Now that we've spent a long time talking about theory and genre, I think it's time to put the rubber to the road.
Do you struggle with writer's block?
Do you get hung up in the middle of writing something?
Do you have trouble beginning?
Well, it's time to stop coddling yourself and high time to wake up and smell your muse's B.O.! It's time for the Electric Didact
Writing with Attitude: Required
There are a lot of self-helps for writers out there. Some of them are good. Some are bad. Some are inspirational and vague. Some are nuts-and-bolts-ish.
But what I can't stand is the coddling kind. The sort that sounds like a counselor or a yoga instructor (I've never met a yoga instructor--I'm just imagining what one sounds like giving writing advice, and it sounds really patronizing).
That's it! Patronizing.
There are a lot of things we writers need, but it is not patronization. You need to write with attitude! You gotta be passionate! On fire! You gotta reject the easy route. You know why?
Writing is hard. It's supposed to be. Listen to the master:
"If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. ...For the first thing a writer should be is--excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it'd be better for his health" ("The Joy of Writing," Zen in the Art of Writing, p. 4).
As a writer, you should be on fire!
If you're not, what's a likely reason?
I propose that the real source of writer's block--the painful situation of staring at the blank page with our fingers poised, the cursor blinking, the pen trembling, our eyes twitching and nothing else happening--ultimately boils down to a simple enemy of creativity:
This can take many forms. Maybe you're worried about making a mistake, appearing silly, not making sense; maybe you're concerned with meeting a deadline, making a good sale, adhering to a particular idea. It doesn't matter what it is, and it often emerges in the shadows, safe from your awareness. I'll wager, however, that if you claim you have writer's block, you're thinking too much.
Bradbury has a lot to say about this, but let's work from his essay "Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds," wherein we find the following gem:
"In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon whatever truth which is the only style worth deadfalling or tiger-trapping" (Zen in the Art of Writing, p. 13).
The essay from which it's drawn contains a hint at the solution to writer's block, which consists of two steps.
Step 1: Run Fast
Write! Cast out all doubt, all concern, all lying and write the truth there on the page. Let it come and don't stop.
Are you worried about how to begin? Listen to the master:
"Somewhere along about the middle of the [first] page, or perhaps on the second page, the prose poem would turn into a story. Which is to say that a character suddenly appeared and said, 'That's me'; or, 'That's an idea I like!' And the character would then finish the tale for me" (ibid., p. 19).
Free-write until you gain traction. There's no other way to solve writer's block than by creating words. The rest will follow, but not if you're self-conscious about it. Words are not final, not concrete, not set in stone, but must at least exist if you are to revise and mold and shape them into something really great.
Step 2: Stand Still
Absorb! Observe the world, read and listen to the voices around you, and write down the word or words that buzz up with the heat of day:
"Be a chameleon, ink-blend, chromosome change with the landscape" (ibid., p. 13).
As Bradbury suggests in the essay, make lists of nouns, of your "loves and hates" as they occur to you. What are you most afraid of? What do you hate? What do you love? Write it as a noun, a thing.
Then riff on it! Go back to Step 1. Start writing and wait for the characters in your brain (for they are there, I promise you) to snatch it out of the air because it's what they love and hate, too.
And revise! Revision, some say, is the real act of writing. While I hold that idea in some contention, it is true that you cannot revise without standing still. But we will discuss that another day...
Till next time, run fast, stand still, and break the block!
Jedd Cole is a professional writer and author of short speculative fiction. He resides in Ohio where he is completing a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, crafting short stories in every time-nook he can find, all while frequenting the pages of imaginary worlds with his wonderful wife, Heather, and no pets. None.