For years, I have longed to find the magical cure for writer’s block. At one time or another, I’ve used every known tactic and excuse to avoid writing, and I’ve told myself that if I just had this or just had that, I could eventually make a living as a writer. Yes, a writer who doesn’t actually write.
I’ve seen all the interviews and read all the advice. Some authors claim to have access to a force from beyond this plane, and that when they write, it’s as though an ethereal energy takes them over and the words flow out their fingers like magic. Others claim their best idea, the one meant to become a New York Times bestseller, came to them in a dream, and they were able to write a nearly perfect first draft in days, not months. The cruelest ones, like Stephen King, have suggested butt in chair, at the same time every day, is the only thing that will make you a better writer. That, and a lot of literary analysis. And coffee.
I’m more inclined to agree that the real truth lies within this latter advice, and fortunately, the majority of published authors seem to be offering this type of advice, rather than trying to peddle the fallacy that one can only reach the heights of great writing if they were born with a rare gift. I never understood why some authors do feel the need to knock people down with such notions. Writing well isn’t always easy, but it’s not beyond reach and there’s room for everyone in some way or another. We all have a story to tell, so why does it have to be a competition?
I love writing my thoughts and opinions on different subjects, but ultimately, I would like to write fiction. Writing fiction is also what scares me the most. For some reason, I have no problem bearing my soul personally, but the thought of creating a world with characters who embody the human condition, and being bad at it, scares the shit out of me. I’ve always had a type of perfectionism where I would rather not write at all, if it’s means I’m not going to be as good at it overnight. Yes, as good as Stephen King.
Common writing advice offers that everyone, even Stephen King, writes “shitty first drafts,” so you shouldn’t feel bad turning off your inner editor and just getting it down on the page. I get that it’s a necessary part of the process. How do you overcome that, though, when you don’t even want to share those shitty first drafts with yourself?
I recently read an article that resonated strongly with me, and kind of sent me off on researching this writer’s block topic. In the article, writer William Kenower, discusses facing the blank page, and how even now, after 25 years of writing professionally, he struggles when he first sits down to write. He states, “every time I sit down at my desk, whether I’m working on a book or a blog, I am never in the mood to write. In fact, I often begin my day’s work with this thought: I’ve got nothing.”
Kenower goes on to discuss that we have an inner world and an outer world, both important, but wholly different in nature, and we need to learn to separate the two so we can sit down to write. The outer world is marked by our senses, our everyday responsibilities and tasks, our relationships. We often pull our ideas from this outer world – a conversation we overheard, a story we saw in the newspaper – but we need to focus on our inner world to get into the writing flow. Sometimes sitting in front of a blank page when we’ve been so focused on those outer world distractions feels impossible, but he points out this doesn’t mean we aren’t good writers or that we truly have nothing to say, “All it means is that you are not yet connected to the source of all your writing inspiration, that you have not yet moved your attention fully inward.”
The part that drove me to writing this blog post, was when Kenower discussed how feeling this way often keeps people from sitting down to write at all, “For many writers, particularly beginning writers, this first moment keeps them from the desk altogether. No matter how good it feels to be in the flow, beginning can be so uncomfortable, so disheartening, that many of the clients I work with do all they can to avoid writing. Better to not write than to sit down and feel like they have nothing to say. Better to walk around feeling mildly like a failure for having spent the day vacuuming the drapes than to feel that dull, dead-inside hollowness of facing a blank page with nothing in your mind, no inspiration, no ideas, no nothing. Except you have to start with nothing. You have to let the movie you were watching and the thoughts you were thinking end before you can begin seeing your story.”
This was like reading about my life, and when he added this tip toward the end about interest, my light bulb nearly burst. “And this is the final technique and the heart of the writing frame of mind: interest. Interest for interest’s sake. Not being interested in something because you’ll be paid to write it, not interested in it so you can feel productive and useful and leave your mark on the world. No, being interested simply because being interested feels good.” Here is the link to the article on the Writer’s Digest website.
Things have changed for me. A lot of events have happened in my life recently that have made me consider what I really want from my future. I think I’ve mentioned that I was laid off from my full-time day job just before COVID-19 hit, and then, of course, I was consequently laid off from my part-time fun job as a result of it. In effect, I currently have no actual income and I’m stuck at home with nothing but creative options, and I want to be one of those people who grows a new skill during this pandemic. Writing is the only thing that’s ever made me feel right in this world, so even if I never become a bestselling author or make millions from my writing, it’s still worth it to me to develop my skills further.
Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to overcome my own writer’s block and encourage myself to form a daily writing habit. I had always read about “morning pages,” and I’ve journaled often throughout my life, but I never thought that using this tool could help me form a daily writing habit or become a better writer. Yet today, I sit having added links to the Jerry Seinfeld chain since March 23rd, and right now I’m finishing up this blog post that’s going to end up being over 1250 words. I may not be writing fiction as often as I would like, but I’m showing up and that’s a great and necessary step for me or any writer who longs to be a professional.
If you’re so inclined, I am in the process of creating a page of tips and resources for writing and overcoming writer’s block. I will continue to add to it as I gather more resources, perspectives, and tips. I’ve come across some good material lately that’s really hitting home for me, and I would love nothing more than to help you too.