I don’t believe in writer’s block.
I had a writing teacher a few years back that was the first person to tell me there was no such thing as writers block, there are only lazy writers. It changed my outlook on the writing process.
The only time I really felt a true writer’s block was when I wrote poetry in high school and had to meet weekly deadlines. Sometimes I felt too uninspired to write, which is especially hard when you’re trying to write within a rhyme and rhythm scheme. But thinking back, I don’t think it was that I had writer’s block. I think I was just never taught how to write.
In school, they typically teach you everything you need to know about structure. When taught to write, you learn how to write through the lens of learning a format and using correct grammar. You’re taught how to edit more than anything – learning to avoid comma splices, run on sentences and how to keep tenses consistent. Then you’re taught how to cite work and format quotations. It’s more about composition than content.
So when I sat there not knowing what to write, feeling like I hit a wall, it was just that I didn’t have the proper training for pulling out content.
Writing slam poetry helped with this. In my senior year of high school, we had a poetry class that took up the entire year so there was room for learning every type of poetry out there. I loved slam poetry and spoken word. As a performer, I enjoyed the ability to perform at a higher level. As a writer, I loved the freedom to write in any style you wanted. It wasn’t so much about format as it was about the way it rolled off your tongue and captivated an audience. Instead of feeling the pressure of generating an idea, I was able to write my thoughts down as they came then go back and piece them together. Many times I found that there wasn’t much editing to do because my words came out the way I wanted to speak them. I would come up with an idea, like “wow, I really have senioritis” then go from there. It usually evolved into something more profound than I could have expected. My senioritis thought became a satirical poem about poetic structure. Doing my homework at musical rehearsals got me to start a poem about our warm up dance which became a metaphor for my dad’s accident. I loved writing freeform, or within the genre of spoken word or slam. It allowed me to follow the flow in my head instead of forcing myself to seem sophisticated enough to write a sonnet, which never fit me.
While I rarely write poetry anymore, I wrote over a hundred poems that year, and I believe that writing style contributed to my current writing process. I usually start with an idea, sometimes as insignificant as what I ate for lunch that day, and follow the thought until I land on something that I find interesting enough to expand.
Content never runs dry. There’s never going to be a point where there’s absolutely nothing left to write about. So in that capacity, I can’t see how writer’s block can exist. If you find yourself uninspired, you just need to write through it until you find the path again. In my current book, there are so many non sequiturs that I know I will edit out because I found myself at a point where I couldn’t think of what to write next. But it’s much better to keep running on, knowing that you may be writing junk, because it’ll lead you back to your story.
But there are times when we doubt ourselves and recognize that what we’re writing is shit, so instead of just continuing to write, we pause and let our doubt creep into our heads for long enough to come to a complete stop. Then we don’t know where to go because we turned our motor off. We call it writer’s block, because it’s easier to put a name on something and blame it on a universal outside force than to admit that it’s really our self-doubt and the easy remedy is to keep writing until you find yourself again.
I believe that writer’s block is the excuse for a lazy writer. I’ve been that lazy writer countless times. I just had a year long dry spell. I’ve been at the point where I lack the motivation to go through the process. Where the product I want to create seems so insurmountable I can’t bear to start climbing. I’ve looked down the tunnel and thought “nope, I’m perfectly fine sitting outside.” I’ve thought that the stories I want to tell are dumb and uninteresting and that I lacked the talent to put them to words. I’ve written five pages of about ten different books then jumped ship before I invested too much time. I stopped writing an idea because I got lost in the formatting of it. I fell out of love with characters while developing them and have countless maps that will never be surfaced. I’ve had days where I did my full writing prep routine: took a nap, a long shower, cleaned my apartment, got dressed, took time with my makeup, poured myself a glass of wine, grabbed my laptop and went down to my lobby, fully intending to write, only to be happily distracted by the first neighbor to walk by and abandon my piece after two pages. My incorrect grammar stared at me through my creative ideas, taunting me and telling me that I’m not fit to be a writer because I don’t remember every rule of the English language.
But that is all self-imposed. It’s not the lack of the ideas, it’s the unwillingness to do both the mental and physical work to write through the doubt and uncertainty to find my way back into the rhythm of writing. Writer’s block can’t exist because you can literally write about anything. What you did during the day, the cup next to you, a dream you had… there’s never a lack of content, there’s just the laziness to get started and the unwillingness to trust that your directionless start will end in something meaningful.
In the book I’m writing now, I’m taking a different approach than I typically do. Since it’s a story about my life, I already know my characters well. I remember the setting and the content comes easy. So instead of spending a month in book prep only to jump ship before I even start writing the book, I’m just writing. I’m getting everything I remember down, then going back and expanding, formatting and reworking until it is as composed as I can get it.
I recently became obsessed with Stephen King after reading “It” and “Misery”. I read an interview where he mentioned that he finished all his first drafts within three months because it doesn’t give him enough time to sit on his ideas and decide that they’re junk. When you have a such a short deadline, it’s harder to take the time to sit in “writer’s block” because you just have to finish.
Writer’s block is nothing but our unwillingness to put pen to paper. We need to stop using it as an excuse for being a lazy writer.