If you do any amount of writing in your life, or even if you just hang out with writers, or even if you read a lot, or hang out with those who do, chances are you’ll hear the term ‘writer’s block.’
It’s used in memes, complained about in Internet writing groups, and even blamed occasionally by best-selling authors to justify whole years spent finishing a single volume of a series (looking at you, George R.R. Martin.)
It almost seems to be expected that, sooner or later, all writers suffer from writer’s block, while no one plans for people in other fields of endeavor to have periods of mysterious inability to do their job.
I mean, would you be thrilled if your toilet was stopped up and the guy you called to fix it said he couldn’t help you because he had ‘plumber’s block’ that day?
No? Then you shouldn’t hamstring yourself by allowing the fictitious crutch of ‘writer’s block’ to keep you from working.
A big part of the writer’s block issue, I feel, is that people over-romanticize the writing process. They allow concepts like ‘inspiration’ and ‘the muse’ to make themselves feel they can’t work unless the planets are properly aligned.
This is not glamorous, this is not mystical, this is not romantic:
This is lazy.
I started writing when I was four, sold my first short story to a magazine at thirteen, and since my first novel was published in 2013, I’ve published a total of ten novels, with an eleventh and twelfth due in the fall. From age four to age forty-eight, I’ve written nearly every day, unless I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed.
And that’s the secret: regularity. Treating your writing not like a trinket to tinker with, or some kind of hobby kit, but as a job, whether it IS your job or not.
I firmly believe that a large number of people like the romance and airy-fairy atmosphere of mystique surrounding the writer’s craft more than they like the act of writing itself.
I’m a big fan of Stephen King, and a big fan of his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
In that excellent book, King describes his own ‘muse’ as a guy in a plumber’s hat.
That’s a good image. Writing should not be a ritual in a magic circle, dependent on the right shaft of light falling on the altar at a specific degree. That’s romantic bullshit.
It ought to be a faucet, and inspiration the water that comes out when the knob is turned.
How do you build the faucet and the pipes? Read a lot, for starters. Know the way stories work. Know the way the English language works. Like King says in On Writing, these are the writer’s tools.
But how do you get the water to flow when you’ve already done these things?
Make writing a habit. Set aside some time, every day, even if it can only be an hour. Put your backside to the seat in the same place, at hopefully the same time, every day.
If it can’t be the same time, at least devote the same set length of time to it on a daily basis.
Don’t make excuses. For those who have families, family time is necessary; that’s not an excuse. But gaming, partying or watching Game of Thrones at the expense of doing your daily writing is an excuse.
It’s all right if you want to do those things and not work—just don’t tell people you have writer’s block.
Set daily goals.
I met Stephen King at a convention in my hometown when I was thirteen. I’d just had my first short story published, and I was trying to talk to as many professional authors as I could. I always asked them for advice. King said setting goals was crucial, and said that he insisted on writing 10 pages a day—in word count terms, that’s right at 4000 single-spaced words per day.
That’s the goal I’ve been following since I was thirteen. I’m forty-eight now, and a full-time writer, and I usually try to go for 10,000 words a day. That’s an easy figure for me to hit now; I more often write 15,000 words daily, and sometimes 20 or 30, 000.
The point is not to pick some impressive number. The point is to set a goal you think can realistically achieve and then, to do it, and not let anything stop you from doing it.
Remove ‘can’t’ from your writing vocabulary.
We like to tell ourselves, “I just can’t write today,” but what we mean more often is that we won’t.
There’s something else we’d rather do, or we’d rather do nothing at all. Writing is my favorite thing to do (and it’s a blessing to have a job doing your favorite thing), but there are still some times when it’s hard. A scene will come up in a novel I’m working on, and it’ll be tough. I hate action scenes, for one example, and yet they’re necessary for an author like me, who writes science fiction, horror, and fantasy novels. So I’ll push through the scenes I’m not so thrilled about, and bask in the scenes that play to my strengths—but I apply the same amount of attention to both, because my job is not to let the reader know that I didn’t have as much fun writing one scene as I did writing another.
Never tell yourself you can’t—that’s the surest recipe for failure.
You can—it may just take a few tries.
Writer’s block is a fiction, and writing is a craft like any other. It’s not magic; it’s a performable, repeatable craft.
You will have easy days and tough days—but the more tough days you power through in the present, the fewer you’ll have in the future.
If you’d like to talk about this, I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/claygil2015 , I’m on Twitter at @ClayGilbert1, and I can be reached by email at email@example.com