Blocked, My Ass – How Student Writers Can Triumph Over So-Called Writer’s Block (1)
No, Virginia, you lazy whore—there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block. Writer’s Block’s the fairy-tale bastard child of limp, fearful weenies and too-tight pussies. If you want to write, fucking write. Otherwise, as Cliff Garner (First Inkling’s curmudgeonly co–editor) reminds us, “They’re hiring at the car wash.”
Having said that, when you believe you’re experiencing it, it sure feels like Writer’s Block exists—and it’s a bitch. It’s like fibromyalgia. Bright, well-meaning doctors might doubt it, but doubt don’t help a brother get his ass out of bed when his joints are cooking like McRibs. So here are some strategies for considering and overcoming the mythical leviathan that sits upon our artistic promise and production with its hairy, gassy ass, squeezing all our creative juices onto the rug of our writing nook instead of onto the page.
Sweat Equity. Just get to work already. Do it, Nike-style. Remember Edison’s old saw that genius is “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” “You can’t wait for inspiration,” writes Jack London. “You have to go after it with a club.” Amen, and watch out, baby seals. It doesn’t matter whether the work you do is genius—it’s very unlikely it will be. It matters only that you work. Having said that, I agree with Annie Dillard: “Writing sentences is difficult whatever their subject. It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby-Dick. So you might as well write Moby-Dick.” Whether you fish for minnows or whales with the bait of your words, either way, fish or cut bait. As a matter of fact, quit reading a fucking blog right now and go write! … Still here? Fine. But you know you can’t call yourself a dentist if you don’t drill bicuspids, and you can’t say you’re a plumber if you don’t lay pipe. So who the hell do you think you are announcing on Facebook that you’re a “writer” if all you’re doing is thinking about what you want to write, what you would write if only you didn’t have to toil amid the drones? You’re a fraud—that’s who you are. And only you can change that, because you’re in charge of your own integrity and your art. The good news is that getting to work – perspiring – lubes you up for action in the writing sack. The second minute of a workout’s always easier than the first, and so on, at least for a while. Pick your cliché: You warm up the muscles; you get the juices flowing, etc. Eventually, you find a “flow,” you get in “the zone,” and paradoxically, after a while, it no longer feels like exercise, like work. “The scariest moment is always just before you start [writing],” says the master of horror writing, Stephen King. “After that, things can only get better.”
The Un–Elephant. According to the chestnut on creativity, if you want to sculpt an elephant, you’ve got to start with a lot of clay, then simply carve away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. The wisdom here is in the recognition that you often begin with a heap of clay the size of Phobos, and the ultimate elephant, munching in wait within, might be the pygmy kind. In other words, there’s a shit-ton – an infinite number – of potential words to choose from before you hone down to:
So much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
In other words, like the good doctor quoted above, you’ve got to write a lot to eventually write something dandy. The social scientist and wildly bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell defends his theory that novices in any endeavor must spend at least 10,000 hours of practice before becoming experts. Assume that good writers write 10,000 pages – not 10,000 words – before they write that first, really masterful page. The good news here is that you can free yourself from worry and self-censorship. “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word,” writes Margaret Atwood, whom many consider as close to a perfect writer as one can find (at least in Canada). It’s OK that you’re writing a lot of crap. You have to pass all that festering bile to clear the constipation. Consider what will happen to your insides if you never shit those blockages out.