I used to think that writer’s block was a sorry excuse for laziness, and I thought that the answer to overcoming writer’s block was will-power. Now I think there’s more to it than that.
Most days I would say that I subscribe to the butt-in-chair approach to writing. You just have to show up and push through the barriers. Get words down. You can’t edit a blank page. Blah, blah, blah.
No matter how truthful all of that advice is, it falls flat when you’re laying in bed watching the tenth video on how to sew a circle skirt instead of writing. Yeah–that was me over the last couple weeks. I sewed a lovely skirt (I’m nothing if not a productive procrastinator), but for some reason, I could not bring myself to start writing this new short story that I’ve been thinking about.
I tried pushing through the writer’s block. I sat down and pounded out a few hundred words, but the feeling of being “blocked” wasn’t going away. I felt no new excitement for the short story. When I’m excited about what I’m working on, I have no problem doing the work. I can get up in the morning, sit down at my desk and write.
I know that writing isn’t always supposed to be easy, but I also know that there has to be some sense of fulfillment in it. There has to be some sort of belief in the work. Just pushing through and avoiding the lack of excitement for the work wasn’t going to solve my writer’s block this time, and more importantly, it wasn’t going to produce good writing.
I needed to find my excitement for the new short story.
When I get in ruts like this, I force myself to think about what makes the story fresh, different, truthful or what unique take on the human condition I can offer the reader. This helps me focus the writing. If I can’t figure out why it’s important then I know that I need to rethink the story. So instead of pushing through with a mediocre idea that doesn’t excite, I try to dig in to the story. This might mean taking a walk around the block to think, or brain-dumping in a commitment-free notebook or just hashing it out with my writing circle (thanks for listening, guys!). In the end, the work doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or cancer-curing, but it has to mean something to me.
When I feel like I am communicating some small bit of meaningful insight through my writing, I start to get that excitement back. Again I remember why my story is important. You have to value your own voice and your own ideas, but most of all, you have to be excited about what you’re writing.
So–to return to my original thought–is writer’s block an excuse for laziness? There were definetly times over the last few weeks when I used it as an excuse not to write (i.e. the skirt). I think writer’s block should be used as a sign that something in the story isn’t right. But it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to disengage with the story. Instead we should use it to dig deeper and look for ways to make the work better, stronger. When the initial excitement starts to come back and the creative barrier starts to fade, then you’ll know that you’re doing something right.