There are two primary definitions for the word block:
- An obstacle to be avoided
- An object to be used (as in construction)
The cure for Writers Block (and its evil twin, Trouble Getting Started) is to abandon definition #1 and embrace definition #2. But before one can do that, it is necessary to understand what writer’s block is and what it’s not:
Writers Block is not about being unable to write. People who do not have the luxury of waiting to feel inspired (journalists, staff writers) know that being unable to write, short of a serious medical condition such as coma* or death, doesn’t really happen. Why? Because writing is simply putting thoughts into words. If you have thoughts (and can read), you can write.
The real issue is fear of being unable to write well, which amounts to the fear of not being able to write a wonderful first draft.
Writers who believe in first drafts are like romantics who believe in love at first sight. But if you ask people who have enduring loves, you will find that, more often than not, their relationships began uncertainly and only eventually blossomed into something wonderful. First drafts, like first dates, often begin with “don’t know what to say” moments, then evolve into something more satisfying. That’s why one of the most fundamental sayings about writing is:
“Great stories (essays, plays, etc.) aren’t written, they’re re-written.”
Writing Under the Influence (WUI) of one’s muse can produce stunning results (so can a taser). On the other hand, writing While Not Under the Influence (WNUI) can produce equally stunning results. Woody Allen, one of the most successful screenwriters of all time, has said in multiple interviews that he demands nothing more of himself than to write for four hours a day. That’s it. He does not require himself to write well because he knows that’s something he can’t plan to do; he only requires himself to write. Furthermore, he says, he has observed zero correlation between inspiration and success. Many of his flops were written while feeling inspired, and many of his most enduring works were written while experiencing writer’s block.
So how does one use writer’s blocks to construct something?
First, write crap! Uninspired writing can be the “plumber’s snake” that clears the pipes, allowing better writing to flow. In a very real sense, that first hour of bad writing is responsible for the better writing that follows. Similarly (following a well-known principal of brainstorming), writing what does not work is often the key to figuring out what does. “Wait—she can’t do that because then he’ll know she has a gun…but what if she hides the gun? And then—blam!”
Second, write from the left. When the right (artist) side of your brain isn’t cooperating, use the left (craftsperson) side. Work on structure: outline your story; use tried-and-true formulas (your right brain will eventually bend them into something original). Don’t have an idea? Steal one and reverse it: “What if A Christmas Carol were about a kind and selfless man (It’s a Wonderful Life)?” Or take time to figure out who you can base your characters on, and then write bios, noting mannerisms and speech patterns. The disciplined R & D You will eventually aid the undisciplined Artist You when he or she shows up late, smelling suspiciously of herbs.
There is no such thing as “pure art.” All artists are also craftspeople. If they weren’t, their work would be indecipherable. Edison’s famous “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration” formula is true for artists too. And, anyway, the wall between the two isn’t made of stone, it’s made of jelly. Artists spend most of their time oozing back and forth.
Don’t stumble over writer’s blocks, use them to build something that will—eventually—be wonderful!
*Coma: should not be mistaken for comma, a somewhat less serious condition that, can, nevertheless, worsen, if, used, inc,orre,ctly,,,