Today, I'm featuring a guest post with Ally Malinenko, author of Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb,on the topic of Writer's Block.
Writer’s block. A perfect topic for a blog entitled Writer’s Block. It is defined by Merriam-Webster as a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece. Though I believe many writers would instead refer to it as the paranoia that cripples, maims, and destroys their once bright and shining future.
Personally I don’t believe in writer’s block. Now, that isn’t to say that I don’t have trouble. I have entire months where it’s like pulling teeth and every word – every LETTER of every word - is painful. And I have months where I write and write and write and then wake up and realize that back on page 50 I made a horrible decision and now my whole plot is a tangled hopeless mess. Or that the great story idea I had in my head turned to utter rubbish once it was put down on paper. Or my revision is useless because I can’t see past the forest of text I’ve already put down. Or I have no good ideas to begin with.
Every single one of those things has happened to me and I still don’t believe in writer’s block because of one simple notion. Discipline. And by discipline I mean creating a segment of time, every day if you can, where you write. Once you dedicate yourself to that you create discipline. You start saying things like, “it’s 8 pm. I should be writing.” Or “I need to do 500 words by the end of this hour.”
This is why NaNoWriMo is so successful and motivating for people. It sets parameters (word count and the notion of “winning”) on something that is creative and therefore considered ethereal. Once you lock it down by time or by word count, once you have parameters, you have dedicated yourself to a goal. Half the battle is already won.
I get up at 5 am to write. It wasn’t my idea, it was my husband’s. He’s a writer too. And he reasoned that if he got up every morning at 5 am he could write for two hours before he had to go to work. Two solid hours, before the day started to chip away at him. Two solids hours where the only thing that mattered was getting the word down. I watched and laughed, pulling the blanket around me. No way was I giving up sleep.
Then I saw that it worked. So I tried it. And it was horrible. And then it was slightly less horrible. I’ve been doing it for years now and like any muscle, creativity thrives on exercise. It works because I’ve created a physical space and time where the only thing that happens is writing. For those two hours, that is all I do. And the magic is that when I don’t do it, when I skip it and sleep in, I feel guilty about it. I feel like I missed an opportunity to do something creative for myself. And I hate feeling that way. Also my routine allows for preparation. I can say, “What am I going to work on tomorrow?” or “Where am I going with that short story?” and brainstorm on my commute.
Now, that said I sometimes still stare at the screen and wonder what I’m doing. I still have doubts. I still mess up. I still realize that I derailed the whole novel back at page 50. Some mornings are absolute rubbish and I wake up the next day and delete the previous 2 hours worth of writing. Sometime I do that for a whole week until I find my way. Sometimes it’s baby steps, teeth-grinding hair-pulling baby steps, but baby steps none the less. Every step is a step forward. I’m a firm believer in forward progress. And it stops me from ever locking up, completely giving into the fear, and giving up for good.
Now I’m not saying that everyone has to give up sleep. That was my choice. But writing has to become a priority and parameters need to be set. Something must be sacrificed to the gods.
First you need discipline. Then you can be ethereal.