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On Writer's Block


On Writer's Block

I woke up at 3 AM this morning, put the kettle on for tea, and sat down at my roll top desk to write.

Nothing came. Nothing helpful, anyway.

I already have a 60,000 word manuscript. I am working through it carefully now, rewriting, rearranging, and discarding. I began to read the second chapter this morning and was not only repulsed by the writing, but wasn't sure how to rework it or how it related thematically to the previous chapter I'd just gone through.

People have different ways of dealing with writer's block. I usually deal with it by hurling myself into the depths of despair. I become frustrated with myself and start feeling as though all my efforts have been for naught. This writing is no good. It says nothing. It does not speak to the human condition. It tells you nothing real about the world. Shallow, it’s too shallow. The world you have made is small, very small indeed. (And not that small-town, down-to-earth, rich and inviting kind of small where the people have big hearts and colorful worlds. Yours is a narrow world, dull and colorless.)

I felt that way this morning. But rather than let myself be thrown into the chaos of the pit or try to work in the midst of this frustration, I put my manuscript away, finished my tea, and then went back to bed.

When I awoke, I decided it was time to make this a reading day–no trying to write, no trying to force my way through writer’s block. When Marshall went down for a nap, I turned to the place I'd left off in Buber's essay, "The Holy Way."

As I read, parts of my manuscript began to come together in my mind like Ezekiel’s dry, scattered bones. I began to get a sense of what should come next, and to realize that the way my manuscript was ordered just wasn't helpful to the reader. There was material near the back of the book that needed to come earlier, and the section I was working on should really appear later. The bones began to look more like full skeletons.

That's how this morning’s writer's block started to go away. As I said, people have different ways of dealing with writer's block, but here are a few principles I find useful:

1. Maintain your designated time and space to write even if you don't write anything. I finished my tea because I wanted to complete my ritual of getting up at a particular time to work. Establishing a regular time and place to write is important if you want to make it a habit.
2. Don't let writer's block make you think you're doing something wrong or have nothing to offer. It's just part of the process, and it doesn't mean you are no good at writing.
3. Don't force yourself to write. Sometimes, trying to write will only frustrate you. Take a deep breath and go read something. Reading can help get the juices flowing.
4. Force yourself to write. Sometimes, making yourself write something, anything, can help you feel your way to what you actually want to write. Sometimes, when nothing comes, I try to sit down and write about my goals for this particular piece of writing (and jot some thoughts down). What am I trying to express? How can I show that in this particular section? What you write may not make it into the finished product, but it can help you to think more lucidly about what you want your writing to do.