Writer’s Block™ is real.
It’s the reason I started this blog. It’s a thing I’ve been fighting for as long as I’ve been a writer. Whether it’s due to a lack of motivation or feelings of creative inadequacy, some days it feels impossible to get anything down on the page. And sometimes, one day of no words leads to two days. Then three and then four and so on and so on.
Now, over the years I’ve tried a couple of methods of alleviating the block.
I’ve tried freewriting everyday – the act of writing whatever words come to mind at a consistent pace for a certain amount of time with no regards to content or quality. While this is a good way to get something onto the page, for me, it often feels like a waste of time and energy.
I’ve tried setting rigorous word goals for each day, be it 500 words or 1000 or even the nigh-impossible (for me) 2000. This, as you can imagine, created more feelings of frustration and forced prose than it did any meaningful progress. I think setting that hard minimum evokes a sense of term papers, it promotes artificially fluffing up pieces for the sake of artificial progress.
I know that we can always go back and edit out the fluff, refine the trash, polish the turd, but why create it for the sake of creating it in the first place? To me, it’s an exercise in futility.
So when I hit a dead end and the words refuse to come out, I don’t write. When I feel like I am artistically bankrupt, I don’t write. When the pressure of not writing for so many days or weeks builds up to the point that I feel like I have to write something NOW, I usually can’t write.
It’s a vicious cycle.
But the other day, I stumbled upon a proposition. It was an idea so stupid, so idiotically presented that it couldn’t possibly work but it also couldn’t possibly not be tested.
Now this advice comes from Reddit, on the ever-growing r/writing subreddit which is not always the greatest source of information pertaining to the craft. To be sure, there are a few legitimate gems of advice peppered throughout the subreddit. But, a good portion of the posts found there are written by new and inexperienced writers asking, not through any fault of their own, very similar and basic questions related to the writing process.
Which is fine. I am not in any way denigrating those who seek to learn and better themselves when it comes to writing. But, there is another subreddit, r/writingcirclejerk, a parody board which posits itself as a group of highly pretentious and ultimately deluded writers posting intentionally-ridiculous advice, self-congratulatory statements regarding personal greatness, and woe-is-me diatribes on why their greatness will never be appreciated by society at large. It is all done in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion and can be a pretty entertaining place to be for writers in the know.
And, more often than not, r/writingcirclejerk will take from r/writing, turning some of the more naive-sounding queries on their heads to create satire, making fun of some of the r/writing newbie posts in a somewhat mean-spirited but humorous fashion.
So when I first read the above advice about writing one word a day, I honestly thought I was reading a circlejerk post. It was that dumb.
Of course, I hadn’t written that day. I had tried. I sat in my office staring at my WIP for a few hours, listening to music, getting distracted on Reddit and Twitter, waiting for a moment of inspiration to strike. It didn’t. Basically, it was looking like another lost day. I didn’t have anything to lose.
So I did it. I opened up my doc and I wrote one word.
No way this will work.
Then I wrote another. I finished the sentence. I fleshed out the paragraph. The passage gained some traction and the words started to trickle out. You gotta be kidding me. By the time I had finished I had well over 500 words within a half-hour.
It actually worked.
I’m not going to claim that this is the silver bullet to all my writing woes. There are still going to be days where my motivation is in the toilet. There are still going to be days filled with destructive self-doubt. And simply sitting down with the intention to write *only* one word isn’t necessarily productive in and of itself. But, when I went in with the idea of making some meaningful progress, even if it wasn’t a lot, even if it was only one or two words, it took a lot of the pressure off.
I know it sounds completely useless, but honestly, try it. If you’re having a hard day, if you can’t focus or if you are riding a downward spiral of doubt, try it. Take a deep breath, open up your notebook, open your document, prime the carriage on your typewriter, and write one word. Just one. Preferably one that reasonably connects to a work-in-progress or begins a new one. And if it leads to more writing? Great! If it doesn’t and you still don’t feel like writing? No worries. Let it be for the day and come back to it tomorrow or whenever.
I guess the moral of this story, if there is one, is to just write. It doesn’t have to be a certain amount, it doesn’t have to be for a certain amount of time, it doesn’t even have to be everyday. More importantly though, and I can’t emphasize this enough, inspiration does not strike from above like a lightning bolt.
Inspiration, if it comes at all, will appear only if you’re putting the work in to begin with.