Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writer’s Block: Is it all Just Crap?

by +Denise Drespling

I might be unique in the world of writers. I do not believe in the existence of writer’s block. Oh, I know the days when you don’t want to write, or feel like you can’t, or the idea just isn’t right, or you’re so frustrated with your novel that your finger itches toward the delete button. But there’s one solution to the myth of writer’s block: write.

Write anything. It can be bad. It can be horrible. It can be completely irrelevant to what you should be working on, but you know what? If you’re writing something--an.y.thing--you’re not blocked. Don’t give in to the myth. Don’t let your fear tangle you up. Take your blank page and stuff it (full of words).

On an ironic side note, the day after I wrote this post, guess what I found in my inbox? Two emails from two separate writing blogs, both about writer’s block. Okay, universe, what are you trying to tell me? At first, I actually considered changing my post. I thought, maybe I’ve just been lucky and haven’t suffered from writer’s block. Maybe I’m not being sensitive enough to the dilemmas of my wordly cohorts. Then I read the posts.

Nope. Not a believer.

The thing is, they talked about issues like not having ideas, not being inspired, not having the energy, even having too many ideas to focus (I might suffer from that occasionally). They talked about great solutions: get exercise, use writing prompts, unplug, free write. I’m sure they all work well.

But here’s the thing. That’s not the same as not being able to write. That’s not being able to write well. So, let’s call it what it is. Not writer’s block. It’s writer’s sludge. It’s when all that comes to your mind is crap and all that comes out is crap. Hot, stinky, crap. Like a pile in the corner that the kitten just left. Oh, wait. No, that’s my living room. (Anyone want a kitten?)

Writer’s block, as most people refer to it, is just an excuse. Trust me. I’ve used it. It sounds much more important and sympathy-inspiring than to just admit, I don’t feel like it. If you’re having issues writing, you’re not blocked, you’re sludgy, and you don’t have to be.

Being in an MFA program is a different type of deadline than a publisher or employer breathing down your neck to get it done. It’s the difference between being paid for your writing and knowing that you’re paying for it. I’ve been in the place where I had an assignment of 15 pages due and the last thing I wanted to do was to jump into that world with those characters. But, I had to write, so I wrote something I hated. It was awful. All 15 pages will likely be trashed. I could have claimed I was blocked, but in reality, I was being lazy and bored.

The point is. Those crappy pages led me somewhere. They led me where I knew I didn’t want to go, but they also pointed me in a better direction. Even if you have a deadline where you can’t turn in crap, you can still write the crap first, then make it shine later.

Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.”


Write something, then visit the land of what ifs (which is, btw, also the name of my blog because that's where I spend my time):

Suppose there’s a man crossing the street. What if he trips? What if he bumps into a woman who is/turns out to be the love of his life? Or his ex who broke his heart? What if he found something on the ground? What if he realized he was on the wrong street? What if he got hit by a car?

See. That took me two seconds, but gave me infinite directions to take a story in. Depending on how far you are in your story, you won’t have quite as many options, but there are always options. Go play with them. Before you know it, you’ll have something worth keeping. And if it’s not worth keeping, you’ll know that, too.

Your thoughts? Do you see this, or am I just full of crap? ;)

Denise Drespling is the author of short story, “Reflections,” in the Tales of Mystery, Suspense & Terror anthology (October 2014) and “10 Items or Less,” in 10: Carlow’s MFA Anniversary Anthology (April 2014).

Hang out with Denise at her blog, The Land of What Ifs, or on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, or Instagram.


Crystal Collier said...

Love it. I'm right there with you. You just have to prime the well to get your brain moving, no matter how sluggish it is on a given day. =)

Daveler said...

I try to write every day and there has only been once in the last ten years when I felt I was truly too busy, constantly doing something else, literally having no time to have gotten it done, and have forgiven myself for it.

Writer's block is kind of like being "too busy" for me. I could be really, really busy, but I always felt in the back of my mind that there were moments in which I could have gotten it done if I had just tried.

But the truth is, I'm not always being fair to myself. While, yes, I could have written while I was eating, or not just sat and listen ed to music on my only 10 minute break, just because I know can push myself more doesn't necessarily mean that I wasn't really busy.

I call writer's block writer's lethargy for this reason. It's not some impassible brick wall, but rather a sludge that you have to slowly wade through. A lot of writers don't believe in writer's block at all, but I don't think that ignoring the existence of SOMETHING is beneficial. Sometimes, by acknowledging that something is wrong, you can by-pass the sludge through different methods. Just charging through it (like you said) is always an option, but I've found tackling the problem can also be effective.

From the way I see it, there are three kinds of writer's block: Past, present, and future.

Past means there's a problem in what you've written (you've put yourself into a hole, gone off on a path you actually weren't interested in going off on, or just hate what you've written). Present means that it's something to do with your emotional state. You're stressed, tired, depressed, or just feeling grungy. Future means that there's something important you don't know yet, (as simple as what happens next, or as big as who the murderer REALLY is), and you're struggling not to answer any questions.

In each case, just writing can help. I've gotten through a lot of books by just saying I'll make the second half BETTER, or untrapped myself from a corner by forcing myself to keep the characters moving. A lot of times I feel bad because I haven't written, and just by the nature of writing, I feel better, therefore inspired to write. Most of my ideas come from during the writing process, so often, I'll find the answer if I just keep going.

BUT I also find that sometimes a more effective solution is to cut back to where the writing got bad, or I started off on the wrong path, and go from there. Or by washing my face and dressing in nice, comfortable, clean clothes/changing my location to someplace that makes me feel good. Or by just sitting down and saying, "What is it I don't know?" And then answering it. I think acknowledging writer's "block" and why it exists is the first way to circumnavigating it, even if you realize the solution really is to just trudge on.

Denise Drespling said...

Right, Crystal, and there are lots of ways to get that moving!

Daveler, that is exactly the distinction! The word "blocked" to me says something unpassable, preventing me from moving on. You can always go forward, it's just a matter of if it's worth doing at that point, and what quality will come of it. Sometimes, the best thing I can do in my writing day is take a short nap to dream and refresh :) It's just sad to me to hear writers say "I'm blocked" and think that means they have to sit around and wait for inspiration, when there are ways to get it moving again. There's always something you can do!

K.M. Herkes said...

I wholeheartedly agree! I ranted on my own blog about the existence of writer's block and the cures for it, not so long ago. (Entirely too much advice to new writers leaves me cranky and in need of blog rants.)

Some of my family members write for a living. Their take on it? Something will get printed in the morning edition. People who work under a deadline don't call their creative issues a block. Schlock maybe, or dreck, but never block.

And Neil Gaiman's one word of advice to aspiring writers? "Write." Works for me.

zambullida said...

Writer's block is just frustration.

JeffO said...

I'm in a weekly writers' group where we do a 45-minute free write based (in theory) off of some prompt. Sometimes I go in to the group with an idea that I want to work on, sometimes I don't. Some days, I sit at the table and nothing comes to me. The other sit there, pens scratching away, fingers tapping laptop keys, and I've got...nothing.

On more than one occasion I've started writing stupid stuff about my pen. Or the weather outside. Or an overhead bit of conversation. It's like priming a pump. More often than not, I end up with something, and on occasion I've written something very good because I just started writing something.

There may well be an actual psychological condition that keeps people from writing, but I think most cases of 'writer's block' is just a loss of motivation.

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