How To Overcome Writer's Block
Hey everyone, it's my 150th post!
So now it's perhaps time to address just what the hell is going on with this blog.
It started off as a music blog. Then it morphed into a film review blog. Over the years, I've also written about books, and why you shouldn't shop at Tesco.
I've also written about writing. And I think, ultimately, that's what it's all about.
I started this blog in 2009. Recently, it occurred to me that, since starting this blog, with very few exceptions I've spent at least an hour of each and every day just writing.
I've written many things. Blog posts. Articles. Emails. Letters. Poems. Songs. Reviews. Short stories. Long stories. Plays. Sketches. Sales copy. Static content. Briefs. Drafts. Redrafts. You name it. But scarcely a day has gone by without me dedicating even a short stretch of time to writing.
I've realised that this blog has been not just an outlet, but also a means of practising what I really want to do in life. I consider myself to be a writer, but I know that I still have at least a decade of fruitless plugging ahead of me before I truly have anything to show for my efforts. Therefore, as writers go, I am still in the “aspiring” category – and I will remain in this category for a good while yet. Perhaps the rest of my life!
So whilst I'm not yet in any position to offer advice to any aspiring writers, I can at least share my experiences. And one thing that seems obvious, even at this stage, is that it's a very good idea for any aspiring writer – whether their aspirations are in fiction, journalism or otherwise – to have a space like this – a place where they can be themselves – where they can find out what works and what doesn't work - with or without an audience.
It seems to me that aspiring writers in the 21st century have it much better than aspiring writers have ever had it before. Susan Sontag might have written realms of thoughts in her diaries, but during her formative years, nobody could ever tell her that she was brilliant, that she should absolutely keep doing what she's doing. However, people can actually swoop in and tell me that my sentences are too long. And then I have something I can work on. Something to address. The second sentence in the previous paragraph, for instance? Far too long! Thanks!
You never know. Perhaps if he'd been able to blog (or, indeed, to self-publish), John Kennedy Toole would still be with us. And, whilst Jonathan Franzen suspects that the internet is detrimental to good fiction, I'm finding the wisdom of the numerous “Advice For Writers” Twitter feeds I follow to be genuinely inspirational.
We have the internet. Have any other generations of new writers had such a vast wealth of advice and pointers at their disposal? Alright, it's somewhat ironic that every day I seem to read the old “writing is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet” nugget. But still, that the biggest obstacle for aspiring writers to overcome in the 21st century is distraction and procrastination suggests we have it quite good.
Like I say, my comparative lack of success and experience when it comes to writing means that I'm not exactly qualified to dish out any advice, but I have been doing this non-stop for some years now. And it struck me the other day – in my four years or so of uninterrupted and diverse writing, not once have I suffered from serious writer's block.
Yes, I've had long periods of crippling, debilitating doubt. Indeed, I'm having one right now! But it's seldom been the case that I've actively struggled to get the words out.
So don't think of this as “advice”. Think of it as something that's always worked for me.
I don't think of writer's block as a dearth of ideas. The Oatmeal recently did a truly inspirational piece on the creative lifestyle in which creativity was likened not to a lake, but to a river. Your ideas aren't a finite pool that'll ultimately be depleted. Rather, they're a raging and chaotic torrent, the richness of which depends upon the richness of your life, your relationships and your reading.
So if you were truly meant to pursue this path, your writer's block does not signify that your pool of ideas is in danger of running dry. Instead, I've come to recognise it as nothing more than a highly specific fear. It's not necessarily a fear of failure, though that does come into it. However, any such fears are symptoms, not causes, of writer's block. As I understand it, it all boils down to a very basic wariness of the blank page.
Any difficulty I have with writing is with starting or continuing a project. Once I get going I can write uninterrupted for hours. But it's in achieving this desired flow that I have problems, and the problems seem at their most insurmountable when I'm confronting a blank page.
Yet this can be overcome in a matter of seconds. The moment – the very moment – that anything's down on the page, I'm fine. Even if it's just a word, a sentence, or a random stream of characters, it's enough to get me started. So many of my finished stories, articles, blog posts etc. have started life as something utterly nonsensical. Something like fdsjgjlbndaoigjk rw. Anything to make footprints in the terrifying white expanse of nothingness. Even gibberish can act as a great starting point – a nonsensical block of wood to be whittled into something resembling a word or sentence – the forceful kick to the ancient engine that sets the old Russian satellite back on track.
Neil Gaiman's contribution to the noble lineage of advice from writers simply boils down to “keep writing”. If, God willing, I'm ever in a position to offer my two cents, my contribution to the rich tradition of writing advice will probably be “start writing”. The moment anything's down, you're off. Keep going, and don't look back until you're done.
Picking up the thread where you left off is sometimes even harder, but the remedy's much simpler. All you have to do is ensure that you stop your daily writing in the middle of a sentence. That's it. It works! You can then pick up exactly where you left things when you next sit down to create.
Yep, my words are currently meaningless as I've not really had much success in that field. But that's why you have to keep writing.
We have it so good. We can follow Neil Gaiman on Twitter!