Some have said that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Writers like Terry Pratchett have said this, and one ignores such wisdom at your peril. But, because I’m me, I can’t take that at face value, and his pronouncement bothered me in some way. Not because I believe, full stop in the common conception, but because there’s something to be taken from it. So I thought I’d use this blogpost to spew out my ideas and see if anything sticks.
The common conception of writer’s block is a misunderstanding of a writing process. For each writer, that is different. For example, I know (by anecdote if nothing else) that John Ringo cannot write in the summertime. He needs the deep freeze of winter to get the writer thing running. Surely, for a time he thought that it was just writer’s block– and he’d be wrong, no matter how accurate the common conception feelz.
On top of this, you can’t argue he isn’t a “real author”. Um, have you seen his list of titles? I haven’t seen the whole thing and what I know is impressive. So even with three months dry he can make a good living. That’s a reason right there to not give up the next time crap spews from the fingers for a considerable period.
Then there are people like Sarah Hoyt, who can’t write when emotions get the better of her. It sounds like i’m giving away deep dark secrets, but you only have to read her blog with a bit of self awareness to pick up on this fact, so I think I’m safe. (Huns, spare me! There will be chocolate and beer, and… bribes. lots of bribes. I see carp in my future.)
I think I fit into this latter camp. Though for me, it’s not so much about being emotionally tweaked, but NOT being emotionally tweaked. If I’m *not* tweaked, I’m not writing. Nope, I’m depressed. While it’s not unpleasant, it’s not productive and it REALLY sucks later. The only other possibility is that I’m dead, and I don’t know any vampire writers. Oh wait, I do. And they all SUCK!
First, a minor digression about depression. It’s actually important to my point, so I’m going to examine the idea in some detail.
I’m one of those people who says depression is NOT an emotion. The real depression is a lack of emotion, and a psychological defense mechanism to just stop emotions entirely. It’s really important if you are, say, a surgeon, a first responder, or basically have to deal with the shit in life without freaking out about it. (Welcome to the world.) It’s a fine thing in the short term, but when your body doesn’t stop or, rather, doesn’t know WHEN to stop, that’s when that ‘disease’ we call Depression actually strikes.
The bitter will say it sounds great, except that this state is unsustainable. (Unless you are wired that way, but that’s another show.) For most of us, it’s marked by long bouts of misery, which happen when you get OUT of depression. Because you eventually have to get through all that crap that you were putting off. Why? Because the healthy response is to move on. Your body knows that even if you don’t, so it keeps coming back until you deal with it.
Sure, you could protect and nurture this misery, and we are all trained to do that to some degree. But, it has a purpose, it has a sense, and fighting the coping process leads to yet MORE misery. And that, ladies and gentleman, grrls and nerds, is why writer’s block is not what it’s cracked up to be.
If you aren’t writing, that could mean there’s something you aren’t dealing with, and the best thing you can do is to get ass in chair, eyes OFF of the facebook and onto that scary blank surface that cries out to be marked with your life’s blood. Bleed on the page, and this too shall pass. This is the basis for the standard advice. Sadly, it’s not always applicable.
The worst thing is to just wait it out. But you have to know yourself, because there could be other factors. So a certain degree of observation about your patterns and stick-to-it-ness (oh so rare these days) is required to figure out the puzzle.
Sometimes, you have to go back to the brainstorming portion of your process and find that scrap of backstory that’s hiding from you. More often than not (keeping in mind I speak of MY experience..) it’s also about YOUR past. You listen to your characters through your own experience. If there is some part of your past you are avoiding or ignoring — for reasons, even good and sufficient– chances are that’s what’s standing in your way.
Sometimes, you have to read through your work in triplicate, to figure out what you have to see to move on with the story. Sometimes the characters aren’t just screaming in your head, but screaming through those words you put down months ago and forgot. Sometimes, it’s an old story that’s woken back up, and is trying to tell you something important. No, not speaking just for itself, but for a different story on the back burner.
Sometimes that message is just for you, and it brings you back to life after a long dark teatime. Perhaps it returns treasures from memories you’ve lost track of, or ignored. It unearths stuff you never dreamed would be important to anyone or anything yet are key to that next bit of prose, plot, or story.
Yet other times, it’s a sign that you have to get your ass OUT of the chair, and get your undead carcass outside. Maybe you need to see elephants. Maybe you need to do research about the business mores in Kazakhstan, or the armaments popular among the SS in WW II. Maybe it’s about how alcoholics deal with unrequited love, or deep sea divers deal with the bends, or what a spaceship would really look like if it exploded– in space. First question, would it? Aaaand, you are off to the races.
When I was a visual artist, I would get start feeling inadequate pretty quickly. Pretty much everybody was more talented than I was, and it was… just obvious. Sooner or later I’d complain about that, then withdraw into my own inactive stupidity.
That is when my best friend at the time would drag me kicking and screaming to the nearest art gallery for an opening of the most brazen, modern, and craptastic art he could find. Because he knew that the moment I started spitting– ranting and raving about how not only could I do better, but a retarded five year old on crack could do better with half a crayon– chances are I’d beg off on our evening date and start working again. Sure, he’d be alone for the night, but I’d be alive, and he was sweet enough to care more about that than his own immediate comfort.
I’d like to say things have changed for me as a writer, but… not really. Except my set of inspirations are different. Handing me the worst book in history is just depressing, and doesn’t inspire me one bit. It is good writing that inspires me. I can’t hold a candle to it, but I HAVE to try. Otherwise that wacky cast of characters in my head will NEVER shut up, and I’ll just have to live with it. Misery to no purpose is the ultimate waste. They want to live forever, after all, and the least I can do is try to make that happen.
Obviously, it may be different for you. But don’t just try the first bunch of advice you come across. Go through the whole writing process and see where you need to be. Trust your gut, and don’t ever give up.
If there’s a log jam in the works, there’s a damn good reason. It’s probably you, and there’s ample reason to look deeper until you find that reason. Keep in mind, sometimes it’s just the weather.