Lately I’ve been coming across more and more people who have been searching for solutions to writer’s block. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or in my inbox, the issue seems to be more prevalent than usual. Of course, my standard advice is to write. It seems counter-intuitive, or even mean. How dare I suggest that someone sit down and write, when they’re telling me that they are unable to write?
The issue of writer’s block really isn’t about an inability to write at all. It’s really about not being able to write what we want at a specific moment in time. Our brains are keeping us from being able to concentrate on a specific bit of work that we want to do. For the fiction writer, maybe that means the characters he wants to write about aren’t “speaking” to him right then. For non-fiction writers like myself, maybe it’s a matter of missing the correct angle, or missing pieces to a puzzle we want to solve for our readers through words. Either way, the problem isn’t an inability to put coherent words together in sentences and paragraphs. It is simply a matter of our brains being too stubborn, and unwilling to focus on what we want at that moment.
So, why would writing in general be useful at that point? How can writing something random (or not so random but on another topic) be useful?
Simply writing helps to clear the mind, and usually makes it possible to focus on what we really want to do. Forcing our minds into submission, and putting words on paper (or the screen) helps. They may be useless words, or they might lead to something that we really want to share. No matter what, it’s training our brains to start producing words on command. Writers who talk about waiting for the muse to appear usually end up producing far less than writers who regularly force themselves to write even when the muse is absent.
The silly, counter-intuitive and mean advice is that writers need to own what they are. Their purpose in life is to write. Writing is not just a job, it is a vocation. The difference between the two is a deep emotional attachment to the work at hand. If you don’t love writing, and consider the concept of forcing yourself to write even when your brain objects a horrible chore, perhaps you should rethink things. You really may not be a writer after all.
Yes, that might seem harsh, but consider the reality. Writing involves dealing with editors, criticism, and often defending what you do in the eyes of the masses. There are rejection letters, rewrites, and all manner of obstacles to face from first draft to finished product. If you’re dealing with writing in the world of media, there is fast-paced work that can sap the creative soul out of the best of us. Writing is not an easy vocation by any stretch of the imagination, and becoming great at it requires a great deal of work and dedication.
Most people are not made for the life of writing, pure and simple.
So, the next time you see someone asking for advice about how to get beyond writer’s block, take a look at the responses. How many of the people offer advice that includes anything but writing? I’m willing to wager that you will see a pile of people suggesting a calm walk, a day off from writing, television binge watching, music (without a keyboard or pen nearby), and any number of other things. They mean well, and very well may be writers who have managed to convince themselves that anything but writing can resolve writer’s block. Of course, you won’t see anyone asking those people how many days they’ve gone without writing, by using all those other activities to break writer’s block. I get tempted to ask sometimes, but I never have. Maybe I will one day.
*The previous has a raw word count of 658 words, written in 15 minutes, using an iPhone timer – to break writer’s block.
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