I am probably going to piss some people off with this post. And it isn’t even one of my posts about politics or feminism or religion. I have a feeling, though, that people are going to argue with this statement:
There is no such thing as writer’s block.
A few months ago I was at a concert for singer/songwriters. One of the songwriters introduced herself by saying, “I’ve finally got some new songs, after having writer’s block for the last three years.”
For some reason, this really got under my skin. It irritated me. I had a hard time believing her. Is she saying that she actually sat down and tried to write every day for three years, but could never think of anything? This doesn’t seem possible to me.
First, I think, we have to figure out what someone means by “Writer’s Block.” As far as I can tell, it could mean one of two things. The first one is that you can’t write ANYTHING.
If someone is saying they literally can’t write a single word down on a page, then that tells me they are probably operating from the assumption that writing, whether it’s songwriting or novel writing or blog writing, comes down from some divine inspiration. Some muse blesses you with an idea, and until that idea appears in your head, you’re not going to sit down and write anything.
To me, that’s total bullshit. We make our own creativity. Creativity is a muscle. You have to exercise it by doing creative things.
It sounds very unlikely to me that you can’t write anything at all. When my students don’t know what to write, I tell them to keep writing, “I don’t know what to write,” until they think of something. If you keep your hand moving, eventually something kicks in. You could write lists of names. Go outside and write down all of the trees and rocks and things. There are plenty of exercises you can use to start you writing SOMETHING.
So if you’re saying that you can’t write anything at all, I don’t believe it. What I think you’re really saying is that you’re not WILLING to write at all until you passively receive some brilliant idea.
This brings me to possibility number two – what you mean by “Writer’s Block” is that you can’t write anything GOOD.
This, I can believe. However, I’m still not going to give you a free pass on this one.
This excuse (and yes, I think they’re both excuses) tells me that you’re letting your critical mind take over your creative process. You’re judging what you’re writing before it gets out. You’re crippled by anxiety about writing something good.
I do feel some sympathy for this dilemma, but I’ll give you a good way to get over this – write something terrible. Write as many terrible things as you possibly can. Try to write the worst thing you have ever read in your life. Let go of that critical mind. Get really drunk and write for hours and hours. Eventually, something will come of it.
Again, I think this explanation of writer’s block depends on a faulty assumption. In this case, you’re assuming that everything you write should be good, when IN FACT, those of us who are really working at writing know that you have to write 99 awful things before you get one good one.
Anne Waldman told us once that you do your best work at strengthening those writing muscles when you can’t think of anything good to write about. When you have nothing to work with, and you keep working anyway, that’s when you develop the skills you’ll need to really make the most of that brilliant idea. And if you don’t keep working, you won’t get the brilliant idea.
It’s just like exercising when you’re tired or sick or you don’t want to – the calories still get burned and the body still gets stronger. When you’re practicing an instrument day after day, and you’re just not getting the notes right yet, you’re still learning. Even when you’re not enjoying it or feeling like you’re doing a good job.
So, this is why the idea of “Writer’s Block” bothers me so much.
Basically, when you tell me you have writer’s block, you’re saying that you’re not willing to do the work. You’re not willing to write the mountains of terrible stuff that you have to produce in order to get one little smidgen of something good. You’re not willing to sit down every day and do the mental pushups and chin-ups of writing until you get strong enough to come up with the good ideas and the techniques to bring them out of you.
You think that writing is some passively received gift that came down from the gods and you either have it or you don’t, and some of us are lucky enough to be blessed with it, and you’re not, because you’re cursed with “Writer’s Block.”
Yes, this whole idea really bothers me, because I didn’t passively receive my songs from some stork dropping them on me from heaven.
I worked for this, bitch.
Take credit for what you do, or what you don’t do.