Writer’s Block Is For Hippies And Slugabeds

Fun with Phrenology One simply cannot have enough opportunities to use the word “slugabed.”


Theory: Writer’s Block is bullshit.

Go ahead. Pickle in that for a few minutes. Let the brine seep into all your holes. All of ’em.

Now, as I suggested yesterday, writer’s block as a phenomenon is bullshit — but that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes get gummed up and feel like we just can’t birth words.  It’s just not a thing that’s unique to writers, though we like to pretend it is (we take credit wherever we can, we greedy magpies, we thieving raccoons). Anybody who has done anything ever has sometimes felt like not doing some shit. Party you don’t want to go to? Spreadsheet that needs some calculating? Checkbook that needs balancing? Moon insurgents that need putting down with galactic doom ray? Been there. Done that. You’re not special. Sometimes, we’re just not motivated. We feel frustrated, inert, unable. It doesn’t need a special name just because you’re a writer.

Give it a name, and you give it power. Breathe into the paper, and it becomes a tiger. And then it bites your face. Do you want that? I don’t want that.

So, no more biting-of-faces by this paper tiger, this so-called “writer’s block.” We must reclaim its power. We must thieve it back like the mean little magpies that we are. Your word-pipes are blocked with turd-clog? Fine. You need solutions. I’m here to help, writerheads.

This is what works for me. It may not work for you. Your mileage may vary, as always.

Do: Write Past It

Not to get overly fecal, but damnit, push like you’re pooping. That’s what they tell mothers-to-be, right? Well, do that.

Sometimes, the words at the fore of your brain and at the tip of tongue and fingers are the wrong words, just like how in Tetris you have to get rid of the shitty pieces first to get to the proper ones.

The action for this is: write anyway.

I know, you’re blocked. Shut up. Writing is a mental action, but it’s also a physical one. You can’t turn your brain off, so just open the spigot. Get all that rusty shitwater out. Write. Write! Put down words. Any words. Fingers to keys. Pen to paper. Voice to recorder. Whatever. Write, write, write, a thousand times, write. I don’t care what it is. Try to be on target, but if you can’t, just write about being unable to write. Write profanity. Seriously. A string of profanity makes me a happy camper, especially if I take time to write compound profanities (shitbasket, fuckleopard, or the recently enjoyed “dickbucket,” from Kevin Pereira) or even profane portmanteaus (fucock! shitch! bastasshole!). You’re like a kid kicking over anthills to let the sweet ants flow. (Me, I eat them. Tasty treats, them ants. Just lick a thumb and press it down — dinnertime, bitches.)

Do that. Engage in the physical act of writing. Don’t think too hard. Thinking too hard will screw all kinds of things up. Like Microsoft Flight Simulator. Or orgasms. Or baking a souffle.

Or writing.

Do: Draw A Mind Map

I know, I know, I say it so often “Mind map! Mind map! Mind map!” I’m like a parrot. But this works. I’m not messing with you, Internuts. Sometimes, you just need to see the shape of the thing. You need to see its margins and peripheries and outliers. Mind maps will let you organize your thoughts. It’ll give you a battle plan.

Do: Write An Outline

Outlines are good for this, too — and, in case you missed it, I’m a recent convert to the joys of outlining. Sometimes, writer’s block is just a flag on the field letting you know that you didn’t plan ahead. You don’t know where to start or how to begin because you haven’t taken the time to chart a course. If you tell me, “Chuck, please drive to Birmingham, Alabama,” I’m damn sure going to look at a map and plot some directions. If I wasn’t allowed to, I’d be flabbergasted. Jaw on the floor. Where do I go? South, I guess? Vaguely westward, too?

Your frustration and stagnation at the start of a project or the dawn of a writing day might simply be your brain’s way of telling you that you’ve given your project no shape, no definitions, no clue. You might need a clue. You might need an outline. Big or small, in depth or elegant in simplicity, you might find the outline opens the door.

