Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On Writer's Block

With a new book coming out, I can't tell you how many times I've heard these words: 
I just have this awful writer's block.

While I haven't got much insight to managing a busy life and writing (that, my friends, is a very difficult subject for another day), I like to think that I have a good idea how to avoid writer's block. 

First of all, you need to know this: writer's block does not exist.

It doesn't. 

Writer's block, if we're being honest, is less "I just can't write!" and more "I have no inspiration!" or "This isn't coming out right!"

There is never a time, ever, when you just can't write. That said, when it feels like you might burst into tears, tear your own hair out, eat yourself out of house and home, or murder the tri-state population out of frustration, here are some tips I like to follow.

1. Chill Out. 

Writing is sort of like sleeping at night; when you aren't doing it, you start to turn into a miserable beast. You start calculating how much sleep you can get, but then you stress out about not sleeping, and the stress keeps you from sleeping. The same is true for writing. If you start panicking about the fact that you aren't writing, you will not magically panic yourself into a NYT bestseller. 
Get up, take a walk, do some yoga, eat a whole pizza; I don't care. Just take a break before you punt your laptop into the wall. 

2. Write Something, Anything. You can write a grocery list. You can write a journal. You can even write about the fact that you are not able to write. No matter what, you can put pen to paper - or fingers to keys - anytime. Sometimes when your mind is busy on a menial task - like writing about nothing - the real stories come rolling in. Inspiration can't be pushed, but it can be coaxed. 

3. Scratch. This is the coolest thing, and I cannot take credit for it. Twyla Tharp, in her book The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it For Life, introduced me to this concept. The idea is that you use something that once inspired you (maybe it's spoken word, a song, contemporary dance, film, etc), and you let it scratch your writer's block itch. I can't tell you how many times something created by someone else has renewed my inspiration and helped me solve plot holes. 

4. Read What You've Got. If you drive, you've run into an ugly ROAD CLOSED sign before. If you're anything like me, you came to the conclusion that drinking from the skulls of your enemies - or whoever closed this stupid road - would be reasonable at this point. But guess what? You were warned every half mile before you got to the impassable part of the road.

Just like that closed road, the block you're facing isn't actually right in front of you; your problem is usually further back than you realize. And if you read what you have so far, you have a better chance at finding those warning signs. 

5. Talk to Somebody Who Gets it. Writing is so, so lonely. And it becomes worse when we hit our roadblocks. Here's why: every writer I have ever talked to about this seems to have the same thought.

Oh no! Writer's block! Alas, it is only I who have suffered in this agony. I must be miserable alone, for acknowledging my difficulties is to fail! 
And like... I know we're dramatic people, but c'mon! Find a support system, and be honest with them. None of us wake up spouting magic from our fingertips everyday. 

So this is my list. I would include cats and wine, but it turns out that writers already know that those two things are magical. So if you're feeling a little stopped up, I hope these things help you get back in the saddle!