It’s called writer’s block because it’s a prison cell. Fear’s done locked you in and is dangling the keys just beyond the imaginary bars.
Wanting the first word on the page—followed by the second, and then the third—to leave an ink trail of perfection raises the writer’s odds of freezing in his or her tracks. In her article “Shitty First Drafts”, Anne Lamott advises: If you can convince yourself to sit down and write something shitty every day, you’ll get a lot more done than if you are determined to write the Great American Novel in flawless unedited prose.
Philip Pullman says, “Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?
The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn’t find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.
Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.”
I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes… and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so. —Joyce Carol Oates
All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it? —Philip Pullman
Resistance knows that the longer we noodle around “getting ready,” the more time and opportunity we’ll have to sabotage ourselves. Resistance loves it when we hesitate, when we over-prepare. The answer: plunge in.—Steven Pressfield
I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place. —Jeffery Deaver
You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block. — John Rogers
Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement. —Cory Doctorow
I have a pesky little critic in the back of my mind. He’s a permanent fixture and passes judgment on everything I write. In order to placate him, especially when I’m endeavoring to write anything as ambitious as a novel, I have to constantly mutter, ‘I’m not writing a masterpiece, I’m not writing a masterpiece.’ This mantra lulls him into a kind of stupor so that he pays no attention to what I’m doing, because after all, I’m not claiming it’s any good. Slowly, and secretly, one page at a time, I write my story. I know I’ve succeeded when he grudgingly admits, ‘That’s pretty good.’ And if I’m lucky, every once in a while, I blow him away. —Rukhsana Khan
Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence. — Al Kennedy
Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper not eternal bronze: Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. —Jacques Barzun
I don’t understand this whole concept of writer’s block. If I get stuck, I work on another scene. —Michael Ondaatje
There is no such thing as writer’s block, only writers trying to force something that isn’t ready yet. Sometimes I don’t write for weeks. And then all of the sudden I’ll get a rush of inspiration and you can’t drag me away from my notebook. But I don’t stress out if I don’t hit some arbitrary word count each day or if I go a few days without writing something. —Julie Ann Dawson
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.—Hilary Mantel
People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. —Anna Quindlen
[Be] willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly, something primal about it, like: “This bad stuff is coming out of me…” Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows. For me, the bad beginning is just something to build on. It’s no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well. That’s when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, and that is where I think writer’s block comes from. Like: It’s not happening. Well, maybe good writing isn’t happening, but let some bad writing happen… When I was writing “The Keep,” my writing was so terrible. It was God-awful. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: How can I disappoint?—Jennifer Egan
From John Steinbeck:
- Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
- Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
- Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
- If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
- Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
And then there’s Chuck Wendig:
“You’re stuck? Poor you. F@ck it. It’s a mental thing. Don’t give in. Think through it. Karate-punch the story. Kick it in the teeth until it yields. You’re the boss. Worse comes to worse: write around the gap. Got a section where you don’t know what happens? Write in 144-point font: WHO THE F@CK KNOWS? FIGURE THIS FIDGETY SHIT OUT LATER and then write the next section. A stuck story might be you feeling stuck when really, the story’s zipping along just fine. And even if there really is a problem, you can’t always identify the problem until you’re done the whole damn thing. So: you’re stuck? F@ck it. F@ck you. You’re not the horse. You’re the rider. The one with the spurs, the buggy whip, the carrot at the end of a stick. Make it move. Get it done. Your words are a battering ram: knock the door down and walk on through.”