October 11, 2016 by bradcharlesbeals
That’s the cure for writer’s block. Knowledge.
And here’s the first thing you need to know:
THAT THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS WRITER’S BLOCK.
Before you hit the back button, hear me out as I work through two more things that you need to know. Be patient. Knowledge in this will set you free.
Yes, there’s something that happens to writers that feels like it should have a disease name, like it’s something we contract, like the writing part of our brains catches cold or gets bit by the wrong mosquito. It feels like something we have to fight, but that feeling only plays into the idea that it’s something outside of us.
Ignore that feeling. Better yet, see “writer’s block” for what it is, and that feeling goes away.
So what is it?
It’s two things, actually. First, it’s a lot more than our feeling: it’s our fault.
“Writer’s block” is ALWAYS our own fault.
I don’t believe that writer’s block exists as a condition. It’s not an ailment. It’s a consequence, a symptom, an indicator that something else, something antecedent has gone wrong. And the thing that has gone wrong is something you, Writer, have caused.
It could be the result of a fatal error in your narrative. If you’ve written your character into an untenable place, you may be realizing that there is no backing out of it, no u-turns or machinations that will save the day. You will come to that realization very slowly as you eliminate possible movements, as you look back through your plot for some fork or toehold, some tool maybe, a bit of gum wrapper and paper clip to MacGyver your way back on track.
But if it’s a truly fatal error, then the pain begins. You realize cutting is necessary. How far back do you cut? Who knows, and that’s part of the pain. Something has to die, and if it’s only a chapter or two, you count yourself lucky and you start rebuilding.
Of course until you come to the realization that there was such an error, you’ll call that long period of panic (or numb stupefaction, however it hits you) “writer’s block.” But we can see, can’t we? that it’s never something that strikes from the outside. It is always a consequence, an inevitable one that follows from our own actions.
Or lack of action.
We write ourselves into it when we fail to plan, to plot, or to flesh out characters.
But maybe it doesn’t prove fatal and you don’t have to amputate. Maybe you get out of it just fine, without damage. If that’s the case, then great. You move on with the rest of the work. But you still can’t call that struggle “writer’s block” because it wasn’t anything more than the work necessary for fixing a mistake. Even if you write from the seat of your pants, and you expect and even plan for writer’s block, even then you need to own it as something other than an affliction. It’s not a bug you catch from doorknobs. It’s a choice you make. And just like the fatal error above, it’s an error that requires WORK to fix.
Which takes me to the second answer to the question what is it?
Writer’s block is writer’s work.
When asked about his secret to success, William Carey, the father of modern missions, answered, “I can plod.”
Writer’s block is just a particular kind of writer’s work waiting to be done. It’s dreaded work (and that’s why we stall at it and then believe that it stalls us), but it’s work just the same. And like any hard, necessary work, it takes sweat and perseverance.
It takes a willingness to plod.
Seeing this distinction, that what we want to call writer’s block is not something we’re suffering but something we’re choosing should be liberating. It should free us from the passive role of sufferer to the active role of owner. If it’s our fault, then we own it. And if we own it, then we can fix it.
I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the ownership conception of “writer’s block” to the disease conception. I don’t want to think that I’m at the mercy of a disease or anything else “random” and outside of myself, not when the way through it is in my own power.
So instead of throwing up my hands and crying “Writer’s block!” like some stricken leper of old announcing his uncleanness, I need to put down my hands, close my mouth, and get to work.