To a young (frustrated) writer:
Writer's block is real, so don't blame or punish yourself. You'll only exacerbate the problem. A couple things you can try:
1) Julia Cameron's suggestion (The Artist's Way) would be an "artist's date," which essentially means get out of the house. Play. Do anything not writing related to refill your creative well.
Go somewhere and people watch. Go to a play, an art exhibit, a concert, or a movie. Go play laser tag or paint ball. Go jump on a trampoline or ride a bike. Give your muse a chance to recover. Make it something that works for you and your type of "play."
I've had students go to Painting with a Twist (you, a canvas, and a glass (bottle) of wine. Another student, who is also an actor, was encouraged to Improv a conversation with their protagonist.
2) My suggestion: write something else, and give yourself permission to write badly, or as Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, write a "shitty first draft."
Write a weird short story, bad poetry, or substandard music lyrics. Sometimes you just need to switch gears until you're ready to work on that project again. I vacillate between Fiction and Creative Nonfiction for this very reason. Sometimes I just need a break (and you might too).
3) Do something physical. Run, walk, jog, treadmill. There's something about movement that shakes things loose, creatively.
4) See cartoon below on the potential for the books to write themselves:
5) Watch this video of a letter from sculpture Sol LeWitt to artist/friend Eva Hesse. The language is NSF (not safe for work), but it tends to kick creatives where we need it most:
Writing has its ups and downs, and the downs seem a bit like torture and we fill our minds with doubts... I can't do this? Can I do this? I suck! said with emphasis when the words on the screen cannot match the images in our heads. That's when we need a friend like Sol LeWitt who wrote this wonderful letter to Eva Hess:
You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out...
Remember, before Nano started, when you decided to say NO to perfectionism? Now's a good time to banish that perfectionism and write crap for a day or two:
If you fear, make it work for you — [write] your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things... You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to
If only someone would read us the full letter every day to remind us that writing isn't easy, but it's our choice, our calling, our special form of torment...and one that we really do love. Oh, wait, Benedict Cumberbatch did read this letter, and it's wonderful. And I'm serious. We should listen to it every day, so we remember to shut up the perfectionist editor in our heads and just write, or as LeWitt says, just do!
The full text of the letter is here.
Reposted from 2014... As you write this month, keep in mind the people who cheer you on. They are a tremendous blessing that will help you get through the hard writing times.
Once upon a time, we renovated a Victorian era home in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. It was not easy, and as an aside, I will never--never--again strip old varnish and refinish woodwork. Yes, it looks fabulous, but it is not worth it. When we finished the kitchen, at no small expense and untold amounts of sweat and tears, my mother asked if the cabinet installers were coming back to fix the errors she saw (one of the doors wasn't centered and needed a minor adjustment).
$17,000 + labor + pain = really, that's all you noticed?
My mother was not a cruel person, and I know she was trying to be helpful, like maybe we needed a fresh set of eyes, but I didn't want her to notice every uneven widget. I wanted to hear:
"You did a good job, kid."
So many people over the years we lived there commented on what a great job we did on the kitchen, but my mother was still finding the mistakes. In fact, when I showed her my creative writing work when I still lived at home, the results were comments to a middle school student that went something like, "you need to learn how to use commas," but never a "good job" or "that stinks." Her own phrase for these type of comments was "damned by faint praise." And in fact, although I loved her and made peace with her in so many areas of life, and did hear the "you did good, kid" in other things, she was still an editor up to the end.
We need editors in our lives, those people who see the fine details, but we also need the big picture people, the celebratory few who find joy in our work in whatever state that work exists. I like to think of them as visionaries. They can see where I am going and want to help me get there.
Recently, much to my joy, I had an editor request revisions on one of my novels. And in reading her revision requests, I found a nice balance between editor and big picture person.
"This manuscript is well written with three dimensional characters and a great suspense puzzle."
Of course the requested revisions weren't all warm fuzzies--that's why they're called revisions--but I didn't mind, because I could see the big picture results: a better book, one that she or someone like her will eventually buy.
Shortly thereafter, I got a call letting me know that one of my nonfiction pieces won 1st place in a writing contest. I won cash (always nice), got to read my work at a conference, got to attend the conference for free, and it will be published in a literary magazine and receive nomination for a Pushcart Prize. THIS IS THE BEST NEWS!
The judge's comments on my piece were artistic in the way she synopsized my essay, turning a short description into art, and making me feel more grand by intention than I am. It's a long paragraph, but the first line sums it up.
"The winning essay begins in the pure, blue-flame heat of the narrator's memory."
I was in a bit of a happy place for the rest of that month, but I don't think the judges comments could eclipse the one I got from my professor. You see, when I wrote this piece, it was in his class. When we workshop in creative writing classes, we notice the minutea. We get bogged down in the editing and details, but what makes him a teacher I respect and want to give my best work to is the fact that he isn't just an editor (and that's an important job), but he is also a visionary (so say I). He can celebrate the right phrase, the perfect word, the overall piece outside of the edits that may still need fixing. And because I respect him, his one line that he posted was visionary praise indeed.
Celebrate the visionaries in your world, those who see the forest and the trees. They are instrumental to your success.
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
Wired for Story
Genre by any other name
He for She
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.