I don’t believe in writer’s block. I know full well there are days when the writing comes easy and days when the writing won’t come at all, but I don’t ascribe the difference to any unseen or mystical force. Rather, I ascribe the difference to the fact that writing is damned hard all the time, and any day when it’s going great is a miracle.
I was reminded of my feelings about writer’s block by a post from Stephanella Walsh, in which she herself talked about coming to terms with the myth of writer’s block. It’s a good post, and particularly so because it admits to change, which is something too few people are confident enough to do.
Stephanella does a solid job of listing reasons why people reach for the “I’m blocked!” excuse, and I don’t disagree with any of them. People have been using the excuse of writer’s block — and the premise: that writing necessarily flows from some hidden spring of inspiration — since the first caveman struggled with the first cave painting.
I would like to propose, however, that there is a basic choice that every storyteller needs to make when approaching their work, and that in making this choice a writer necessarily allows or precludes writer’s block as an aspect of the storytelling process. The choice I speak of is whether or not writing is viewed first and foremost as a craft.
If you view storytelling as a craft — as a mix of techniques and channeled authorial gifts (the stuff you just happen to be good at) — I don’t see how writer’s block pertains. When you write from craft you can say you’re stuck, or you’re tired, or you hate your life, but the idea that your muse is playing coy, or that something that happened in your childhood is getting in the way of your ability to bash the holy hell out of your keyboard is absurd on the face of it — as it would be if you were a ditch digger and complained of ditch-digger’s block.
On the other hand, if you view storytelling as art — as a nebulous, ill-defined process of introspection and pure expression devoid of any compelling need to communicate with the reader, or even to be intelligible — then I suspect that writer’s block is useful in an endless variety of ways. Including, perhaps most importantly, by connecting you in spirit to all the other great writers who sat back in a sunny cafe chair and bemoaned the lonely fate of the truly and tragically gifted.
It’s your call, of course. But if you’re thinking that what you’d like to do is tell stories, you might want to take a long hard look at what your storytelling is in service of. Giving your authorial fate over to the unseen or mystical strikes me as a both a considerable statement of intent and a mistake. Unless, of course, what you’re really interested in is the drama of being a storyteller as opposed to the end product.
— Mark Barrett
Excellent post as always sir.
This one is toughie for me. I totally agree about the writing being a craft and stemming from authorial gifts and yet…
I just started a second novel and I don’t feel any of the fire I felt when I started my first. Sure the fire winked out frequently while I was working on the first but it was there in the beginning to get me going.
Will just have to sit down and do it, regardless.
I think it’s probably unfair to draw comparisons between how you felt on your first novel and how you feel now. (And that might be true for any two novels, no matter how many you write.) I particularly think that starting a first novel is such a unique experience that it can’t be replicated, regardless how you feel about the end product.
Too, there’s a distinction to be made between how one approaches the writing of a given story, and whether one thinks a story should be written at all. Between the minuscule chance that any book will find a huge readership (or make any money), and the existential question of whether anything really needs to be said, there are a lot of legitimate reasons why writing anything might seem like a waste of time.
Those battles are separate from the question of writer’s block, however, inasmuch as they apply to all human endeavors. Some days it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to get out of bed, but we still do it — most of the time. 🙂
That’s some bloody great insight there sir.
I like the thought about first novels being a unique experience sort of the same way your first love is different from any other love (cliche but an apt comparison i think). If i accept this point it does take a lot of the pressure off.
If I apply your theory to this second novel situation, it would be that this difference in how i feel on number two is not writer’s block, just a difference in feeling to be expected. I like it. Thank you.
As far as whether or not a story should be written. I’m not sure the right writer for any given story has a choice but to write that story. Yes there is some sort of intelligent decision making going on but i truly believe that a writer’s true story will bug, nag and bother the writer until he/she spills. It’s always worth it when the story demands that you tell it.