On Writer’s Block

I’ve been asked a few times about writer’s block and recently expounded on my take on the subject on a Goodreads Ask the Author question.  I thought I’d pop over here to share those thoughts.

How do you deal with writer’s block?     

Over the course of writing the first drafts for all three books in The Song of the Ash Tree, I taught myself that writer’s block is a figment of the imagination. I always suspected this, but in establishing a daily writing routine for 18 months, I became a true believer. Out of those 18 months, or 547 days, I think I chose not to write perhaps 15 times. Even if I only got a few hundred words down, it still mattered and I didn’t allow the quantity (or lack of!) to discourage me. As my routine became instinctive during the course of the first book, it became easier to up my daily quantity.

But surely there were days when I struggled?

Of course.

Here are some suggestions (repeated by authors with a lot more books under their belts):

1. Set a routine and stick to it as best you can. During the 4.5 months it took to draft The Blood-Tainted Winter, the only two days I did not write were Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. I found I didn’t have to write at the same time every day (some authors are much more adamant about this), but I also found that I went in cycles. For a few weeks, I might churn out words better at 10 PM, but then the good mojo might shift to 8 AM. I learned to go with the flow while still making sure I wrote every day.

2. Stop editing. Seriously. This. Prior to writing The Blood-Tainted Winter, when I opened up whatever project I was working on, I would re-read what I had last written. Sometimes I would re-read from the beginning. By the time I got to the blank space that needed filling, I was bored, discouraged, hungry…. You name it, it kept me from making progress. When I decided to make a serious commitment to this nebulous Norse project, I also made the decision to cut out (smother, slaughter, burn, whatever it would take) my bad habit of re-reading. I’m convinced this made all the difference during the early stages of The Blood-Tainted Winter before my routine and good habits were strong enough to keep propelling me forward. Even so, I didn’t read a single word of that draft until a month after I finished it.

3. Understand that you can always fix what you put on the page. This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but I think it deserves a separate discussion because it falls within the realm of in-the-moment second guessing, rather than next day second guessing. When it came to maintaining my routine, there were days when I was faced with a scene I wasn’t sure how to approach, or days when I could only trip through a few hundred words. Whatever the stumbling point might be, I reminded myself that nothing had to be perfect at that stage. Rough spots can be smoothed over, gaping holes can be filled–LATER. Get the story on the page.

4. If you’re facing a problem you consider truly catastrophic, you may need to ask yourself why that is. I didn’t suffer from this, so I may not be the best to speak to it (though I do think I avoided this simply because I refused to believe it was possible–mind over matter!). But I do think that if you’re finding a scene to be particularly prickly or you just aren’t sure what direction to go next, you need to ask yourself some questions. Are you planning on writing this scene because you think it should be there or because it’s the right scene at the right moment? Is the story still the right story? Does it still cause your heart to beat a little faster? It’s okay to take a moment and measure these things because you have to be passionate for this to work.

The short answer is that I don’t deal with writer’s block because I don’t allow it to exist. But I also know that the first three points were vital to my ability to finish The Song of the Ash Tree. Maybe they will help you, too!

That’s what I posted on Goodreads.  But I’d like to add here that I find discussions of writer’s block unproductive, worn out, and immaterial.  Is that harsh?  Perhaps.  But I feel that some writers, or those who want to be writers, have created writer’s block, have made a phantom crutch to fall back on when they don’t feel like doing the hard work and putting in the time.  It’s easy to say, “I have writer’s block so I just can’t do it today.”  It’s easy to blame some big bad wolf–slathering teeth and putrid breath and all–rather than admit your own shortcomings.

It takes a lot more courage to say, “I will persevere, and if I fail, I have only myself to blame.”

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