Block

Writer’s block, in lots of ways, is a myth. I don’t believe in it.

Aside from the fact that many would-be writers use ‘writer’s block’ as a lazy excuse for not forging ahead, it’s often cited as a reason to buy more How to Write books. In my view, it’s really a mask for not putting in the work. The cure for which, of course, is Ass in Chair.

If there is a legitimate reason for Not Getting Things Done (hey, I’m digging this capitalization motif), it’s the opposite of not having ideas. It’s having too many ideas. There are literally too many of them to know which ones to follow.

That’s known as a good problem.

But writing can be like threading a maze — you know there’s a way out, but the right path is tough to find. You know you want the girl to end up dead in a car wreck near the end of the first act, but how to get her into the car by herself and not with her clingy boyfriend? You know you want the thieves to destroy the valuable painting at the finale, but how to elegantly create that crisis without leaving your writer’s footprints — those are the real problems of writing.

There are no easy solutions, but two of them have worked for me quite a bit. My hero Ben Franklin taught me the first: He would put a ring of keys in his hand and let himself gently fall into that twilight area between sleep and wakefulness — the brain state in which ideas seem to jump out at you with the regularity of zombies at a county fair haunted house. When sleep would truly come, his hand would go limp, the keys would fall, and he would wake up and get back to work.

You don’t have to sleep with keys in your hand — just take a short nap, while letting your unconscious do the heavy lifting while you doze.

The second is perhaps more elusive. That’s the ‘Wait For It’ method. Sometimes it really is beneficial to put a project aside and work on another one — all the while your subconscious is sorting out the first one. Your brain is working to find that perfect key that fits that tough-to-crack lock — the one that supplies all the answers you need for your story to truly come to life.

This is not a new method at all, of course — people have been ’sleeping on it’ for centuries. But something about putting a project aside for a time (and getting busy with something else, that’s crucial) really works. Your brain is still occupied with the first story’s problems, but you’re maintaining forward momentum on the second project, thus having your cake and eating it too. Work is still getting done, but you’re not hurrying the process, not stuffing a ten pound solution into a five pound bag.

In this way, much work gets done in very little time, thus annihilating the so-called Writer’s Block.

You’re welcome.

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