Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writer's Block is Real

When I was in college, I was a part of the residence hall association, which, for those who never had the privilege, was basically like student government for the people who lived in the dorms. We put together ice cream socials, debated the merits of 2-ply toilet paper, and lobbied the housing office for new pool tables and televisions.

Oh, and I suppose I should say we were like student government for the people who lived in the residence halls. Because the housing office folks were on a big kick that calling the buildings "dorms" sent the wrong message. It brought up images of tiny little rooms and crap furniture, and a dorm was just a place to sleep. Our buildings were meant to be more than that, a place with tiny little rooms and crap furniture where you lived. So there were no "dorms" on our campus. We had "residence halls".

Yeah, we had dorms. The reason I know we had dorms is because all these years later when I try to explain to someone where I lived during my first three years of college, all I've got is an image of a tiny little room with crap furniture where I slept. Calling it a residence hall instead of a dorm didn't make the rooms any bigger or the furniture any better or magically turn Weaver Hall into the hot spot on campus where all the cool kids wanted to hang out.

I am reminded of this useless propaganda effort every time I hear someone offering up writing advice and telling people that writers' block doesn't exist.

"Writer's block isn't real. You're just stuck," they say. Or "It's not writer's block; you just don't understand the direction your characters are trying to tell you to go." "You don't have writer's block. You're just in a slump and the writing is hard right now."

When people say these types of things, I sort of want to smack them. Imagine for a moment that you told me you were poor, and I said you weren't poor, you just don't have sufficient income to meet your basic living expenses. I'm pretty sure you'd look at me and say (or more likely shout), "What the heck do you think poor means!?!"

And when you get right down to it, writers, as generally articulate individuals, wouldn't have a concept called something as freaking silly as "writer's block" in the first place if it didn't exist. The sensation of sitting down in front of your work-in-progress and being unable to find a single intelligible relevant word anywhere in your cranial cavity is real. I'm pretty sure every writer in the history of writing has felt it at least once in their career.

So let's all agree to face the facts here. Just as I lived in a dorm in college and people who don't make enough to put food on the table are poor, writers who feel stuck and are having a hard time writing are blocked.

Writer's block is real. It's not a myth or an urban legend. It's a thing that exists.

When I get writer's block, it usually manifests itself this way: I sit down at my computer to write and instead of opening the appropriate Scrivener project, my brain directs my fingers to click on my grocery list instead. Or I get the sudden overwhelming need to rework my project timelines. Or the alarm goes off and I'm just too terribly exhausted to get out of bed to write that day. If I'm not paying attention, I can quickly make 100 other things more important than the day's word count and oops, my writing time is over, and aw, shucks, better luck next time.

Because the idea of writing just doesn't sound appealing enough that day. I don't like the feeling I'm getting from the work lately and while I might technically know what happens next in the story, I don't have the words to get myself there. Something between the creative part of my brain and my ability to articulate is, to use the most appropriate word possible in this context, blocked.

The reason, I suspect, that so many people in the industry try so hard to convince us that writer's block doesn't exists is that it's become too popular. Too trendy. We all know the cliche because we've all seen the movie. The ennui-ed writer hanging around the bar at night, lamenting their stymied career, using the trauma of having *heavy sigh* writer's block to explain away all manner of what would otherwise look like very lazy behavior. And to get themselves laid.

And so instead of being a problem to overcome, it's just oh-so-cool to be a writer tragically suffering from writer's block.

But in as much as writer's block is a real thing, it's also not a thing you can tragically suffer from. If you're moping around in bars, bemoaning to all the tragedies of your writer's block, doing pretty much everything except trying to write, you aren't having writer's block. You're just being dumb. Or lazy.

Instead of likening writer's block to a terminal illness, let's instead look at it more like a bad hair day. Just like a bad hair day, writer's block absolutely sucks and it's the last thing you want to be dealing with, but you can't use it as a reason to call out from work. You just have to either suck it up and spend a lot of time and energy overcoming it or hide it under your hat.

Unless you want to make your boss to laugh really hard and then get fired. And look like a pathetic idiot to everyone you subject to your ridiculous tale of exaggerated woe.

(There are also some people who do stupid things to their heads, like ask the stylist to give them a Beiber or opt for the cherry Kool-Aid method instead of coughing up the dough for real dye. Those people aren't having a bad hair day. They're like those "writers" who don't actually try to write and spend all their time talking about how they're "blocked" instead. They're just dumb. Or lazy.)

There is a ton of advice out there to help writers get past writer's block, especially in articles and books and blog posts claiming that writer's block doesn't exist.

Those, by the way, usually say something like this: "Writer's block doesn't exist. But when you get that stuck feeling where you're supposed to be writing but can't think of what comes next no matter how hard you try (which sounds an awful lot like writer's block but shhh, we're not calling it that because writer's block isn't real) here's what you should do..."

I don't want to get bogged in the various methods of combatting writer's block here. There are tons of ways to work past a block and also ways to hide from one and work around one and generally trick writer's block into irrelevance. I'll save that for another post, since this is already kind of long and meandering as it is. I've just been reading a lot of these "writer's block is a myth" posts and such lately and it's been grating on me.

No comments:

Post a Comment