Let’s Talk About Writer’s Block

January 25, 2016

 

Let’s talk about so-called Writer’s Block.

Many, if not most, professional writers will tell you that there’s no such thing. Nurses don’t get to call off work at the hospital because they’re having nurse’s block, so you just have to put your butt in the chair and start typing. 

I have a certain amount of sympathy with that point of view. In fact, I’m sure I’ve said this to students who didn’t turn in their creative writing assignments on time. But the fact remains that writing isn’t like nursing. It’s an endeavor where the blood and bones you have to mend all come from your imagination. And sometimes your imagination can fail you. 

Some writers run out of ideas. (I’ve never had this happen, but I’m told its possible.) Others become paralyzed because they know that to have publishing success, you can’t just write down anything that comes to mind–your creation has to confine itself to the art of storytelling. Worse, when it comes to historical fiction, you have to make the facts fit like a jigsaw puzzle with the previously mentioned art of storytelling. This is hard work, you will make mistakes, even in your bestselling books. And sometimes the more you learn, the more crippling the self-doubt becomes. A writer who has never experienced this is either a genius or a narcissistic, no-talent hack who never tries anything new.

In March, with the publication of AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, I will have published my 7th work of historical fiction. Each of my stories has presented its own new challenge. Sometimes that challenge has set me back on my heels–especially when I’m smart enough to see what I’m doing wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it. That’s when my fingers come to an abrupt halt on the keyboard. And even though it’s become a dirty word, I’ll cop to it. Yes, that’s writer’s block.

How do I know? Because as the very wise Maureen McHugh once told me, “Writer’s block is the inability to allow yourself to write badly.” Luckily, the solution is right there in Maureen’s definition. Give yourself permission to write badly. Tell yourself that you’ll fix it later. Go into it knowing that you’ve got to write your way to a solution and that you’ll probably end up throwing a lot of words away. The other solution is to get help. Have writer and reader friends you trust who can tell you if you’re going in the right direction. But first, you’ve got to have something to show them!