Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dealing with Writer's Block

Check back here every Wednesday for a few thoughts on the craft. Here are today's:

Wednesday's Writing on Writing...

Over the years many people have asked me how I overcome writer’s block. Before I answer that, let me offer a few hints that should put you in a frame of mind to break through that barrier.

Writing is tough. People who don’t, can’t, or won’t write have no idea how difficult it is to consistently put coherent words on paper. If you have hopes of one day being a real author, you need to get past the idea that writing is a hobby — something you do in your spare time. It’s a calling and it’s work. That’s why I’ve often said that it isn’t writing I enjoy; it’s “having written.”

Sometimes on deadline I have to produce a lot of pages in a day. I’ll sit at the computer for six, eight, or ten hours. When I’m done I’m as exhausted as if I’ve been digging a ditch all day. When you use your mind that much, it wears you out. Don’t ever think writing is easy.

Remember though, you’re competing only with yourself. Sometimes a new writer will find that bashing bestsellers is fun. True, a beginner may be better at his craft than the big names are. But we need to compare our work with our personal goals, not how well we measure up to anyone else.

Ask yourself, “Am I writing better today than I was last week, last month, or last year?” Where that places me on the spectrum of other writers is irrelevant. We should support one another — taking pleasure in each other’s success.

Finally, here’s my take on writer’s block. It’s a myth.

Imagine a factory worker calling in, telling his supervisor he has “worker’s block.” Carve out time to write and then just do it. Stab writer’s block through the heart with your keyboard. Keep writing regardless whether you want to or feel like it.

For me, I’ve first got to get past the procrastination. With a deadline looming, you’ll find me checking dates on pill bottles, rearranging cereal boxes, and discovering deep insights in my junk mail. I’ll do anything to avoid getting down to the business of writing. I’ve learned to accept that during that time, my subconscious is working.

When it’s time to write, it’s time to write.

Hurdling writer’s block is no more basic or complex than that.

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