by Destine Williams
Writing is a strange process that can be difficult to understand, especially if there are some of you still working towards your first book, or want to write, but don’t know where to start. A lot of people never finish, or start, stop, and never go back because of “writer’s block”.
I hear writer’s block mentioned so much, not just by us writers, but it’s got its own form in drawing, music, and pretty much any field that’s creative-based. Since I don’t think I have, I wanted to address it.
So let’s get to the point:
I don’t think it exists.
You might huff and think, “Probably because you’ve never had it. If you had it, you wouldn’t say that!”
And to that I say, “Nope. I’ve had it. Plenty of times actually.”
And you might wonder, “Well if you had it, then why are saying it doesn’t exist? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Here’s the thing… I believe that the symptoms exist. It’s perfectly possible to be creatively blocked. The part that I believe doesn’t exist, is the concept of “writer’s block”.
The problem I have with it is that it implies some random outside force can supposedly come and steal your writing power at any given time and that there’s nothing that you can do about it. That’s like saying I can walk into your house, steal your personality, and suddenly you’re just screwed and never have your personality ever again.
Now, I’m of the opinion that knowing who you are and knowing your identity are not the same thing. I consider identity what you have to put on your legal documents. A legal document tells me your information, but in order to know who you are, I’d have to meet you in person, watch how you act, gauge your personality.
Writing, for a lot of us passionate folk, is who we are. We write because that’s just what we do. It’s ingrained into us. If we don’t write, we go coo coo in the membrane. But the other thing about being passionate about writing is that it makes you obsessively persistent to the point where you don’t care if you have a good idea that day.
This is why I think the idea that anything can “steal” the essence of who you are is not possible. People can try to copy your personality, mimic your clothing and lifestyle all they want, but they will never have what is “you”. On the other hand, you can lose your legs, you can lose memories (we forget an awful lot of details), but you will not be any less “you”.
You can however:
- “Forget who you are” (via actual amnesia and memory loss)
- “Not know who you are” (via ignorant youth, cultural conditioning, mental disorders and illnesses, etc.)
- “Lose perspective on who you are” (via chasing the wrong things in life, trauma from an event, mental illness, etc)
- “Be unconfident and not know how to express who you are” (via confusing healthy childhood/ upbringing, low self-esteem, insecurity, etc.)
The other reason why I don’t buy the writer’s block thing is because writing is a skill, just like ambidextrous ball dribbling is a skill. People may be tempted to treat writing as something “special” and say that creative fields are somehow “different” than others and is immune to skillset of the author. But I feel this idea is harmful because it makes us think that when we have a problem, we can’t do anything about it because the “block” says so.
The way I view a block is not knowing what to write, or experiencing a resistance to what you know you should write.
Experience and knowledge tells me that if I don’t know what to write then I don’t know my story elements well enough or I am trying to think of too much at one time. I stop this by evaluating the current situation, asking what do people want, how it would cause them to act, and allowing situations to fall into place as hands off as possible.
If I am experiencing a resistance to what I know I should write, it means that I have been ignoring the story’s natural flow and the wants of the characters and should scrap the offending parts out.
Personally, I haven’t seen anything that those approaches don’t solve for me, but as I’ve already said, the symptoms of creative block do exist. When I fell into depression, I was shocked when I could not write my novel. I didn’t give up writing in general and I still dutifully opened my writing document regularly to try, no matter how hard I found it, but that’s not “writer’s block”, that’s depression and that’s a perfectly valid to not be able to write.
So let’s go back to what I said before…
The part that I believe doesn’t exist, is the term “writer’s block”.
I feel we tend to have “writer’s block” always on the end of our trigger fingers because of our tendency to tunnel vision on the thing in front of us and the tendency to think that something is “wrong” automatically if I don’t spit-fire 5000 words all the time.
Unless your life is crumbling, that down phase you’re having is likely perfectly normal and will pass. I can say it will pass with certainty because that’s the nature of change itself. Feelings, performance dips, and states of mind can’t become permanent unless you feed them and make it so.
