Writing When You Just Don’t Want To

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Image by Paul Lusch

Image by Paul Lusch

Sometimes we sit down to write and nothing comes, and we tell ourselves we’ve got writer’s block and go off to do something else. I’m having a day like that today, actually. But you know what? It’s not writer’s block, because writer’s block doesn’t exist.

No, really.

Writer’s block is just our brains being lazy. We’re stressed over a million things, or we’re wrung out from a long day at work, or it’s nice outside and we just don’t want to be stuck in front of the keyboard. But we’re not “blocked.”

I’ve got a two quotes on my cork board that I stare at on days like today. The first is from a Quote-A-Day calendar I had years ago, and it’s attributed to “Rudolph” Nureyev. I assume the editor of the calendar meant Rudolf Nureyev, but I cannot find it attributed to him anywhere else. Nevertheless, it’s a good quote:

Nothing good happens unless you work very hard. Nothing happens. Nothing comes to you. You have to make it  happen, even if you have talent.

The other one is longer and comes from Luke Salisbury, back when he wrote for the Boston Globe. Salisbury is a big fan of William Faulkner, and once wrote this about the author:

Nothing stopped Faulkner.

He wrote when he wasn’t famous;

He wrote after winning the Nobel Prize.

He wrote when his books couldn’t make money and when the sale prices of his stories set records.

He wrote when his books were out of print.

He wrote drunk and sober, and sojourns in Hollywood didn’t stop him.

Phenomenal quantities of alcohol, extramarital affairs, an unhappy marriage, or celebrity never got in his way.

He was a writer.

I look at those two quotes and the bully in my brain says, “Yeah, well that ain’t you is it, Chachi.” Some days, I take the bully on and redouble my efforts to write, and other days, I slink away in defeat.

I’m trying to do more of the former and less of the latter.

Either way, though, it’s up to me. I’m not blocked, even on the days I walk away. I’m just lazy.

It’s okay to have a lazy day now and then. When I finish a draft, I usually take a week off before going back to start the rewrite. Partly, it’s a reward for finishing something, but it’s also a way to attack the rewrite with “fresh eyes” and enough distance from the writing of the draft that the seams and rough edges and typos are easier to spot and fix. But even on my lazy days, I’ll try to do something that inspires me or helps my writing in some way. Sometimes I watch TED Talks. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I go do something I’ve never done before. And a lot of the time, I stare off into space and give my mind free reign to gallop in any direction it pleases.

But only for a day.

On the days when I can’t allow myself a lazy day and I still have trouble getting started, I just start writing. I write about my frustrations, my worries, my stress. I write about the story I should be writing, and why I’m having trouble getting started, and describe the story I want to write. Pretty soon, I’m writing. Block, schmlock. It works like a charm, but only if my fingers are punching the keys. I have to be typing (or, less often, hand writing) what’s coming into my head as it’s coming into my head. If I don’t, it’s just thinking; it’s not writing.

The next time you think you have “writer’s block,” just start writing and see what happens. Don’t worry about the story you “should” be writing. Just dump everything in your head on the page. Start telling yourself the story as if you’re telling it to a new friend:

“Well, there’s this guy, this like detective guy, but not really. He’s a former cop, but he quit because of some reason I haven’t figured out yet. And he’s not a P.I., either. He’s — maybe he’s retired or something. Or retired on disability, because he got shot pretty bad and has to wear a colostomy bag now or something. Anyway, he meets this woman…”

And just keep going like that until the story begins to gel.

UPDATE: Five minutes after I posted this, I spotted a link the this article on Forbes on how goofing off can help you be more productive (and beat writer’s block). What’s your secret for beating the block?


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