On Writer's Block

Some say there's no such thing as writer's block.

In some ways, this is true. You can always simply sit down and write about the act of sitting down. It might not be terribly interesting, but there is always something to write about, no matter how dull or banal.

Here's my simple tip: if you sit down to write an essay and find that you can't think of a topic, by all means, stand back up.

I really mean this. Many writers spend time tweaking their word processing software just right, setting up a writer's shed or a spare room or they develop habits about when and where to actually engage in the physical process of writing. After all the rigmarole, there's a certain anxiety about the need to generate good ideas quickly, efficiently, with barely a need to edit.

Over-preparing to write induces stress, and part of that stress arises from the idea that writing always involves the tangible production of words. However:

Writing is composition, and not all composition is with words.

Obviously musicians compose music, which isn't words. Actors essentially compose characters, which includes actions, appearance, inflection, and so on -- much of which doesn't involve words. For writers, it's the same; a lot of your compositional effort will involve finding stories. If you can't think of a story, go sit at the library or at a café, and watch the stories walking past. Bring a notebook and a pen and jot down a few observations. That's writing; writing is often simply watching.

If you can't think of an essay topic, open a newspaper -- a browser tab of your favourite news aggregator will do. Find an article that even vaguely interests you, read it, then agree or disagree. Write a few notes about your reaction to the article, and presto. Writer's block unblocked.

Now, of course, sometimes by "writer's block" we mean that we're unable to proceed with something we've already started or have been assigned. That's anxiety. Stop trying; get out of whatever situation you're in, and let some ideas find you. Once you've relaxed back into your primary topic, the ideas will flow.

Be patient.

Of all things, as a writer, be patient.

Eschew productivity. If you’re worried about how much you produce, you’re doomed. The flip side of this rule: embrace patience.

“Practice” amounts to much more than sitting and writing, and this simple fact is the origin of so much “writer’s block.” Why can’t I sit down at my desk and write genius ideas? Am I blocked? No! If you sit to write, you’re doing it wrong.

Choosing interesting topics is choosing interesting locations in which to engage interesting people on their own terms and their own turf. When you sit and scribe, words should flow from your pen with vigour, with immediacy – nigh desperation. Style develops through such actions. (One can spot a sit and type-writer an hour away. Forced. Rambling. Afraid to delete – afraid that another sentence might not be forthcoming and it was so damned hard to get this one out!)

Lots of writers write about their writing process. This whole course is my own self-indulgent answer to "how do you write" (even though nobody asked me!) In the next reading, Stephen King discusses his approach to writing, and surely he knows a thing or two about how to get on with things and write.

Last modified: Friday, 3 August 2018, 2:26 AM