Ah, writer’s block. An indulgent excuse or a legitimate obstacle? When is it a legitimate hurdle and when is it something we hide behind when we can’t bear to keep writing?
You’d think with the mandate to stay home and avoid people, I’d have endless time to write now, to be inspired to keep at my new work in progress. And yet, despite not having to commute to the gym or the grocery store, I seem to keep dancing my way around writer’s block and running out of ideas. What does it feel like for me? It actually feels quite a few ways.
Sometimes it feels eerily like inadequacy. I think about the stories that I love, love for different reasons. I think about the plots, the characters, the voice, the detail; I think about the talented genius who wrote them and wonder, “How do they make it look so obvious and easy? Of course that character would make that choice and the plot would unwind that way – why can’t I think about my own story the same way?” Looking at my favorite stories that have been out in the world for a while, I wonder if I’m cut out for this after all. I can think I’m a writer all I want, but if I can’t deliver what I can see in my head, am I not just another someone who writes?
On another day, writer’s block feels like ennui. Complete lack of inspiration that makes a blank page or screen look like a wall instead of clay to be molded into the picture I see in my head. This version is the one that’s most commonly associated with writer’s block, the lack of ideas, the lack of good ideas. The typing, deleting, retyping and deleting again, but not in the satisfying way that helps one build and carve out the story. This dissatisfaction version of writer’s block goes hand in hand with the inadequacy version, because why would you write, delete and retry unless you felt it wasn’t good enough? At least, that’s the case for me.
The third version of writer’s block for me is the two previous versions turned up to the max. Anger, frustration and hate that verge on rage. There have been times when I hate the story and everything about it so much that I can’t continue writing. I hate everything that comes out, each development point feels unbelievable and it makes me wonder who would read this if I can’t even stand to write it. Sound familiar? It should, because I’ve already written about it.
All three versions of writer’s block for me have their different “cures,” lest they mutate and I have even more excuses to not write. When I feel inadequate, I take a step back and confide in someone who has read my writing before for an ego boost. Vain, but it helps. Reassurance and support go a long way when I feel I shouldn’t be doing this to begin with, because it reminds me that if I don’t write the stories in my head, if I don’t flesh them out and develop them into a decent shape, someone else will. Or, even worse, nobody will and the story will remain untold. If the story isn’t worth telling, why did I think it up to begin with?
Ennui and lack of inspiration are fixed by reading. After all, the best writers are also readers, not just because they’re scoping out their competition, but because it reminds us why we started writing to begin with. Writers are inspired by other writers – don’t we all remember the exact line and writer that inspired us to write in the first place? (For me, it was that scene in Ratatouille when the mean food critic writers his glowing review of the dish – don’t judge me.) When I’m feeling uninspired, I go back and read for a bit, take a break from creating. At the moment, I can’t wait to start reading My Dark Vanessa and Corazon, one for narrative inspiration and one to get me out of my usual tastes.
How do I get past the rage version of writer’s block? A combination fix of the other two, predictably. I get angry at myself for thinking I could write in the first place, so I reach out to my support network and really take a step back from the story I’m attempting, sometimes abandoning it altogether. It took some soul searching, but I’ve taken breaks from certain stories for various reasons over the years, and taking that time away can be cathartic – I often come back with new ideas and new angles from which to tackle the story.
Writing the novel I started when I was doing my master’s has caused me to experience all three types of writer’s block over the years, most recently the rage version. So I’m pivoting – I’m choosing to take a long and conscious break from writing that particular story until it is ready for me, as opposed to the other way around. This choice came partly after a painfully obvious suggestion from a friend – if I hate it so much, why not take a break and write the story I actually want to write? I was very much missing the forest for the tree.
I don’t doubt this new story will present itself with a new type of writer’s block when the time comes, and with the current situation that version will most likely be due to the current world crisis and the fact I can’t leave my house. Until that time comes, though, I will ride this new creativity wave, and try to remind myself that I am not just someone who writes – I’m a writer.