At some point, every writer is going to have a day where creating a sentence just feels impossible. You might stare at a blank page for an hour, without writing a single word. Though, if you’re like me, you’re more likely to wind up playing Hearts or Diamond Mine for an hour, still not writing a single word.
It’s easy to pass this off as writer’s block. In truth, it’s probably just laziness. Writing and telling stories can be very fun, but it’s also more work than playing Diamond Mine. Feeling lazy happens to everyone; there is even a Greek goddess of laziness and sloth, Aergia. As long as it’s only occasional and you don’t have a pressing deadline, it’s probably fine to take an hour or two to, uh, worship Aergia. (Next time you’re being lazy and procrastinating, just explain that you’re busy studying Aergia’s philosophy. It sounds much more important).
If procrastination isn’t the cause of a sudden inability to write anything good, the reason is more likely a sign of confusion over where the plot is going or how a character would react to a certain event. If you’re struggling to write, it probably means that you don’t know what to write.
Every writer will cope with this differently. According to John Rogers, “you can’t think yourself out of a writing block, you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” You would have to just press on – difficult at first, but the words will come. Any stiff or awkward sentences can be fixed later. Just let the story flow.
Other writers might prefer to brainstorm their way through the block, whether that means making notes or flowcharts or going for a rampage – sorry, walk – and thinking about it so fiercely that passerbys look askance at them, afraid of their terrifyingly grim expression. (Um, that’s a friend’s method…).
Switching between projects can be a good way to keep working, and refresh your brain on the part that’s stuck. Diana Gabaldon does this, explaining on her website that she often gets stuck 2/3 of the way down the page.
“By “stick,” I mean you get to the point where nothing’s happening, and you sit there staring at the screen and flipping through your mind like a card-deck, in search of a helpful idea.
What writers usually do under these circumstances is to get up, go get coffee, take the dog for a walk, do the laundry, go downtown and get drunk….often enough, they don’t come back, and that’s why they often don’t finish their books.”
And that’s what you don’t want – an unfinished book. Take a break if you need to, but come back and struggle through the part that’s stuck. If you aren’t working on your book, well, no one else is, either.
Whenever I get really frustrated with my plot, or engrossed in the philosophy of Aergia, I try to remember this advice I read in an interview with Bernard Cornwell:
“Writer’s block is nature’s way of telling you you’re not a writer. If a nurse could have a block, then I could have one: that’s how I feel. Nursing is much more difficult than what I do. And they’re not allowed to phone up and say: Awfully sorry. I’ve got nurse’s block today.”
That logic gets me back to work in no time.
Here’s one last quote on the subject, which also helps to bluntly stave off the notion that struggling to write is an insurmountable task:
“There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” Terry Pratchett
I can’t speak to whether the origin was really California, but it’s true that a real writer won’t be long halted by a block. When writing is a passion, there’s always a way to press on.