Tag Archives: Writer’s block

Exhausted is the new Sexy? No.

21 Feb

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It would be easy to leave this page blank.

But that’s not what writers do.

I could make it sound like I always want to write, that it’s always easy, and that I’m ecstatic to be doing this right now. And sometimes all those things are true. But, at this moment, it’s ten in the morning, sunny, and 72 degrees out–in FEBRUARY!–and I’m inside talking to you. No offense.

It’s one thing to write advice for writers about useful topics like grammar, composition, and publication. These are important parts of the craft. They need attention. But, it paints this pristine picture of writers, including me, doing everything they’re supposed to do and doing it the right way (often the first time). It doesn’t show the scraps of paper, the huge chunks of deleted text, or the blank stare of writer’s block. It doesn’t show the restless shifting in my seat or convey the heavy, sluggish sensation of having zero motivation for getting anything accomplished today.

So this is me trying to write something additionally useful even when I don’t feel like it. This is me saying I’d like to take a break, that the weather’s great and I’m missing it. 

What’s useful about that?

The acknowledgement that rest and enjoyment are equally important parts of the creative process when pit against research, brainstorming/daydreaming, and writing. Without it, we burn out. A small, voluntary break now might prevent a longer, necessary break later on.

The quicker we begin to reject the glamorization and glorification of overwork, the sooner we stop applauding ourselves and others for how exhausted we are, the more guilt-free enjoyment we can have and still get things done.

I’ve seen so many memes circulating among the creative communities online about, “you should be writing” and, “it’s not research, it’s procrastination.” This is ridiculous. Yes, at some point, you will have to write. Yes, you should finish what you start. But the ideas that we have to complete it in the smallest amount of time, that we need to pull all-nighters or we’re not dedicated to finishing, that sleep is a weakness and procrastination isn’t a productive way of letting the mind wander, is harmful. And heaven forbid we stop our feverish writing long enough to remember to eat. Don’t glamorize forgetting to eat. (It happens sometimes if you’re really in a flow, and a flow is great, but celebrate the productivity of the writing, not the forgetting to eat part. Come on.) Since when is “overwork” the same as “hard work,” y’all?

Rejecting these flawed equivalencies is why this post, written when I didn’t want to, is useful. Its existence proves my point. I saw advice somewhere that said authors should post new content to their websites two to three times a week. It’s Wednesday and I hadn’t created anything new yet. By some construct of society, I obligated myself to do this.  And I would have felt guilty if I didn’t stick to my plan.

But there has to be a balance between doing what you said you were going to do and cutting yourself some slack.

And so that I’m taking my own advice and not just preaching, this will be my only post this week. 1. Little. Article. One opinion no one asked for. You’re welcome.

(that’s me telling myself thank you.)

Pro-tip: Writer’s Block

7 Oct

I’ll use myself as an example today. I sat here for a good 10 minutes trying to come up with a pro-tip for you guys about grammar or the publishing process–something useful. But, I just didn’t want to write about any of those things. Between past articles and teaching composition classes 4 days a week, I feel like I’ve said it all. So, instead of forcing myself to say what I thought YOU would want to hear–advice that caters to a very specific issue or topic–I said, “Screw it. I’ll say what I want to say,” and tackle a broader concept.

My first piece of advice on writer’s block is to stop trying to say what you think the audience wants to hear, and just do you. Get YOUR thoughts out first, whatever they are. Forcing your writing to fit others’ expectations rather than your own does no favor to the audience. It will sound forced, and they will notice. Plus, it doesn’t matter one bit if  your first, second, third draft is worthy of its audience. Whose is? Hemingway himself knew that first drafts are shit. His words, not mine.

So, don’t you think that makes a first draft a great time to experiment with your thoughts? Address audience needs later on when you’re revising. It will do no good to cater to the audience in those first few versions that no one will see anyway. That’s your time to decide what the heck you’re trying to say in the first place before shaping it to fit their expectations.

Once you get around to revising the more permanent versions, that’s when you have to ask yourself if you’ve followed through on all of the expectations you set up in your introduction. That’s when you consider what the audience already knows and what they still might need a little background or description to figure out. That’s when you assess your word choices and decide if your vocabulary meets the level/age of the audience, if your approach matches the goal of your text for that audience, if the tone matches the nature of the piece.

Second, don’t stop before you start! Many people are under the impression that if the first line, first page of a text isn’t catchy, then there’s no point in continuing. And, while an interesting hook is important, its existence shouldn’t be the reason you do or do not continue writing the piece. Writing and revising are recursive processes. This means that it’s never totally done. You will always go back and look at something you’ve already done and scrutinize it. It’s exhausting, but wonderful. This means what you write, no matter how attached to it you feel, is not set in stone. Write that crappy introduction and keep going! Go back to it when you’re done with the draft. Sometimes, it’s easier to write a snappy intro once the whole story or essay is finished. At that point, you know what you have to draw from, what’s upcoming, what you can allude to in the first few sentences.

Third, shut off the teacher’s voice nagging in the back of your mind. Even if that voice is your own. If the rules you’ve been taught about what you can and can’t do when you write don’t help guide your process, if they stall you out instead, ignore them (at least until you revise–some situations, like work and academics, do legitimately require a rigid standard of delivery and shouldn’t be ignored).

In writing, especially creative writing, there are very few rules that are law. Most are just stylistic guidelines based on a prescribed method of academic or traditional writing. This is called Standard Written American English. It’s the prescriptive norm of how “they” say English SHOULD BE used, including both grammar and usage. Sometimes those standards don’t allow us to convey the creativity or naturalness of speech we’d like. When writers take guidelines as law, they often catch themselves in a rigid process that can’t conform to the pliable, recursive nature of a text. Embrace the descriptive use of language. This is the way English is ACTUALLY used in every day speech: slang, colloquialisms, and regional/cultural dialects included. Doing so will help create realistic, relatable characters, natural settings, conversational dialogue, and a personable approach that engages the reader. Even in formal writing, this can be achieved by staying true to your authorial voice rather than trying to force it into the voice you think the reader is waiting to hear.

Most importantly, don’t blame the inability to sit down and write something on “the muse” not showing up. Writing is work. Whether your muse has shown up or not, you still have to in order to get something done. It’s not always an inspired, fevered gutting of the author. Sometimes, it’s just that thing you’ve got to get done today. Writer’s block is usually always rooted in some sort of anxiety: Can I do this correctly? Am I breaking the rules? What if it’s crap? No one wants to read this. I’m boring and there’s nothing original left in the world. How am I going to do this by the deadline? I’m afraid to say this. What if people think the main character is me?

Sound familiar? I get it. But who cares if it’s uninspired? You’ll get to fix it tomorrow.

For more reading on writer’s block and methods to move past it, read Mike Rose’s fantastic, albeit lengthy, Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitivist Analysis of Writer’s Block.

 

Is Writer’s Block a Luxury?

25 Jan

“I’ve spoken to John Darnielle about [writer’s block], and he immediately told me one day that writer’s block is a bourgeois luxury. That, for example, there are no miner blocks; there’s no steelworker blocks; there’s no 7-11 clerk blocks. And that I should just stop whining and get to work.”
-John K. Samson
http://anosedax.tumblr.com/post/74540100196/ive-spoken-to-john-darnielle-about-writers

Writer’s block is real and can be crippling,  but is that because we allow it to be such? Can a writer really power through having no ideas? Probably yes.

Thoughts?

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