Two things happened so far today, and it's only 9am where I am. The first is that I woke up slightly troubled as I promised myself that I would finish my first draft.to book three I am slightly (some would say undeniably) a Type A personality, and finishing on a Friday feels a bit like scraping the self imposed deadline, so to finish today would be great. To do that however, I need to hit about 6000 words, and dare I say they are not flowing that freely. The second however, is much more alarming. A simple and polite email from a fellow writer asking if their blog post ever went live. You remember Michelle, the one they sent to you in August.
The aforementioned Type A personality was quick to agree. 'It must have. There is no way I woudl forget something like that.' So a quick check back of the emails confirmed that I did indeed get the post and I downloaded it to my computer, and I wrote back thanking him. Turns out though, I failed, and never did get it published.
So, William Van Winkle, I am so sorry that I have not published this before today. I have no excuses, but am full of apologies. Your take on writers block is a smart lesson for all writers, especially the dreamers amongst us. I hope you are as peaceful as your chosen image! Re-reading this article today, as it turns out, was exactly what I needed to get on track for the end of the third book.
William Van Winkle is joining us from Portland Oregan in the United States, and his books include: TheFollowers; Stay Cold; General Invasion; Architects of Tomorrow, Volumes 1 and 2
The Myth and Reality of Writer’s Block
You hear about “writer’s block” in English classes and workshops and support groups. In short, you hear about writer’s block in places where people are not real writers. They’re wanna-be writers.
Let me explain.
I totally understand that there are multiple levels of being a writer. There was a time not so long ago when I hadn’t typed a word of fiction in over a decade, but I still considered myself a fiction writer...on the inside. In a way, I think someone is a writer when they feel compelled to string words together for others to read. It’s like a drug. Go for long without it and withdrawals set in. You feel it gnawing at your insides. You’re a writer because you simply must write to stay sane.
The world has plenty of insane people. Lots of people with insatiable cravings get along just fine without having a fix. You can be a writer without writing, but more in an almost spiritual sense.
Here in the physical world, writers write. They publish. Or they die trying.
For me, that’s nearly a literal statement. I was an English major. I’ve been a tech journalist for so long now that I’m really not qualified to do anything else. If the freelance tech journalism market dried up tomorrow, my wife, two kids, and I would be out on the street. And to be honest, my market has been drying up. Most of the magazines I’ve written for over the last 15 years have been dying off in various ways since 2007 to 2008. The Internet has crushed the print world, and I can assure you that freelance rates online are a fraction of what they used to be in print.
This is a long way of saying that if I don’t write my ass off every day, I and those I love are toast. Writer’s block is a luxury. If I allow myself to wallow in it for long, I either end up pulling painful, last-minute all-nighters or I lose accounts. When I hear people complain about how they’re stuck with this paragraph or that bit of dialog, I want to shake their teeth loose and say, “You wanna know stuck? Trying being 48 hours from final deadline (not the two deadlines you already missed) on a $2,000 feature article without a single source that wants to talk to you, no artwork, and a topic you know nothing about. You don’t have a problem. Stop whining and work.”
Writers write. They publish. Or they die trying.
Is fiction inherently different than non-fiction? I don’t think so, and here’s why: For the last several months, I’ve been working on a young adult novel. It’s about a boy who discovers he’s part alien. In 1948, in order to thwart the government’s nefarious plans, his parents (both government scientists) destroy most of the alien tech and use a recovered time portal to jump forward. However, enough of the alien remains (and the agency controlling them) survived to make our protagonist a very wanted young man. Now he must find the hidden pieces of the time portal before the agency does in order to – of course – save the world.
Earlier this year, I started writing in-depth synopses for each chapter of the book. When my synopsis document hit 50,000 words, I knew I was in trouble because I was only on act three of five. I dropped the synopsis and started first draft. This time it was even worse. I’d originally targeted a length of 60,000 to 80,000 words. By late July, I was at 55,000 words and stopped cold for two weeks.
Why? Because there I was, with enough length to fill a YA novel, and my characters hadn’t even reached the location of the first time portal piece yet. At that rate, I was facing a total word count of at least 200,000. No one would ever buy such a monstrosity. Even worse, I felt like I was sending my characters in circles. Everything was dragging. My motivation level plummeted, and somehow, conveniently, the hour I spend working on fiction every morning had to be used on non-fiction articles.
Some people would call this writer’s block. I call it being lazy. One day, I described my problem to an editor friend, and he said, “Well, why don’t you just break the book up into three or four parts? Maybe one book for every piece he has to recover?”
The comment hit me like a 2x4 to the head. Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? To be honest, my friend had suggested this at least once before, maybe 20,000 words ago, and it had gone in one ear and out the other. At that time, I hadn’t felt stuck, but now I was, and the difference in mental state changed everything about how I interpreted his comment. The next day, I was back to work on the book, making good progress. In an instant, I went from floundering to feeling that I was in the home stretch of my first novel.
Where was the problem? Entirely in my head. All I had to do was apply the same sort of motivation that I used in my journalism writing to the fiction problem at hand. What, you’re finding that this way of tackling the piece isn’t working? Well, what if you try it from that direction? Or what if you change this concept a bit? What if you take that section that’s killing me and just throw it out? Would that really hurt the story too much? Almost invariably, the answer is no. Make the change. Things will work out.
You just have to keep moving. Writing for money is like any other business. When you stop moving, you’re dead. You find a way to step around the landmine and keep going. The alternative is intolerable.
So no, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in challenges. I believe in creative thinking. I believe in having to dig deep within yourself to find the source of strength that will get you past any roadblock. I believe that you have to make peace with striving to do the best you can in a reasonable amount of time. Forget about perfection, because perfection doesn’t exist any more than writer’s block does. Writer’s block is a crutch, an excuse, a badge you trot out for self-pity and sympathy.
Spiritual writers can afford writer’s block. Real world writers cannot. They have to publish...or die trying.
Bio: Like so many others, William realized he wanted to be a writer in grade school. Once he started college in 1989, he spent seven years trying to “sell” poems and short stories to magazines, since that was how such things were done back then. In those seven years, he made $10 from his creative writing, which says something about the magazine market and probably more about his writing. Then, one day, he sold an article to the local free computer publication for $75. Two years later, he was a full-time tech writer. Over a decade after that, he realized that he didn’t want to turn 40 without a smidge of progress in his dreams of authorship and so turned to ebook self-publishing. Today, William is trying to transition from his journalism career into fiction. Some people shift quickly into successful fiction careers while simultaneously balancing spouse, 2.4 kids, and a 50-hour job. William finds such superhumans perplexing and wants to dissect them to see how they function.