The Thing About Writer’s Block

Today is Saturday, meaning I get to work on my novel. I work on my fiction every day, since that’s where I eventually want to be earning the bulk of my income. But I also freelance and write for money, because…food.

So, excited and ready for magic to flow from my fingertips in the form of words, I decided to go to my favorite local coffee shop, Bogart’s in Seal Beach, and write. And couldn’t get my words to cooperate. So I switched and went to the library. Still nothing. Panera? Nope.

Finally, I came home and just wrote from there. I’m still working on it. Why? Because today is just one of those days where I feel like I have a vocabulary that consists of 25 words that I’m using over and over again. As in, the cavernous cave opened up where a crevice had been moments earlier, exposing the…cave….for the cavey cave that it was…. *sigh*

That’s how I feel today. Of course, that example is a hyperbole, but barely. I think I used “shimmer” three times in one sentence. My brain is officially crapping out on me today.

Writer’s block. It’s happened to us all. At one point or another, our brains go “ehh…sentences…with…words…..wordy words….that are….uhhh…together to….make….sentences…” And that’s how the day goes. All of it. Every word.

But the thing about writer’s block, is that if you give into it, it never goes away. Or at least it takes a long, long time to go away. And the thing about writing for a living is that if you’re not putting words down on paper, you’re kind of not earning a living. That’s a problem.

At least it’s a problem if you’re a fan of food, clothing, and shelter.

So what do you do about writer’s block?

You write. You write crappy, stupid, horrible things that sound like a drunk sailor, while you swear like said sailor at every drunken word you write. Or you mope. Or consume too much caffeine. Or whatever it is you do to console your weeping heart as you write at a second grade level for five hours, and mourn your future life when you come back to edit what you’ve done.

But you write.

Because you can’t afford not to write.

If you literally can’t think of a single word to put down where your current project is concerned, you still need to write. I don’t care if you write about how frustrated you are that you can’t write. I don’t care if you write a description of the fork laying on your counter and how you’re about ready to use it to take your own eye out because you can’t write. (You could just describe the fork, too, if you’d like.) Write random words that don’t even make sense.

Whatever it is you need to do, write. Because writing is the only way you get through writer’s block.

It’s kind of like hitting the wall in running. Standing there thinking “kill me now” isn’t going to get you back to your house or across the finish line or to your car. And that’s where the food is. So you run. Or walk. Or crawl. But you move. One painful step at a time.

Life is ironic like that, and so is art. Usually, if you’re blocked in a certain area, that’s the thing you need to do. Because doing that thing is the only way you’re going to be able to start doing that thing proficiently again.

Another way to cure writer’s block is to switch the method by which you’re writing. Most of you know by now, if you’ve been reading my blog for very long, that I’m a huge fan of writing by hand. Recently, just because I have to catch up a LOT on my current novel, I’ve been trying to write directly into a document on my laptop.

I’d bet that’s probably 90% of the reason I sound like a blubbering idiot. It’s not what my creative brain likes. And my creative brain is a little brat that doesn’t like change and throws tantrums if I switch from what’s comfortable to what’s, you know, efficient.

But I’m still writing. I took a break to write this blog post because it’s easier than writing my novel. I might be writing about how I can’t think of anything to write, but I’m writing. And that’s how you get through it.

You, if your goal in life is to be an author who makes a living on writing (or a freelancer, or anyone who gets paid by putting words on a page and selling them) is to write. You don’t get to sit back and say you have writer’s block.

I recently went on a field trip (read: five days camping and hiking in the mountains) with our fifth grade students. (I’m an Instructional Assistant for Special Education when I’m not writing.) I loved it. It was fantastic. I got to know the staff and students better, we had some great experiences, and I had a lot to mentally process when I got back.

I’d also not written a word on my novel – or anything – in a week. So when I came back I thought I’d have a lot to say and writing my novel wouldn’t be an issue.

I was wrong.

But instead of saying “Well, crap, I can’t write that I guess I’ll just write nothing,” I ended up writing about a few of my favorite moments from (and reflections on) camp. And ended up with a series of essays of which I’m incredibly proud. Since I wrote about other people, as well, most of them won’t see the light of day outside of my home, but that’s okay. Because words started coming to me again. And after that, I was able to get 15 pages of my novel done.

So, if you’re stuck in a rut and you don’t know what to do, just write a word. And then put another one after it. If they suck, that’s okay, just keep working at them until they don’t suck anymore. And then go back and edit the things that suck when you get to the end. Because that’s what editing is for.

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