Writing is full of the ups and downs. Don’t despair at every down point. They can be used to your advantage if you know how. I use them as a sign to explore new ideas, to do more planning, to see how other authors solve similar problems, to take a break and refresh.
If you have a good relationship with your writing, getting through the extremely easy and gets even easier over time because you enjoy the journey.
If you have a bad relationship with your writing, then naturally everything about writing is difficult.
When I started out writing, I often wondered if I had writer’s block because I’d have ideas and never finish anything. I’d always run out of steam and never know how to continue. But when I got the idea for Vicissitude, I decided to be serious about writing and improve.
Ironically, my “issues” with writing stopped at exactly the same time I decided to treat writing like I would any other professional job, barring my depression episode of course.
We don’t ever try to say to our boss, “I’ve got a block, I can’t go to work”. We just…do the work.
Which is why I get confused as to why these terms persist. But the other thing that bothers me is that while people tend to be very eager to share and “prove” that writer’s block exists, the part that easily gets left out is what’s going on in that person’s life at the moment.
I think the reason why some writers swear by writer’s block and others just think it’s an excuse is because it’s very subjective, even down to the definition.
Someone might say if “I don’t have ideas, I’m blocked”, but they might still write other things without issue the rest of the day. Some people might call writing slower than usual a “block”, even though their ideas are just fine. Some people get completely paralyzed creatively (as I did) and the word block might not even cross their mind.
Personally, I would never say I’m “blocked” even if I don’t have ideas. For me, that’s not a valid reason to not write to because 1) I don’t think ideas are necessary for every writing session, 2) ideas can be generated. The mind can’t help but gather thoughts and ideas, that’s just what it does and what it will always do.
And a lot of what it does is predicable because of what we feed it. And one of the things that helps a block, is getting exposed to new ideas.
But I feel that before calling your block “writer’s block”, you might want to examine your circumstances first. The thing you are calling writer’s block can actually just be:
- The normal ups and downs of a draft/ lack of knowledge, story development, and character wants (usually the case)
- Normal fatigue
- Poor nutrition
- Stress from life events
- An actual health disorder
- A deeper mental health issue
- Procrastination, boredom, or general unwillingness to put butt in chair
- Lack of exposure to new ideas, experiences, and experimentation
- Unrealistic expectations of yourself and your writing
I want to emphasize that you don’t need new ideas every single time you write. What you actually need is just to know the next step. If you know the next step, that is all you need to write.
If you don’t know that and you really don’t know how to come up with an idea, then it’s not the end of the world. There are lots of things you can do to get your flow back:
- Freewriting. It keeps your writing habit consistent while you’re trying to figure out what to do.
- You can ask a friend. Your fellow humans are phenomenal idea generators, especially when they’re working together.
- Go outside or exercise. We usually spend unhealthy amounts of time indoors.
- Stay healthy. Eat foods and drink fluids to keep your energy up. Especially those of us in the states since tend to not eat what’s good for us. I’ve had dramatic changes in productivity and alertness from things as small as missing my cup of morning tea.
- Get the “write” mentality! Telling yourself that you’re blocked is not helpful, even if it true. This is because the block implies that you are being stopped by an outside force that you have no control over. If you sit and think that your block is not in your control, then you’re adding to your block. Thoughts do have an impact on how much you suffer. I’ve witnessed this even with physical pain.
- Get professional help! For those of us, who have mental illnesses that need to be taken care of, sitting around with it is one of the worst things you can do.
But the most important thing is to not give up at the first sign of difficulty. Writing is not an easy field to make it in, so if you’re screaming and kicking at the small hills, that’s not a good sign. But also, if you give up early, you’ll miss your solution.
I exhaust every self-contrived solution, combination, variable I can think of before I even look in the direction of the towel. And because I tough out the challenges I usually don’t need to throw it in and I’m much stronger for the next down lull.
But as for “writer’s block”?
I honestly feel it just means something was overlooked.
Destine Williams is the author of Vicissitude: Yang Side (Lost Earth), musician of its official soundtrack, and the founder of The Zen Zone where she gives tips and tricks to help out fellow writers. If you are interested in more posts like this, check out more here.