Writer’s Block Part 1: I Beg to Differ, Mr. Gaiman
Posted on February 23, 2013
For the last three months, the affliction commonly known as writer’s block took residence in my writer’s brain. After a promising pitch with a literary agent at a conference, I came back with intentions of writing multiple books only to find that I couldn’t even fix the one I pitched. What follows isn’t necessarily advice to others – you can find lots of that on the internet and in books. But I did want to share my frustrations that I’m sure other writers suffer.
Writer’s block sucks! I wish it were as easy as setting off dynamite to blast it away when it first hits. As each day passed and the words I wrote dissatisfied me, my frustration levels grew. Friends would ask how things were going, and I would reply that I was making progress. Except I wasn’t. And every time I knew I wasn’t making progress, the pressure grew.
I tried to take up Neil Gaiman’s advice on Writer’s Block when he wrote, “Blaming ‘Writer’s Block’ is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the ‘block’. It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy. But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck…”. I admire Gaiman, so I didn’t want to call what affected me by its common name. If it remained unnamed, then it wasn’t really a problem.
“Blaming ‘Writer’s Block’ is wonderful. It removes any responsibility from the person with the ‘block’. It gives you something to blame, and it sounds fancy. But it’s probably more honest to think of it as a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck…”.
Except, it was a problem. A large, non-productive problem. Days went by where I didn’t write anything at all. Those days turned to weeks. I made all kinds of excuses since the holidays came up. The new year turned, and yet I still couldn’t write anything. I had one good day of writing that consisted of four hours of slogging over what ended up being just under 600 words, and that’s only because I find writing about zombies hilarious. But the piece I wrote wasn’t going anywhere productive.
As much as I respect Gaiman, I have to say that I thoroughly believe in calling what was going on with me what it was – a true mental block. I think when he mentions laziness, he’s talking more about using the block as an excuse not to write. But what do you do if you try to write and actually can’t? When you sit down in front of the computer screen with a blank page and every word you write is scrutinized until “delete’ becomes the only consistent action of the day, what do you do then?
Gaiman is right on the money when it comes to perfectionism being part of the problem. My perfectionism started by finding out at the writing conference just what literary agents do and don’t like from first sentences, first pages, book subjects, query letters, and pitches. All of these things are necessary to know when a writer finishes a book, but in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t gone to the conference during my early writing stages. For me, the more knowledge I gained, the worse my perfectionism got. But the more I couldn’t write, the more I thought I needed to know.
My mind became ensnared by my desire to find that perfect idea, that perfect world, that perfect character, that perfect opening chapter, that perfect opening that would sell my book. I found myself composing sentences in my head just to find the right opening sentence that would hook a reader, or more importantly for me – a publishing deal or that runaway self-published phenomenon. I composed many things in my head that never made it to my computer or paper. And every time I didn’t actually write, the block sitting on my brain grew. Day by day, I felt the block apply pressure both mentally and physically until I started looking for anything else to do so that I didn’t have to feel the failure of not writing anymore.
Day by day, I felt the block apply pressure both mentally and physically until I started looking for anything else to do so that I didn’t have to feel the failure of not writing anymore.
Writer’s block is a perpetual state of “being stuck”. But I keep coming back to Gaiman’s use of the word “laziness”. At no time did I feel that being blocked equaled being lazy. In the three months of not writing, I did come up with several decent ideas for books (not to mention at least a dozen other terrible ideas). I wrote many opening sentences and paragraphs (that promptly got deleted). My actions may have been misguided, but at no point did my mind ever stop.
I may be erroneous in thinking that Mr. Gaiman intends to give no credence to the realness of writer’s block by his use of putting the term in quotations. It’s not a fancy word at all, and it barely fits what I experienced in self-loathing and frustration. In my opinion, it truly is a block to creativity and productivity. To call it something else would belittle the traumatic experience a writer goes through when it takes up residence in the brain.
In Part 2, I’ll talk about how I got to the other side of my block at this point in my writing. Until then, for all those writers out there suffering from writer’s block, I wish you well. Hang in there! You can and will overcome it soon!