If you are a writer and haven’t had the need to climb over the often-thought insurmountable wall between your ideas and your words, then congratulations, you are one of the very unique and lucky ones. For the rest of us, I have no cure, only advice. Find your trigger, and know that when it happens, you might be in for a dry spell. You might not be able to control the length of that creative drought, but you can control the severity of it.
Writer’s block is not logical. We are all capable of writing, so why don’t we? Why do we feel like there is this giant concrete block in our heads? The keyword here is feel. Writer’s block is emotional. Now, there are things we can’t control that hit us so hard we can’t deal with anything else. The only thing you can do then is handle whatever is going on. Do not add to your stress, hurt, or grief by condemning yourself for not writing. It’s when you find yourself tied up so tight that you can’t think for no obvious reason that you need to ask yourself what is going on and what triggered such a strong reaction.
I have three triggers. Perfection, what ifing myself to death, and justification. Perfection involves comparing oneself to another person or stated, and implied, rules. The rules themselves aren’t bad, it’s how they are enforced. The basic, common sense ones are needed for our works to make sense. It’s the more obsessive ones like “I can’t write until, unless, or because . . . ” that are the troublemakers. They are almost as bad as would of, should of, and could of, which comes after missing out on the opportunity to share one’s creative genius because of tripping over oneself trying to pursue perfection. Perfection is an ideal that can’t be achieved. Why do you think there are manufacturing tolerances? Or, more importantly, editors?
What ifing is a much more intense version of perfection because it’s all about cycling through the various possibilities of what could have happened if we had done things differently. We can be our best advocates and our worst tormentors. A what if spell can be caused by something as simple as sending an email containing a typo or two even after it’s been read over at least a dozen times. Past mistakes, screws ups, and good intentions turning into bad executions are worse. Topping off all of this is setting the bar so high, one doesn’t think they can jump over it.
I’ve done the whole “whatifing” with all my books. Right now, with Spirit, the big one is what if it doesn’t sell? What if people buy the book and hate it? Or worse yet, what if they make fun of me? With the second book, Legend, it’s what if it doesn’t meet the standards set by Spirit? They are all very real and valid concerns, except they are getting blown out of proportion by fear and anxiety. Spirit statistically has the lowest probability of selling because it’s my first book, so I’m an unknown name. There are going to be some people that love the book and some who don’t care for it. It’s their choice based on their interpretation of what is written. Being teased as a kid in school has prepared me for handling those who want to make a joke at my expense and is probably the root of my fear on the matter.
With Legend, it’s tougher to separate the logic and emotion surrounding the book. The manuscript was the one thing that started and kept me writing again after a friend’s betrayal. I’m dealing, though. In fact, the breakthrough of finally hearing my characters and feeling their emotions again is what inspired this post. When I’m writing from my heart, I know it’s the true voice I want to give my prose. When I’m writing from my head, I’m either not jiving with what I’m writing or whipping out some sort of technical instructions.
Justification is a weird combination of perfection and what ifing. For the longest time, I believed that to write I had to write well and justify why and what I was writing. If I wasn’t doing that, I let it go and did nothing. There would be weeks, even months, when I didn’t write. Sure, I’d think about stuff, but that’s as far as it got. I’d wish and hope for more time and space to write, but never gave myself any. I was under the wrong impression that I had to produce something of great length like at least a page or chapter to be a perfect and justified writer.
Over the last year or two, I’ve learned that length doesn’t matter. Even when I don’t have huge chunks of time, I will write an idea down when it comes to me. Making sure that I don’t forget what I’m thinking when I’m thinking it is more important to me than justifying the few scant minutes I’m taking to do it. What changed my attitude about this? The outline I had to produce for my publisher. I was amazed at the details on my characters and books that I produced after years of writing nothing down. I consider myself very blessed for what I did remember. Since submitting it, I have added and changed a few things, and used it to seed the chapters in my books as well as prevent any contradictions and inconsistencies in my writing.
To overcome their mental block, a writer must forget perfection, what ifs, justification, and whatever other excuse they are giving themselves to build up the wall against their writing. Bust through all of this by writing. Yes, I know it seems counterintuitive. Why do the one thing that you’re trying not to do? Because you have to. If a writer doesn’t write, then how can they call themselves a writer? It’s like a guitarist who doesn’t play or a long distance swimmer who sits on the beach staring at the ocean. For a skill or talent to develop into to a craft, it must be nurtured and honed.
Start as small as you can. A single word, if need be. Don’t worry about organization, formatting, and editing. The ideas will organize themselves as more pop up and the rest can come later after you’ve gone through at least two or three drafts. Be as messy, non-grammatically correct, and illogical as you need to be. Just write. You’ll thank yourself later. I did and do.