Goodreads recently asked me to write a response to this question: How do you deal with Writer’s Block? Here’s what I said.
We need to ask, What is ‘writer’s block?’ And we should be clear, it is not a clinical condition the way it sounds.
Swimmer’s Ear. Tennis Elbow. Tourette Syndrome. Erectile Dysfunction. Writer’s Block.
So-called ‘Writer’s Block’ is a state of mind in which a writer’s brain is not being particularly imaginative. For mere mortals, I think it is fairly common. Quotes you see on Facebook (at least, I have seen) to the effect that for ‘real’ writers there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block are certainly annoying, but more to the point, they are just an expression of arrogance coming from one who apparently has a lot of natural activity in the creative part of the brain. Good for them. But even Hemingway lost it toward the end of this career after having the ability to write great stuff seemingly effortlessly, and then wax philosophic about it.
So I say, let’s take Writer’s Block down a few notches. Don’t resort to pharmaceuticals, and don’t define yourself by it.
When I can’t seem to get the motor running, I use a combination of going somewhere outside of the house, reading literature that I find the most brilliant and stimulating, and then, and this is the main thing, I muscle my way through (I did this yesterday). I sit in front of the blank page/screen for a long time doing nothing but thinking. Then usually after 2 or 3 hours (interrupted by coffee refills, ordering lunch, checking email, going to the bathroom etc.) I give up and just write something stupid:
“Dave was walking down the sidewalk.”
And from there I ask myself, What did Dave see? What interesting thing happened to Dave? And then I come up with, “Dave found something meaningful on the sidewalk” or “Dave had just emerged from donating blood, so he was woozy” or “Dave saw a homeless man lying still and feared that he might be dead…” And away I go.
No joke, it took me 3+ hours to get started because it’s been three weeks since I fed the monkey. I struggled with rereading everything I’d already written (it was a short story), but I knew that would take 20 minutes, and I would feel the need to start editing.
But I couldn’t think of something new and interesting to happen to my character. So I started with something stupid.
This may just be my new Writer’s Mantra. Start with something stupid.
Afterward, you can delete the stupid stuff. No one has to see it. The trick is letting yourself write something stupid. That may be the hardest part of all. Good luck!