Monday, August 22, 2011

The Lie of Writer's Block

Karina is at Renovation this week, so she's running these blogs she wrote for the Catholic Writers Guild blog in April:

Has your plumber ever canceled an appointment because "the pipes aren't talking to me?" Have you ever heard of an architect who wouldn't finish designing a building because he's not "feeling it"? Yet the most common reason writers give for not writing is "writer's block."

I don't believe in writer's block. I see writer's block as a socially accepted lie that keeps writers from achieving their goals. Sound harsh? Consider this:

Benjamin Franklin said invention is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. The same holds true for writing, I believe: 10 percent creativity, and 90 percent productivity. Even more, the simple act of writing can inspire greater creativity. However, writer's block disregards the 90 percent and places undue importance on the small percentage of the writing act.

So what really causes writers to stare at the blank screen for hours before turning with disgust to Facebook or YouTube?

#1 Intimidation. A blank page is intimidating. Having a whole story perfect in your mind except for that first sentence is intimidating. Taking on a project you feel will bring people closer to God is intimidating. Sometimes, just the throught that strangers will read your blog is intimidating.

What happens when you are intimidated? You freeze. But instead of recognizing that fear and meeting it head on, writers say they are "blocked" and don't address the issue.

#2 Sloth. Writing is work, but too often, writers, especially new writers, believe that if they are truly inspired, the words will flow from their mind to the keyboard. When that doesn't happen, it's easy to claim "writer's block."

#3 Perfectionism (or the need for excellence right off): This, to me, ties into both intimidation and sloth. It's the idea that if you are "truly a writer," then each sentence comes out as perfect. If not, you are a failure as a writer. Who wants to face that? Easier to say you're "blocked."

It's also the trap of believing you have to have everything perfect--from your research to your carefully mapped plot and characters--before you can even start.

#4 Guilt. This especially happens to those who are not making a living off their writing. Getting published is a long, slow process, and you can't wait for a contract before you write your book or story. Yet it's hard to justify taking time "away" from family, the house, social or charitable obligations. (What kind of mother, after all, would forego a PTA meeting to work on her sci-fi novel?)

Recently, a friend told me about a "writer" who complained of writers block for a year and a half. He got lots of sympathy, but never produced anything. Some people choose to talk about being a writer instead of confronting the realities of writing. Writer's block provides an easy way to do that.

Don't let writer's block keep you from your dreams.

Next week, we'll talk about ways to break writers' block.

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