Writer’s Block and the Good Hard Thing

I was certain I had writer’s block.

I had a spare hour and a half before I had to be somewhere. The good writer who hangs out on one of my shoulders told me this was the perfect time to make some progress on my new project.

But that wasn’t the only writer talking. There was a bad writer on my other shoulder. He told me I had writer’s block. There would be more time to write in the afternoon. I’d just had a big writing day the day before, so I needed some recharge time. I hadn’t gotten to play video games in a little while, anyway. Any words I managed to force out in this period of creative blockage would get cut on the editing floor, anyway. Nothing good ever comes from forced words.

The bad writer always has so many more arguments.

For whatever reason, I listened to the good writer this particular morning. I forced myself to sit in front of the computer, put on some music, and start typing. Thirty minutes later, I had a brand new scene on my hands.

good scene.

On a day when I had writer’s block.

This is why I think writer’s block is only a legend. Not in the sense that it isn’t real, though. Writer’s block really does happen.

Writer’s block is a legend in the sense that – at least for me – it gets exaggerated. I blow it up huge and give it authority over my writing that it doesn’t have. I twist the way it works and and put the root of its power in a completely different place.

In its simplest form, writer’s block tells me I don’t know what to write. I used to think this just meant I didn’t know what came next in my story, but then I started outlining my books scene-by-scene, making sure I knew everything that would happen before I wrote my very first sentence, and you know what happened?

I still got writer’s block. 

That’s what happened this particular morning. I knew what came next, but somehow, I still didn’t know what to write.

Now I’ve learned to stop saying “I can’t think of what to write.” I’ve learned to start asking “Why can’t I force the words out right now?”

Believe it or not, once I started asking that question, I got some helpful answers.

Answer #1: This Scene Is Boring

Seriously, it happens. Maybe I have a bit of exposition to get through, or some slower character-revealing dialog. It isn’t the wild and crazy stuff I dreamed about when planning this story, but it’s still necessary. I can’t get away from it.

The best way for me to fix this problem is to remember that I’m the one writing this stupid thing. If I’m bored, I can find a way to make this scene interesting. In fact, I probably should.

The only problem is that it’s hard. It’s easy to write fights, chase scenes, and character deaths. You just kind of let it happen. It’s harder to lay the groundwork that makes those things emotionally impactful. You really have to work at it.

Answer #2: This Scene Doesn’t Make Sense

Sometimes I’m chugging along, and all of a sudden, I realize I made a mistake in my early planning. My protagonist is supposed to do something that’s completely out of character. My setting isn’t fleshed out enough. Or, worst of all, I stumble over a big, gaping plot hole.

The good news, and the thing I always have to remind myself of, is that I discovered these problems while writing a rough draft, not after publication.

The bad news is that fixing those things is hard. Sometimes you have to rework older scenes, or even cut something you really love. A story can feel like a house of cards sometimes, and realizing you’ve built a foundation that’s only going to fail you is a hard pill to swallow.

Answer #3: I’d Rather Do Something Else

If I’m really honest, this is the biggest reason for my writer’s block. I love writing, but what I like even more is having written. It’s fun to get done with a writing session and see a nice, juicy word count. It’s fun to finish a project and get that first proof copy of the paperback in the mail.

But actually sitting down and forcing yourself to hammer out a scene that you’re going to have to hack and slash before it deserves to see the light of day, when there’s Facebook to be checked and Madden to be played and listicles to be read and Facebook to be checked and Facebook to be checked?

That’s hard.

Maybe you’re picking up on a theme here. I’m not saying this is true for everyone, but for me, when I get writer’s block, it’s always because, one way or another, I don’t want to do the hard thing.

But hard things can be good. Not always, but a lot of the time that’s the case. If writing a book were easy, it wouldn’t feel so good when you finally finish one.

Maybe you’re not writing a book right now, but I’m willing to bet you’re staring down a hard thing. And not just any hard thing. A good hard thing. Go do it. You’ll be better for it, because the good hard things are almost always better than the good easy things.

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