I seldom get writer’s block anymore with regard to fiction. My problem there is just the opposite—too much writing to be done, too little time to do it.
Blog posts are another story. I am actually one of the few writers that works on her novel as a way to avoid blogging. (Novel-writing is a highly underrated tool in the procrastinator’s toolbox. Writing a novel allows you to put off unpleasant tasks for a long, long time. And if you start outlining your next project while revising the one you’re on, you can procrastinate indefinitely. Or until whatever you didn’t do suddenly precipitates a crisis, whichever comes first.)
Recently I made a commitment to myself to blog at least once a week. So here I am, about a week past this week’s self-imposed deadline, and naturally I’m thinking about writer’s block.
Writer’s block has many causes, each requiring a different treatment. Kind of like headaches; you would treat a tension headache the same way you would one caused by a brain tumor, nor apply the surgical techniques for removal of a tumor to a blunt-force trauma brain injury.
Many non-writers think of writer’s block as a lack of ideas. In my extremely unscientific research, which consisted of recalling some chats with my writing buddies, most writers have more ideas than they can use in a lifetime. It’s the nature of the beast. If, however, you are one of those writers suffering from idea deficiency, there are some simple remedies. Pick up a dictionary, flip open to a random page, and without looking put your finger on a word. Write it down. Repeat the procedure twice more. Look at your three words. There’s your writing prompt. Go write.
A more common, and more pernicious, cause of writer’s block is lack of confidence, either lack of confidence in your ability to write or lack of confidence in your ability to get published (sometimes, but not always related.) Hard to get excited about writing when you’re sure it all sucks and anyway no one’s ever going to read it. Watching a Doctor Who rerun seems like a better idea (especially if it’s a David Tennant episode.)
If the problem is a lack of confidence in your craft, the first step is to take a hard look at your writing. It might be worth it to pay for a professional critique. These are often offered at writer’s conferences, and some professional writers also do critiques on the side. (Caution: make sure the person is worth your time and money. Check credentials closely, especially if it’s someone you never heard of. But that’s a blog post of its own.)
Maybe your skills need some work. No problem. The best writers are the ones that never stop working on craft. There’s truth behind the old saying ‘if you stop getting better, you stop being good.’ There are resources out there. Join a critique group. Take some classes and workshops. Read books on craft (I suggested some titles in an earlier blog). Not only will you improve your writing, you may find a fresh breath of inspiration.
The never-gonna-get-published blues as a source of writer’s block is harder to address. Any glance at bookshelves at the nearest bookstore (they do still have bookstores somewhere, right?)will confirm that it’s not exactly a direct correlation between the quality of your writing and your ability to get a publisher to fork over an advance. Yes, there’s some great stuff being published right now. There’s also a lot of schlock, and a lot of great stuff I’ve seen from fellow writers that never finds a home with mainstream publishers.
I can only say, hang in there. The first short story you sell to a ‘zine will give you enough energy to make it to the point where you have a handful of sales. Those handful of sales will carry you through to your first anthology sale, which will keep you going until you finally sell a novel. Haven’t made your first sale yet? Hold on to the fact that it took J K Rawling something like ten years to sell the first Harry Potter book.
There is another, more complicated type of writer’s block, but this blog post(ironically, given its subject matter) is running a bit long. So in the interest of not missing another blogging deadline I’m going to save that for Writer’s Block 2: What Are You Not Saying?
BTW, my collection of three short-short stories, The Three Tunes, is free on Amazon through 6/25/13