Sometimes I wish I was a widget maker. How simple would life be? I just follow the directions and make *x* amount of widgets each day and sell them for *x* amount of dollars. There’s no guesswork. Unlike writing, where alchemy must be invoked daily. It’s the struggle to snatch feelings and ideas from thin and air and wrestle them onto the page, string them along into words and hope they resonate with the reader enough to eventually turn into gold. Or at least a living wage. Minimum wage even. Sometimes that battle results into no words on the page. Just a sheepish promise of I’ll write tomorrow. Or the day after that.
Since graduating with my MFA and being excited about revising my sci-fi novel, I’ve done very little in the way of writing in the past three months. I’ve printed it out. Purchased highlighters and pens for editing, but no writing. I’ve reread the pages, become disenchanted with my characters, bought sticky notes, but nope, still, no writing.
Recently, while “driving,” ie, inching along in LA traffic, I realized the base ingredient of my writer’s block was fear tinged with a little bit of laziness. It manifested itself in a variety of excuses.
Someone already wrote about that topic and they wrote about it more eloquently than I ever will.
I need to do more research.
Just one more episode of any show on Netflix and then I’ll start writing.
The fear goaded me with questions like:
Why work on this and bleed all over page if no one’s going to read it?
Or what if someone does read it and they don’t like it?
Even worse, what if there’s no response? Crickets. What’s the point?
No one wants to be rejected, and since the internet has no chill, it’s hard to want to put yourself out there. It’s way too easy for people to tell you how much they don’t like something. We’re living in a world where love and hate can be declared instantly and multiplied exponentially, and fame and fortune garnered (and lost) in a click. Gone are the days of the rare story of an actress being discovered at the lunch counter in a drugstore and becoming a movie star. Now it seems everywhere you look you see stories of insta-success. People who have dipped their toe into a medium and voila, now they have a bajillion followers, a book and movie deal, and basically the life you’ve been dreaming of for the past 20 years. It’s easy to feel doubt and want to give up when it doesn’t happen.
When writers talk about being blocked, it can mean different things to different people, but mainly, it comes down to not writing. Here are three ways I’ve found to help reframe my block and get back to writing.
1. Write Like an Athlete
Most times, when I’m supposed to be writing, I’m surfing the ‘net. I’m a font of information about current events, and sometimes I actually put that information to use. I read a story about LeBron James and how moved he was to see his oldest son practicing hoops in the driveway at 5 AM. His younger son heard the basketball hitting the pavement and joined his brother in practicing. The work ethic on these two! Athletes know, you have to commit to the grind if you want to be the GOAT. They are continually pushing their limits and sprinting past their comfort zone. They practice, they play/compete, and they get better.
It hit me, as a writer, the only way I’m going to get better, is to write more. Of course, that’s common sense, but it’s not just about writing more. It’s about finishing more, seeing a project through and not giving up in the middle. I’m not saying to write the first draft and hit publish. We can revise a page, an article, a book, ad nauseam. Sometimes it’s hard to let go, and writer’s block can be a form of holding on, a reason for not finishing and putting it out there in the world.
Athletes work through the pain, and they show up to practice whether they feel like it or not. I’ve started showing up at my desk when I’m supposed to and work on perfecting my craft. Completing each project is like competing in another game. Competing against myself to be better than I was.
When I went to Comic-Con, at a sci-fi panel, Tomi Adeyemi author of Children of Blood and Bone, told the audience to keep writing. “We grow with each book.” The other panelist agreed and it was great to hear them say that many of their first bestsellers, was not the first, second book, or even third book they had written.
2. Be Honest With Yourself
There is no cure-all or easy recipe for getting words on the page when they just won’t come. What works for me may not work for the next author, but understanding the underlying reasons for what’s holding you back can go a long way in helping you overcome writer’s block. You have to know what’s broken before you can fix it.
Is it fear? It’s ok to be afraid, but you can’t stay scared. Sometimes the fear is justified, sometimes it isn’t. You won’t know until you do it.
Is it the story? I have multiple drafts of the same book with different characters, and varying POVs. Sometimes I have to keep writing the story until I find my way in, and sometimes that means starting over.
Ask yourself, what’s stopping you? And then take five minutes and just free-write whatever comes to mind. Maybe you’ll find the answer, or not, but at least you’re writing.
3. Remember Your Why
One night, on a night I had earmarked for writing but wound up just staring at my laptop screen, I started reading some of my old work, unfinished stories, snippets of ideas. I was reminded of why I started writing in the first place. There were stories inside of me that wanted to be told. Sometimes they were deeply personal, and other times it was just the voices of characters and the thrill of storytelling. In the days before the internet, before I even knew that my words could be read by others, I was writing because I loved reading. I couldn’t always find the stories I wanted to read, so I wrote them myself.
I have to remind myself that sometimes, the point of writing, is to just write, to free whatever it is that needs to be told. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to perfect. It just needs to be written. So, I write, knowing those words will never see the light of day. It might be a journal entry or ideas I have for a story, and somewhere buried in my ramblings, I might find a spark that will ignite a pathway to put me back on track. Or not.
We all have to keep finding ways to unlock the words when they don’t come. Going back to “why I write” makes it easier for me to sit down in the chair and put words on the page. The more I do it, the more the words will begin to flow as I develop a consistent relationship with the muse. Even though some of those words will never be read by others, they wait patiently to be rediscovered by me and to remind me of my why.