I do occasionally get asked what to do about writers’ block. I’m one of the last people you should be asking, but I figured I’d put together some information on it. These are things that I’ve seen regularly. I’ve heard of lots of things like writing drills and prompts and well… Those probably work for some people. I hope they do because they’re mentioned often enough.
Writers’ block is a theoretical condition that inhibits an author from acting in her normally creative medium and expressing herself in the written word. I’ll start with my usual blunt technique and go from there. I didn’t use the word “theoretical” without knowing exactly what it means. The vast majority of the cases I hear about are either not writers’ block or are a writer insisting on taking an approach that isn’t working. A third, less common reason, is the person needs to get out more. I’ll also deal with another factor that I call fragility. Small disclaimer: Remember, this is me. I’m pretty adamant with my views on this, but I never believe that my opinions are true for everything. You might have experienced real writers’ block and I’m sorry if my direct approach bothers you.
Let’s look at the case of it being something other than writer’s block. This one honestly bugs the daylights out of me (what are daylights and how do they bug out?). This is one that Ray Bradbury took by the horns in an interview with “The Leading Edge Magazine” in 1988. I can’t find the original article (pronounced “I’m too lazy to dig through all my junk that never got unpacked from the last move”) so let me summarize: Whatever you’re doing, stop it! He actually included the friends you hang out with as a possible cause of the problem. I’ll add, emotional baggage, and spending too much time on social media. Whatever the cause, the supposed writers’ block is really just a symptom of the real problem. You have something you need to change or take care of and you’re not doing it.
I’ll give a few great examples. I lost a family member not that long ago. I didn’t feel like writing. That’s not writers’ block, that’s something called grieving. I’ve also had problems with depression and as such didn’t find as much enjoyment in things I normally liked, such as writing. That’s not writers’ block, that’s depression. One of my children got very sick and I couldn’t bring myself to really write anything. That’s not writers’ block. That’s called being a parent. Am I being a little harsh here? I don’t think so, but if I am, please realize this one important fact: to overcome a problem, you must first identify it as a problem. In cases like this, you’re labelling the problem as something it isn’t. Look for the real problem and face it like a soldier.
While writing the Ship Called Hope trilogy something kind of new happened to me. I got to a few places in the story and discovered that I had no idea what happened next or even how it fit in with the rest of the story. I’m one that writes out of order, so I’d just go and pick up on the next thing I knew happened. One of two things occurred. Either I figured out the connection and was able to write it out or I realized that what I’d written wasn’t really the direction the story wanted to go. In the latter case, I’d go back a few pages and start writing again from there. Now if you’re the sort of writer that has the very valid style of writing completely linearly, you need to just stop a moment and see if there’s a point a little further back that you can start writing from. I’d be willing to bet, in many cases, there will be one. A lot of the cases I hear from people, this is what’s happening.
Another way many authors keep trying an approach that isn’t working (another thing that gets my dander up) is they try to do what other writers have told them to do. There’s a big reason most of my advice is framed with “this works for me” and “there’s always an exception to this.” I don’t want to lead you into this trap. I hear about different drills and practices that people suggest and I always end up asking myself, “Chaaya, WTH is that all about? Sounds like a load of crap.” I’ll admit, they do seem to work for some people, but if it doesn’t, I’ll tell you something really important. You ready? Lean in close so you’re sure to hear it. STOP DOING IT!!!! Oh, and if you’re like me (and I know I am) and you have no idea what the purpose of a drill or practice is, find out before you put a lot of effort into it. I don’t really need practice writing to prompts. I do it for fun, but for some people it can help improve their ability to improvise (oh, that’s a good topic for next week. Don’t let me forget).
Moving on. Some people might be able to approach this next delicate topic with tact and real empathy. Sorry. I’m not those “some people.” Friend, you might need to get out more. Writing is a method of holding a mirror to things around us in such a way that allows others to see it more clearly and from a new point of view. Fiction or nonfiction. (Read my journals about suspension of disbelief if you haven’t yet). The sad truth is that if you haven’t experienced that world much and have stayed mostly locked inside suffering because you’ve been told that’s what writers are supposed to, not only are you missing out and not really living, you’re depriving yourself of material and inspiration.
I’ve climbed mountains and repelled down cliffs and fought fires. I’ve studied wolves and conservation biology. I’ve fought in a war. I’ve driven over 100mph on the Autobahn in Germany and flown in helicopters. I’ve been shot at and returned fire and led people in battle. And, I’ve done all those things with lots of people around me, where I can see how they did things differently than I do. Your experiences will have, no doubt, been different, but you must have them to be able to write. You have to actually live before you can put the lives of others down on paper. This is one of the few immutable rules I will ever present. Live first, then write.
Lastly, I’ll touch on something that I call fragility. My publisher was telling me a story about a writer he’d worked with briefly (you’ll understand the briefly part in a moment) She was constantly past deadline…
Let me interrupt here. Carl, at RP Games, can be a little difficult to work with at times. He’s a publisher and not an author. He thinks of word count in terms of money, both to the author and to the printer. I don’t agree with him much of the time, but he does expect people to respect deadlines, not necessarily meet them. I’m waaaaayyyyy past deadline right now (another story on its own, but I hinted at parts of it). That’s not an issue to him. An issue would be if I ignored the deadline. I just wanted to let you know exactly what that “past deadline” comment means in context. Ok, back to what I was saying.
The reasons (pronounced excuses) she’d give were, well, I find them pretty funny. It came to some really odd stuff. The cat had been using the litter box when she sat down and the smell bothered her and after she cleaned it up, found she just couldn’t write anymore. Her husband replaced her old CRT monitor with a flatscreen when hers died and she couldn’t write until he found a CRT to replace it. She needed time to get used to her new office chair. It was the same type as the last one but felt different.
I think you can see what I’m getting at. She’d set herself up for failure by creating such a fragile environment in which to write. I wrote in a dark room (there weren’t lights in there yet) in Iraq with no AC, sweat dripping down my nose, falling on the keyboard and causing my fingers to slip. I’ve written while observing wildlife in Yellowstone and at the college food court. I write in the summer with my kids yelling and playing around me and in the beautifully peaceful house when everyone is at work or school. I didn’t realize it until just now, but really this falls under the last thing I talked about. Write as you live. Don’t live to write.
That’s a little more than usual, but I hope you enjoyed it. Hopefully I didn’t upset my few followers by being so direct. This will, most likely, be my most insistent journal ever. I try to write journals that aren’t authoritarian or full of angst, but there a few areas I tend to be very passionate about.
I plan on discussing methods of improvising next week, but I’m always open to suggestions. You can suggest things through notes, comments, or I’m actually on one social media site. I’m now on Parler as ChaayaChandra. I don’t have many followers, but for some reason people find me amusing there. Until next time beautiful people.
May you keep on running and never look back.