by Stephen Morrill, Director (at) WritersCollege.com
Writer’s Block is the high blood pressure of the writing profession, a disease that sneaks up and affects us in such a variety of ways that it is not easily diagnosed or defeated. One day we’re all enthused about our next writing project. Thirty days later we hate the thought of the project because we haven’t done anything much in the previous month. And we don’t know what happened.
I’ve thought about this for more than twenty-five years, possible a record for procrastination. At first I simply did not believe there was such a thing as writer’s block. I got into writing by writing for money, to tight deadlines with unforgiving editors. I was tossed into the deep end of the pool and I knew I either had to grow gills or learn to swim. I learned to swim. Looking around at all the writers drowning around me, I could not understand what their problems were.
Obviously, many writers aren’t very good at it and they will not get better without education and practice. But that’s a given. What I’m talking about is writers who are perfectly capable of doing the mechanical parts, who know the King’s English better than I do, but who, as the saying goes, “Stare at a sheet of white paper until droplets of blood appear on their foreheads.” What’s wrong with these people?
I think I know now. They don’t have deadlines, and they subordinate their creative urge to their other lifestyle demands. They have not yet made the decision to put writing foremost in their lives. So all their best intentions just…slide.
I’ve done it myself, though not often, and, in my own experience three things happen:
1) A big project that has no intermediate deadlines can be postponed because there are more urgent things to do with our time and the deadline is a long way off. We keep doing this until the big project is upon us and now we are in big trouble. But it happens in such small increments that we never see it sneaking up. Its like the big project is playing Simple Simon with us. And winning.
SOLUTION: Establish incremental deadlines. Make each one a do-able deadline and make meeting the deadline a priority.
2) A big project is intimidating because it’s so — big — that we can’t see how we will start it, let alone complete it. So (1) happens.
SOLUTION: As with (1) establish small goals, mini-projects, that ARE do-able and not intimidating.
3) Sometimes (not always) the problem is that our subconscious knows that we really do not want to do this project and so takes advantage of our tendency to fall for items (1) and (2).
SOLUTIONS: If you promised this to someone else, then finish the project anyway just because that is good discipline for you. Then never take on another like it. If you only told yourself that you wanted to do this, tell yourself to try something else.
4) We are not accustomed to doing this kind of work and need more discipline.
SOLUTION: Writing requires that you be a self-starter and, more, able to self-start and keep at it, even in a house or office filled with distractions and people telling you that other things are more important. Successful writers think WRITING is more important and order their lives to revolve around their writing.
5) All right, we wrote something, looked at it the next morning, and it looked like garbage. We will never be writers if that’s the best we can do.
SOLUTION: (And I actually said this once, in response to a question at a writers conference) Don’t get hung up on the concept of quality. Or, as science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once said when told that a reader found ninety percent of SF to be crud, famously replied, “Well, ninety percent of everything is crud.” I like to tell students to visit the local public library, pull down some books and read a few pages each. “You can probably write better than at least some of those people,” I say, “and they have published books in the library.” So what was their secret? Simple. Persistance. They wrote a rough draft that looked, the next day, like crud. Then they sat down and rewrote it. Then they polished it. Eventually it started to look good and one day it looked good enough to publish.
At http://wwwWritersCollege.com we have some general-purpose ‘get-started’ courses that might help you to dip your toe into the waters. And you are always welcome to ask questions of the Director (me) or of the teachers. Check our web site and course catalog for specifics.
– Stephen Morrill,
Director (at) WritersCollege.com
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