Is it Writer’s Block? Or Are You Lazy?

Okay, lazy might not be the right word. But I got you riled up, huh?

When you just can’t seem to get words on the page, what is really going on? I’ve seen a lot of consideration given lately to “writer’s block.” I assert that there is no such thing. There are a few concrete reasons — at least for me — when writing is not happening.

1. Simple time constraints. Life is getting in the way. This takes prioritization. For me, that is a re-commitment to getting up before the sun (and more importantly, anyone else in my family) and getting some work done. However, if I haven’t planned out what to write the night before — decided what scene to work on, which events to write, 4:30 a.m. is not the time that’s gonna happen. Which brings me to

2. Planning your work. Sure, as writers, we like to think that we’re fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pantaloons creative types, that we go where our bliss leads us or whatever. And perhaps that works for some people. But for me – and for most of the writers I’ve been lucky enough to talk with who have had any success in this world – writing must be approached like a business, or at least like a job. It takes planning and dedication. You lay out a strategy, whether it’s an outline or a brainmap, or whatever your choice of tool might be. If you know what you’re sitting down to accomplish, you’ll spend a lot less time staring at the screen.

3. Committing yourself. Even once you’ve made time and planned what you want to accomplish, if you don’t bring your best intentions to the desk, it probably won’t get done. If I sit down to write, but find that I can’t stop thinking about the talk I had with my son’s teacher at school about a potential learning disability, or about whether or not to grow my hair out, then I’m not really there to write. I’m not committed and it’s worth getting up and doing something else until I’ve got all three elements aligned.

Is your writer’s block real, or are you just giving a name to the manifestation of a few other things that are getting in your way? Worth a look…

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Creating the Perfect Writing Space

I’ve actually done a lot of writing this week. Which, sadly, has not been the norm. But I’m getting back into a flow, have found a critique group that I’m excited about, and joined Scribophile. Thanks to those who offered ideas based on my last post, Finding a Sounding Board. This interweb crap is cool that way!

Part of what has enabled me to get moving again has been to lose the belief (or walk slightly further away from the belief) that the planets must be aligned perfectly for me to write. Previously, and for most of my life, I’d believed that all circumstances must be ideal for me to be able to get into my “zone” and create something. I needed an empty house. I needed silence. I needed the right chair, my slippers. I needed my coffee and it had to be morning, I thought. I just couldn’t be productive in the afternoon or evening. I could not be interrupted, and definitely could not have children around. I had to be at MY desk in MY office and that was that. And then, only then, might the writing gods deign to visit me with some sort of creative inspiration.

When I attended the Writers Digest Conference in NYC this January, I found that I had a lot of company in my belief that good writing came from a place of perfectly arranged physical circumstances. There were those who wrote late at night, with a glass of scotch. There were those who could not write without specific music. And there were those who could only write with a certain pen, in long hand (who, honestly, left me completely flabbergasted.)

What I have come to realize about all these needs, all the arrangements that we writers argue that we must have, is that they are all (mostly) crap. They are a set of excuses that allow us NOT to write. They are part of the fear of actually having to DO the thing we talk about doing. In my complete lack of time these days, which has become totally overshadowed by realizations of my own mortality and driving obsession with finally DOING something, I have come to find that I can actually write just about anywhere. Under almost any circumstances. In fact, I’ve come to like dropping down into the “zone” for a few brief minutes when I can find them, wherever they may happen. True, I do need a computer, since I cannot actually read my own handwriting. But aside from that, the rest of my requirements are ridiculous.

Writers, I think, like to believe that there is some magic in what we do. There is some mysticism that lets us accomplish what others, evidently, cannot. And writing, of course, cannot be as simple as sitting down and writing. There must be far more to it in order to discourage the dilettante masses from making an attempt to encroach on our sacred territory. So we create boundaries and restrictions upon ourselves and others, limiting the conditions under which greatness might be achieved.

I may not be the most accomplished writer. But I’ve come to believe that it’s all crap. Cut it out, guys. If you’re going to write, it isn’t going take the next solar eclipse to make it happen. It has nothing to do with moon phases or the perfect cup of coffee. It’s in you. Just sit down and do it.

— UPDATE —

Was just reading this over, and cannot call this post complete without linking to one of my VERY favorite songs, which I have herein reminded myself of by saying something like “Conditions must be perfect,” which is a line from this song (almost). If you are not familiar with Flight of the Conchords, you must get familiar. They are frickin’ hilarious. Here, as an introduction, I present their amazing song — perhaps hitting a bit too close to home: “Business Time.” Watch this only when conditions are perfect… perhaps on a Wednesday…

Free Time does not equal Work Getting Done

I have known this for a long time, but am always surprised to discover it anew: when I have the free time that I constantly long for, it does not result in me getting a crapload of work done as I always imagine it will. The one exception to this was Christmas break this year, when I took a week off while my kids were still in school, and got most of my first draft finished. In a week. Working pretty much constantly.

However, I have a weekend… or at least a whole day… and I don’t find myself wanting to sit and work. I have multiple projects going on. A draft to revise (ugh…deep sigh), another novel just barely taking shape, and an entirely new project that I’m eager to begin. I also have some freelance work that I’ve accepted for an old client (which will probably end up getting done since it isn’t only me who will be disappointed if it doesn’t).

But I will probably spend my long free day on frivolous pursuits, just as I whiled away last evening. I watched three episodes of Top Chef: Season 9, and We Bought a Zoo (which totally made me cry, and want to visit the real zoo…) Today I have big plans to go see The Hunger Games — like in an actual movie theater. I never get to do that! (Although to be honest, I want to see it a lot less since learning that Woody Harrelson is in it. I have met him, and am not a fan). At least I can sort of construe that vaguely as research. But really, it’s pure pleasure. Maybe I’ll drag my laptop out and do some work at Panera first… I love that place… But I usually go there because my own home is noisy/filthy/oppressive, and none of that is the case today. Hmmm. And then, it turns out to be a beautiful day, so some part of me just wants to create some kind of excuse to be outside.

I doubt I’m alone in this — do you find that when you have the most time, you get the least done? I wrote a first draft of my last novel in about 3 months, while working 60% for a defense contractor, maintaining a marriage and a house (this is arguable, but we’re not going to consult the man about it), and raising two tiny boys (also arguable, but unless you want to discuss uses of the word “poopbutt” there’s no point asking them what they think about my success). But having a whole day free? Nothing will get done. I’m 85% certain.