Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I've Had It!
On Writer's Block

If I hear the words 'writer's block' one more time, if I see the words 'writer's block' one more time I'm going to scream. And I promise you'll all hear me!

There is no such thing as writer's block. What does it even mean?

Okay, I don't want to sound as if my writing is always smooth. Far from it. I'm often plagued by lack of inspiration. Or sometimes it's the simple 'not feeling like it.' Or other times yet it's just wanting to do other things. But I've never thought to call it writer's block. I've always called it laziness, lethargy, tired, spoiled brat, etc.

I bet it's nice to have this 'writer's block' implying it's not really my fault. I can just imagine what my boss would say if I'd told him, "Listen, I have a serious case of worker's block."
He'd probably look at me sympathetically, nod and say, "Then why don't you take today off." In my dreams...

So sure, some days at work I spend more time surfing than working, but the things that need to get done - get done. Or sometimes I struggle with a task and have to consult colleagues or think about it longer than I planned, but eventually I solve it. And you can bet that occasionally I show up with a headache/hangover/cold and spend most of the day trying to avoid other people. But you know what, even on these days if clients call, I respond.

So what makes writing so different? Nothing!
It's just that most of us have to learn to apply the same work ethics we have in our day jobs into our writing as and take responsibility for it as we would our career.

I create different rules and deadlines for my writing self. One rule for example (and I do believe I've mentioned it before), is having a minimum number of writing work in circulation. I also give myself deadlines by which I should finish working on this or that piece, and even though I don't always stand by it, trying already makes me write more.

I don't mean to sound preachy here or anything, but there are no excuses for not writing outside of the writer, no mysterious block that envelopes us rendering us incapable of writing. It is all up to us.

What kind of "rules" do you have? A daily word count perhaps? A work schedule? A minimum of pages to be edited a day?

Categories: , ,


Deborah said...

I have a walloping case of Writer's Block, Melly. Couldn't resist the temptation, sorry. (evil laughter) You're right. You outlined the true meaning of writer's block very well.

Let me add lack of confidence to the definition. Some scenes are very difficult to write, which can cause procrastination. Whatever the reason, it's up to us to work through the problem and not blame "the muse."

Great post! :D

Charles said...

A rule that I've recently started using is to be flexible and not punish myself when life intervenes and I can't write. If you work full time and have children such interruptions are unavoidable, of course.

Jennifer said...

I'm experiencing this 'laziness' right now :D

Actually I haven't written much but it's more because I can't clear my head to focus on writing because I've got so many other things on my shoulders at the moment (applying to Grad School and Studying for my Exams...50 hour work weeks...)

So yeah I'm being a bit lazy, but I'll get my butt in gear :D

Do like the points you make in the post. I never stopped to think of it that way...though I do agree with it.

Pat Kirby said...

Hurray. Great post.

I hate the term writer's blog. So bleeping whiny.

redchurch said...

Sometimes it's procrastination because there's a writing problem that needs to be solved.

And often a 'problem' is purely in the mind of the writer.

Steve Pavlina has some great advice in this nice short podcast.

Most of my 'writing problems' are not problems at all and are exactly what Mr. Pavlina describes.

Nienke said...

I hate to admit it, but you're right Melly. It's just nice to have an excuse that sounds kinda eccentric, you know?
I will say that work is different from writing for me because it doesn't have the same level of creativity. My writing comes solely from my mind, and sometimes I can't reach it (the creativity not the mind)! Whereas with work, I know what I have to do, where to find the information, and how to put it all together. If I get lazy at work, it's only because I'm procrastinating (except maybe the odd time I have to problem solve).

Erin said...

I'm SUCH a spoiled brat lately. Not much writing going on, but to be honest, I have no self-discipline about my writing, no rules about how much I have to write, no deadlines or time limits or quotas on quantity.

If I did, I wouldn't be meeting them right now anyway.

For the record, I dislike the phrase too, but am guilty of using it as an excuse plenty of times.

Great post Melly.

Jack Slyde said...

The last thing I need to do is apply my work ethic to my writing. I'd never get anything done, I'd be sneaking away from the computer to write down ideas for work!

Melly said...

Deborah, can you hear me screaming? ;)
I'm glad you added lack of confidence. It sure can be a huge one.

