G&T Show: “AskDayton” #22
Dear Dayton: I have a problem. A serious one, and I’m pretty sure you are one of the few people who can truly help me out. What I have goes by names. To the French, it is “perte de temps”. To the Russians, it is “Kolonka avtora”. You may know it more commonly as…writer’s block.
What advice can you give to the poor lost souls afflicted with this horror of horrors? What can they do to stimulate their small, struggling minds?
Ah, writer’s block: The bane of many a writer. What, exactly is it? According to its entry on Wikipedia, “writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”
Wow. No shit, Wiki. Thanks for cracking that case wide open. Columbo would be proud.
According to that same article, writer’s block is a real, documented condition, with any number of causes or enablers. To hear people talk, it sounds like a pretty widespread problem, with writers lamenting how they’re unable to make any progress on whatever project is confronting them at that moment. They freeze up, unable to meld ideas into words and forge words into sentences, and they sit there while the blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen taunts them.
Blah, blah, blah.
I’m about to flout popular convention and lay it out for you straight: I don’t believe in writer’s block. Not a bit. Come to think of it, I don’t believe in “a muse,” either. A deadline or a paycheck is the only muse I understand or tolerate. Otherwise? Go away, “muse.” You bother me, you insufferable little prick.
What I *DO* believe in is distraction. Oh, yes, distraction is as much the enemy of writing as it is any other endeavour; perhaps more so because so much writing takes place in solitude. Therefore, distraction, once it seizes hold of you, often maintains its grip because—more often than not—there’s nobody around to call you on your bullshit.
Now, before we go too far down this road, I suppose I should clarify: There are lots of legitimate distractors which can derail your efforts at writing the same way they disrupt any other job. Illness, dayjob or other financial stress, marital or other relationship problems, the death of a loved one, and so on. These will certainly get in the way of any sort of meaningful writing, just like they would for pretty much anything else.
However, crap like Facebook and Twitter, video games, DVDs or Netflix, that Deadliest Catch marathon on Discovery Channel? Traps, folks; every single fucking one of ‘em, and those are just the ones off the top of my head. I’m as susceptible as anyone to such frivolous time sucks. My home office alone has scads of bad influences, and that’s before we start talking about the alcohol. I have thousands of books and comics. I have a big-assed TV and a wall of stuff on DVD. I have a game system. Hell, I have a fully functional Star Trek arcade game in my office, for crying out loud.
Sometimes, the “block” comes from thinking too much about what you’ve already written, and not about what you’re trying to write at the moment. A lot of writers tend to start editing themselves mid-project, and end up shooting themselves in the foot. There’s a time for writing,and a time for editing, and the two don’t typically overlap. So, if you’re doing that…stop that shit. Write now, edit later.
But, I get over all that crap and get busy writing. Why? Well, I like getting paid, for one thing. Also, I like being called and offered other writing gigs, and that doesn’t happen when you miss deadlines because you’re too busy playing Mass Effect or catching up on all those Jersey Shore episodes you’ve banked on your DVR. Sure, I have days where the words don’t want to play; at least, not right away. When that happens, I go and do something for a little while that doesn’t require a lot of thinking—cutting the grass, washing the car, yadda yadda yadda—and go about that task while letting my brain work through whatever supposed writing problem I’m having. More often than not, the issue unknots itself while I’m engaged in that other activity, and then I run back inside and jot down some notes so that I’m primed the next time I put my ass in the chair and get back to slinging those words.
These sorts of things help, of course, but the best way to work through an “inability” to write is to give that bitch the finger, sit down, and start writing. Write anything; but get your fingers (or your pen, if you’re truly old school) moving. Journals and diaries are good dumping grounds for this sort of “writing freeplay,” and at least then you’re still working the muscles. Eventually, your brain will click into gear and you’ll be back to whatever “real writing” you’re supposed to be doing. And as for the inner voice that’s trying to convince you to go back and take another look at whatever you wrote yesterday? Tell that little shit to sit down and shut up.
Oh, and if you’re up for trying out the whole “do something else while your brain works through the problem” thing, my lawn needs cutting. Tuesday’s good for me. See you then.