We don't talk about writer's block
Actually we do, all the time
I’m not sure I believe in writer’s block. Of course, if you experience it, that’s fine - I absolutely believe you. But for me, writer’s block doesn’t really exist.
A lot of anxiety around writer’s block I think comes from a misconception about what writing is, and what counts as ‘real writing’. There’s a mentality drilled into most of us from a young age that ‘daydreaming’ is a bad thing. That it means you’re being unproductive, or not concentrating, or wasting your time. Some of that might be true in other contexts but it absolutely is not the case when it comes to writing or embarking on other creative and artistic pursuits.
Getting words down on a page is obviously a critical part of the writing process but it’s not all of it.
It’s drilled into most of us from a young age that ‘daydreaming’ is a bad thing
This plays into my general disdain for the must write every day! mantra espoused by so many writers. As I’ve discussed previously, it’s a self-perpetuating social pressure that is deeply unhelpful and makes all kinds of assumptions about a writer’s life, responsibilities and commitments. Mostly, though, it invalidates any time spent not putting words onto a page. It’s an attitude which plays into anxieties that then manifest as the concept of writer’s block.
Many of my better ideas occur to me in-between writing sessions, often when I’m doing something entirely unconnected to the project. Sometimes it’s when I’m cooking, or taking a walk, or while I’m - yes- daydreaming. I don’t obsess over writing every single day, or hitting specific word counts, because I know that ‘downtime’ will still produce good stuff even if it’s not in the form of actual sentences. My brain is constantly turning over storytelling problems and calculating new ideas and combinations and branching off down new paths. When I’m writing a weekly serial, as I’m doing at the moment with Tales from the Triverse, I’ll often take breaks of several days between writing chapters, and it’s in those breaks that a lot of the story’s depth and complexity is found. If I was forcing myself to pump out words every waking moment of every day, my brain wouldn’t be able to work in that way. I might end up with more words at the end of the week, but they’d be less interesting and require more editing and subsequent improvement. It’s the space in-between the writing sessions which make the writing decent.
For this approach to work, though, you need to be comfortable with not writing. That’s where the focus on word counts and visible progress and proper writers write every day can be harmful.
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The social pressure to be writing constantly creates a growing anxiety. We constantly question our abilities as writers, unhealthily comparing ourselves to others who boast about their enormous word counts and ability to write for eight hours a day in their luxury shed while their spouse takes care of the children, the cooking, the housework.
Any time not spent directly creating words starts to be seen as having been wasted. Those anxieties magnify that sense of incompetence and failure. Of being an imposter, and no a ‘real’ writer. It’s no wonder that so many writers feel crippled by their own perceived lack of creativity.
Bottom line: if you sit down to do some writing and no words come, that’s fine. Don’t try to force it. Do something else. Or maybe work on a different project for a bit. Or, instead of trying to commit words into the manuscript, focus on developing characters or plot or themes or tinker with your world building. Work around the fringes of the project, so that you’re still engaging your brain in the storytelling but without stressing yourself out. It’s the anxiety and fear that is the block - not your creativity or skill.
The secret to hold onto is that is that everything you do, everywhere you go, every waking moment and a fair amount of your sleep as well, is all feeding into your brain’s imagination. It will eventually percolate onto the page.
This also comes back to the idea of setting a minimum writing time: focus on a small amount of writing that you know you can definitely achieve. Doesn’t matter how small: it might be 250 words in a week, or 20 minutes in a week. Instead of concentrating on pushing yourself harder and harder, instead allow yourself those tiny victories. Targets you can definitely achieve. That’s the first step to progressing your writing habit. Once you accept that you’re still being productive in-between the writing sessions, you see the process in a whole new light.
Value your downtime.
Set small targets.
Combine those two things and hopefully ‘writer’s block’ will cease to be a consideration. There will be times when you don’t write, when you can’t write, but embrace those moments: your brain is still busy and it’ll turn into good material eventually, as long as you don’t make yourself feel bad by comparing yourself endlessly to others.
Thanks for reading! I hope this helps if you’re finding it hard to write. Equally, if you entirely disagree with what I’ve said here I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
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New chapters go out every Friday!