Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Don't Believe in Writer's Block

I don't.... (in spite of my comment on Molly's post earlier this week claiming to have it... ;-)

Okay, I'm not saying that writers don't have bad days--very bad days. And I'm certainly not saying that Molly's Wile E. Coyote nightmare isn't valid (not to mention freakin' hilarious) or that similar things haven't happened to me--often.

I just think, if you want to be a successful fiction writer, you can't buy into the whole writers' block concept. I'd rather think of it as a bad day, 'cause everyone, in every walk of life, has bad days. Writers ain't so special in that regard.

What writers need are tools to prevent bad days or at least help us get past them. Tools like the myriad of plotting helpers such as outlines, file cards, white boards; like creative excercises; like the books by writers who've analyzed storytelling and distilled it down to hero's journeys, or goal/motivation/conflict or three act plotting. Tools like critique groups, support groups, on-line writers loops, friends. Drunk writer talk. Books on the craft of writing so great they can be visited again and again. Inspirational books on the writer's life, such as "Bird by Bird" or "On Writing".

Mike Myers referred to his craft books as the bridges spanning the gulfs between his creative-day islands. But he doesn't need to produce as much material, as often, as a working, publishing fiction writer needs to. We don't have the luxury of letting oceans, or even large ponds, create gaps between our islands.

To keep the water down, we need our tools. It's these tools, not some mysterious, uncontrollable idea of a muse, that helps us push past the bad days and enables us to start putting coherent-stories-told-well onto pages again. Not that it isn't nice to blame something nebulous like an absent muse, now and again... Maybe, used sparingly, blame transference is simply another tool?

By this time, those of you who know me well, are probably laughing or rolling your eyes. Lord knows I've been guilty of being an angsty writer and have had huge chunks of time when nothing was working, when I was sure I was a talentless hack, or when books dripped from me painfully slowly.

So, maintaining my assertion that writer's block is an illusion, let me tell you what I do believe in...

I believe in procrastination. I believe in self-doubt. I believe in rejection and disappointment and criticism and jealousy, among other self-doubt catalysts like the words of well-meaning friends and family whose ideas of writing and publishing come from the movies. I believe in days when my brain is just fuzzy. I believe in days when I don't feel like writing.

But I don't believe in labeling all those things with a word as solid and immovable as "block". Unless of course I can label my tools "sledgehammers"... Hmmm... Maybe I need to rethink this post.

What it boils down to? Don't wimp out or blame your problems on writer's block. Pick up your tools and smash down whatever's standing in your way. If I know Molly, she has already.


Sara Hantz said...

Doing a very detailed plan and scene spreadsheet stops me from having 'bad days'.

If I don't write it's not because I can't, it's because I'm the world's best procrastinator. This is why I set myself small, achievable deadlines - with a reward at the end (or punishment, for not meeting them - whichever way you want to look at it!)

Christine said...

Procrastination is my enemy. I have so little time to write as it is, when I do get an hour or two in front of my computer, there's nothing that upsets me more than when my mind wanders. It's my own fault I know. I should simply focus and get typing. But as everyone knows, it's not always that easy. I'm going to start unplugging my computer from the Internet just to make sure I'm not browsing instead of writing...or reading blogs...

Jordanne Ford said...

There's that wretched 'P' word again. I've used it several times this week alone. Of all the vices I have, procrastination is the one I hate the most, and wish I could change. Even over my sometimes indiscriminate dropping of the "F" bomb. In hopes of 'curing' myself of that dreaded P-affliction I even went so far as to surf the net in search of the magic cure. Unfortunately I was rather rushed for time and had to save it to my favourites. But I WILL get back to it. Soon. I promise. How's that for irony?
I also find it karmic that I was planning on stopping by my own blog and ranting about this very thing. I just hadn't gotten around to it yet. Yikes!

Maureen McGowan said...

I forgot another thing I believe in... The addictive nature of computer games and internet surfing! and yes... blogs. :-)

Jordanne Ford said...

Absolutely right, Maureen. And don't forget MSN. Nasty, nasty addiction.

Molly O'Keefe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Molly O'Keefe said...

I just wrote something that made no sense -- so let me try this again -- you are right MAureen. Calling our bad days writer's block makes it seem like the whole process is far too mysterious and out of our control.

I try to sit down everyday knowing exactly what I need to do -- somedays it works - somedays not so much.
But you are right - I am over my slump. First third done!!

Sinead M said...

I agree, no such think as writer's block.
Oh, but there are days when the plot needs re-tooling, the phrasing sucks and I know everything I'm writing is going to need a total rewrite..

sigh! I'm in a whining mood today.

Great post, Maureen

Maureen McGowan said...

Molly and Sinead... You two are both an inspiration to me in terms of "just doing it" and not letting the fear or angst or problems get in the way of pushing forward.

Molly... I know your "toolbox" includes runnning (or long walks with the baby). Sinead? I have no idea... Maybe just a burning, determined desire to get it done.

Tempest Knight said...

When you are a plotter, those tools help. But when you're a pantser, those tools become a bigger block and makes writing a terrible experience. I prefer to take some time off, read and do other things, when I'm having a bad day. Besides, I don't usually think of having a bad day. I prefer to think my muses are overworked and need a vacation. *lol*

Maureen McGowan said...

I think those things you do, are your tools... Whatever works to get you writing again.
I agree I listed mostly plotters' tools... Funny, cause I don't really think of myself as a plotter, per se... But I think when I hit a road block, starting down the plotting road usually gets me back on track. I never follow through with those plotting tools... For example, I'll start to do index cards of my scenes... and then figure something out midway and start writing again... Or, I'll try to fill out hero's journey templates and have a breakthrough and get writing again...
I find those things can really jumpstart me.
But everyone's process is different.

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