/2012/12/07/writers-block-is-rare-but-real/

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