Do: Take A Walk

Your brain needs blood, like a tick, or a vampire. A vampire without blood is either a frustrated, frenzied thing, or a torpid slug claimed by rigor mortis. Your brain is the same way. Without blood, the brain is either going to freak out, or do nothing. Writer’s block — that fake-ass bastard — will manifest in one of those two ways. You’ll either be so all-over-the-place you can’t concentrate, or you’ll be paralyzed by the sheer emptiness of your mind and the inability to conjure even the tiniest mote of sand from that wide white expanse.

So, get blood to the brain by taking a walk. Or exercising. Also, eat a little protein, drink a little tea or coffee. Feed the brain. Feed the brain. Nom nom nom. Brain teeth go chompy.

Do Not: Yield

It’s easy to yield. Some advice will tell you that, if you’re blocked, walk away and come back to it tomorrow. I don’t buy it. Problems aren’t solved by wandering away from them. Hit the problem hard. If you find it easy to walk away from it, you’ll find it easier tomorrow, and even easier the day after that. I’m not guaranteeing you’ll write something so brilliant, each word sparkles like a diamond in a mermaid’s hair. But at least you tried, and you know what I’ll bet? I’ll bet you write something pretty great. Writers are really dumb. Our wires get crossed. We write something, we think it’s shit, we think we are shit, and the opposite turns out to be true. On a bad writing day, I’ve produced materials of equal to or better quality than on those days where I really think I stuck the landing.

Don’t give in so easy. Don’t be a pushover. Own the words. Make them your little organ-grinder monkeys.

That being said, sleeping on a problem does work. Let your brain bake the idea a little longer. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you just quit for the day. Hammer a few more nails. You might be surprised at your progress.

Try: Writing Exercises

I won’t lie. These don’t work for me. Usually, it’s because I find them kind of silly — “Write your character’s grocery list.” I don’t want to write my character’s goddamn grocery list. Is that going to help me get into her head? Because she wants a head of broccoli and a new toothbrush? Really? She’s out of gum so…? What? In theory, though, these could work, but I’d suggest that you make up your own exercises rather than scaring up some “creative writing class” silliness. You know your characters and your world, so you can concoct exercises and experiments that will help you dig in, get some of those words out. And that ultimately references the first point: just write past it.

Try: Flip It, Switch It

Sometimes, the words just aren’t working because you’re pointing the gun the wrong way, or you’re holding the lemur incorrectly. Never hold the lemur incorrectly. He’ll bite your fingers. Little fucker.

What I’m saying is, move the elements around. Change tense. Change perspective. Write a different chapter. Skip this chapter entirely. Find a new way in. Find a new door. Or window. Or bolthole.

Do: Get Shut Of It

I know, telling you to just turn off your brain and stop worrying doesn’t make it happen. But, you can make that happen. Really. Pinky swear. You need to realize something: you’re not moving mountains. You’re just writing down words, preferably in an order that makes sense. If not, you can always make it make sense later. You don’t need to get it right the first time. You just need to get it down. This isn’t a high-stress situation. Nobody’s going to die. It’s not air traffic control. You’re not a sherpa, leading wayward mountaineers to their icy doom. They’re words. Relax. Breathe. Don’t freak out, man.

Think you can’t do it? Stop it. Just stop it. Stop all that crying. Walk it off. You’ll be fine. Can you speak? Yes? Those are words. Speak them, then write them down. Can you move your hands and fingers? Then you have the physical capability needed to actually construct communication with fancy squiggles and hieroglyphics.

Writer’s block is a lie. It has no power over you. Don’t give it special importance. Don’t give it a fancy hat and uniform, because it’ll use it to claim authority and do a little kick-dance all over you. It’s all in your head. You own your head (if you don’t, you really got a bad deal — me, I’d blame Countrywide Mortgage Lenders, they probably did some shit with the fine print on your home loan). And, provided that you do own your head, it’s all yours to do with as you please. Gain control.

They’re just words.

It’s just a blank page.

Put the words on the page.