Charles, that's an excellent rule. No one ever worked well "under duress" or punishment etc. The expected work load I expect out of my writing is in direct relation to the time I have. Some weeks it's half an hour a day at most, sometimes it's five. And sometimes life also happens. Always welcomed with a smile :)

Jennifer you can't also expect too much out of yourself. Really, give yourself a break :) With your work, grad school application, exams etc. it's a miracle you have any time left for writing. It's improtant to know when to take a break too otherwise we get too frustrated and that's ain't good either.

Pat, me too, I dislike whining!

Redchurch, even when we have actual writing problems, they'd never get solved by not writing, and you're absolutely right, most of them aren't even problems.

Nienke, absolutely I agree. I didn't mean to imply that creative work is the same as non-creative. Creativity has its good moments and its not so great moments. But the question is how we handle the not-so great moments. Do we do nothing or do we do research, edit, submit, or even write without inspiration with an intention to fix it later? Usually with the writing comes the inspiration I find, don't you?
(I do sound preachy. I'm sorry.)

Erin, if anyone deserves to be a spoiled brat, it's you :)

Melly said...

Jack LOL :)
Good one. I'm still laughing. Ouch!

Cavan said...

I agree completely.

No rules for me, since I don't really like to have to force myself to write. I figure, if I have to force myself, there's probably something wrong with the project I'm working on.

Carter said...

In my case, "lack of confidence" = fear. I get very afraid sometimes that what I'm writing is pure crap, and I shouldn't be wasting my time. I know I'm the only writer who ever feels this way. ;-)

I try not to use the word "block", though, because you're right--it pushes the responsibility (never blame) off on something external. I know my lack of production is my own responsibility. What I will do about though...

I have learned not to try to measure my productivity in words or pages, but rather in how satisfied I am with what I get done. Hard and fast goals tend to focus my attention on the goal rather than the writing, and I don't get to either one.

Dodo said...

I agree completely about writer's block being a myth. I aim to write 1K words a day. Some days I achieve that if the writing flows; other days I can manage 500 words. Some days life intervenes and so no writing is done - and that is worrying. Other times I have to hold back while my subconscious works out what comes next in the story.
But here's the thing - when you are under contract to produce a typescript by a given date, and you have received your advance, and your publisher tells you he wants to start production of the book, that's largely still to be written, by a certain month, you'd better get on with the writing whether you feel like it or not.
Being a writer is a job - maybe not a 9 to 5 job, but a job nevertheless. That's the way I look at it.

Melly said...

Cavan, wise words. If I "suffer" from my project, something is definitely wrong. I either try to find what's wrong with it or ditch the project, but no often. Having said that, I don't ditch many projects because it's also important to finish what I started.

Carter, you're the only one who suffers from it ;)
Okay, let's not call it the blame game, but the shifting responsibilities :)
Depending what I'm working on I have different "measurements". Either quantitative or qualitative. Especially with fiction satisfaction is important to me.

Dodo indeed!
This is especially true for those who wish writing to become a career and not just a hobby.

Karen Lee Field said...

I don't believe in writer's block either. As you said, Melly, it's an excuse (and not a very good one).

If I don't write, I don't write. The reasons are many, but none of them have anything to do with writer's block. Burnout is another thing.

I used to push myself hard to write everyday. I do believe we should develop a routine, but I found that "making" myself write didn't produce the goods. I eventually hated writing, and it's for this reason that I won't do that anymore.

If I want to succeed, then I must put in the hours. If I don’t, then the only person I can blame is myself.

Luis Cernic said...

Poem by The Peace in to:

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

I'm going to play Beelzebub's Backer, here:

You can it call writer's block, and the familiarity lends itself to externalization, or you can call it by other names - author's barrier, artist's snag, scribe's impediment, novelist's hindrance - and evoke some curiosity and/or internalization. Why can't I seem to write anything? Just because you name your predicament doesn't mean you're conjuring excuses.

For me it's usually lack of profundity. I hate lukewarm. I cannot abide medium-well writing or ideas, especially when they're dripping out of me. I need it to really mean something. I need weight. Don't get me wrong - this is, I believe, a fault. Especially when you pair that need with cynicism, which makes one practically incapable of perceiving the profound.

