Monday, June 29, 2015

When the Words Don't Come

Q: We all hit writers’ block at some point in time. What do you do to get out of it and move the story forward?

- Susan

I’ve become much less candid about admitting to those moments (days? weeks?) when I seem to bang up against the same wall instead of moving forward. It seems to be fashionable for writing teachers and some well-known writers to scoff and say something along the lines of “Pfffahhh…whining about writers’ block is dishonest. If you are stuck, either bulldoze your way through it like a man/woman, or admit you’re lazy and weak.” Or something like that, usually delivered with a swelling chest and a curled lip. Some of these people are doubtless wonderful to their pets, and sell millions of books.

There’s another contingent that is more practical, represented by a quote attributed to William Faulkner insisting that inspiration is a silly concept, or, as he supposedly said, “I only write when I’m inspired, but fortunately I’m inspired every day at nine o’clock.” 

In other words, just sit down and start, and treat it like the job it is. Fair enough. The resulting prose may be so bad that you are driven to the gin bottle earlier and earlier every day, but at least you have put words on paper.

Then there are writers like Douglas Adams, dear to my heart, who wrote, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” 

Lots of famous writers suffered from writers block, giants like Virginia Woolf and Gustave Flaubert, and they came out all right, or at least their masterpieces did.

What do I do when my fingers either stall over the keys or plunk slower and slower as I see a brick wall rising inexorably on the page? Jump up, fly to the kitchen, and eat chocolate. Tell myself there’s no such thing as writers’ block, promise myself it won’t hurt at all to go back upstairs and delete the 2,500 truly stupid words that I wrote over the last two days, eat more chocolate, kick the cat. (No, no, of course I don’t do the latter.)

I have no easy, sure answers for myself or other writers. Writing is hard work, leavened by moments of excitement or grace, but also fraught with messy, confounding challenges and periods of pure slog. Maybe my fellow Minds are wiser than I and I’ll learn some new coping methods this week. But there is one thing I know for sure: You must, must finish the book, even if you’re privately convinced it’s dreck. Nothing is as inspiring as writing “The end” in the first draft and knowing you now have the scaffold on which to build a really good book.


Meredith Cole said...

This is so true, Susan! "Writing is hard work, leavened by moments of excitement or grace, but also fraught with messy, confounding challenges and periods of pure slog." Great post.

RJ Harlick said...

You hit it dead on, Susan, with the need to finish the book. Then you can go back and fix up all those messy bits. Good post.