Writer’s Block: Myth or Reality?

Here‘s something Neil Gaiman had to say about writer’s block. It’s short. Go read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, so what do you think of that? If I understand what the inestimable Mr. Gaiman has written, he suggests writer’s block is a glamorization of a few more mundane and more easily solved problems. (Well, laziness is not easy to solve. Laziness is a lifetime’s work and a hard habit to kick! Believe me, I speak as a knowledgeable lazy person in this.) Is writer’s block really just a name writer’s use for other problems with their work?

Naturally, I’m going to give my opinion. I think so. Of the three culprits Mr. Gaiman lists: perfectionism, laziness and a stalled story that needs to be reassessed, I think perfectionism is the sneakiest culprit.

Laziness might be hard to combat, but it’s fairly easy to identify. There are two distinct symptoms.  One is sitting in front of your preferred medium (computer, tablet, wax tablet, chisel and flat rock) and staring at it and not doing anything. Not even agonizing about not doing anything, just thinking you ought to do it and not doing it. I’ve been there. You can disguise it if you try by blaming your muse, or the weather or what have you, but what’s really happening is you just don’t want to do it. The other symptom is not sitting down at all. Telling yourself you should and then watching tv or surfing the net (or writing in my your blog). Inspiration gets blamed again, but you should know better. Writing is hard work. Deal with it.

Stalled stories, ones that have gone off the rails as Mr. Gaiman says, are the easiest of these three evils. It’s sometimes hard to recognize your story has gone wrong somewhere (hence the identification as writer’s block) but if you think hard you’ll see it’s not that you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write this. At least not the way it stands right now. When inspiration seems far off, reread what you’ve written. See if you’ve wandered down a blind alley. Take some steps back and plot a new course. It feels good.

And now the true evil: perfectionism. It’s insidious and I’ve written about it before on the blog. The biggest problem a writer faces when trying to pin down why she isn’t writing, and what to do to combat it, is that perfectionism feels like work. You give yourself the illusion of getting somewhere because you are sitting down and working with words. “I wrote for three hours this morning, but I didn’t seem to get anywhere. Must be writer’s block.” What you really did is spent three hours crafting the first paragraph over and over. In theater they say it’s all about bums on seats. In writing it’s all about words on pages. Don’t judge your success by how long you worked. Judge your success on how many words you wrote. You’re not a writer if you don’t write. The words might not be the perfect words, but that’s why first drafts exist.

I’m guilty of all these sins. I did finally shut down my inner editor. I can get words on page, but I have had derailed stories and I know I’m lazy… but I promise never to blame writer’s block again!