So when I can't seem to write, it's because I have nothing to say. And the writer in me despises that truth. Block upon block, Writer's Tetris. Sure, I can spit out lots of exuberant lines, but eloquence without meaning is a rotten apple.

Melly said...

Karen, wow. You put it so much more eloquent than my incoherent rant :)

Luis, while I really don't mind someone referring me to a great poem, let me point out two problems: 1) I don't do poetry and 2) While I do speak three and half languages, alas, Spanish isn't one of them.

Jonathan, perhaps these exuberant lines will lead to eloquence - have you tried? :)
And you're right, there's no point in writing stuff that sucks, but sometimes it's a warm-up, a prelude to better writing. Or sometimes we can do other things that are related to writing. Inaction can never lead to anything though. Just a thought ;)

Ryan Oakley said...

Melly - I totally disagree.

There is such a thing as writer's block. It is a sickening fear right in your stomach when you look at an empty page. It can be phobic in its intensity and irrationality. It has nothing to do with laziness, procrastination or anything else. Writer's block is quite different.

Writing is not work - it is a mental derangement. This compulsion to write can turn to dread but the compulsion to write remains. These two forces work on each other until they turn you inside out. It's not like taking a day, a week or even a month off. It's exhausting and it's terrifying.

Your writing should occasionally scare you. (If it doesn't, I'd say you're doing something wrong.) But sometimes it can scare you too much.

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

Artistic action for the sake of artistic action, or for the hope of accidental profundity, is empty and shallow. Clear intent and purpose are requisite, otherwise we move without meaning.

Yes, there is that ache, that desire to put out something, because your heart hurts, or your mind reels, or your body wells, and you just needs some damn words to tell you what's going on. But that is clear intent. You brim with meaning. Emotion guides you.

But at all other times, sitting down to write without clear intent is futile. Besides "It is a sickening fear right in your stomach when you look at an empty page", and "It can be phobic in its intensity and irrationality", which I believe is psychological sickness, writer's block is the honest admission that, hey, I've really got nothing to say right now. Maybe I should go do something else. Writer's block is not a frustration. It is a practicality that curbs self-indulgent, gluttonous creativity. (Yes, it exists.)

Melly said...

Ryan, I was wondering if you'd comment on this one ;)
And it's funny coming out of you because you're one of the more prolific writers I know. You actually sit infront of that empty page and look at it while most of us won't even do that. And after a while of sitting you also write. And lots.
You have the compulsion to write as you say, hence 'the block', the dread is a state of mind that comes but you get over it. How?
So sure I get queazy and fearful (we talked about it before, haven't we?) and I had to put a few things down for a while until I got my bearings back, but I try to control it more and more.
Something else I try to control, (because I do believe the mind can be taught to control most things) is my creativity. It can be honed IMHO.

Jonathan, seems that different people feel differently and work/write differently and that for you (perhaps it's because you're more artistic), the block is a real thing.

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

I'm the least artistic person I know. Granted, I don't know too many people.

Yes, of course different people feel differently. And that for me the block is a practical thing. Perhaps I should have couched the last post inside a few more "sensitivity" qualifiers. You know, "I personally think", "this is just me, but", and "to each their own, however".

I feel like apologizing. And I do. Sorry. But please consider this an inclusive apology that extends into the future for any new comment.

Melly said...

Oh, no Jonathan. No, no, no. Absolutely no need to apologize. You haven't said anything offensive, just voiced your opinion.
Besides, if writers haven't developped a thick skin and can't take some fine intelectual debate, they're in the wrong business.
Perhaps it was I who was curt in my reply and made you feel uncomfortable. And you know what, I bet it wasn't the first time I was curt to people. Best thing is to just roll with it and not take it too seriously :)

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

Okay. Perhaps I was just having a moment of weakness there. You are very kind, Melly. Seriously, I sometimes take things all too -.

Ryan Oakley said...

I've never been actually blocked for more than a week. But, when it happens there's the feeling that you won't ever get started again. That's prolly why I write so much when I can.

I solve it the same way I solve all of life's little problems. I go on a bit of a bender.

Melly said...

Jonathan, as Canadians we can't help being sensitive and apologetic. Not sure why.
It's all behing us :)

Ryan, I should add your solution in an update post - lol!