There’s No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

Years ago I was looking at how much cartooning — writing, pencilling, inking, and coloring — was required to keep Schlock Mercenary going each day, and I asked myself how I could possibly be doing it. Because without knowing how, I WAS doing it. And while thinking along these lines I began to wonder whether discovering how it was done would have some sort of quasi-quantum effect, wherein I find that I can either know how its done, or do it, but not both.

I wondered if I was like the bumblebee, whose flight cannot be described by the conventional laws of aerodynamics, but who doesn't need to describe it… he just needs to keep flapping. That actually became the watchword around my house for years — Sandra and I would look at how much work needed to be done, and she'd smile at me and say "keep flapping."

As both a spiritualist and a scientist, I'm confident of two things: 1) "know thyself" is always a happier path than ignorance and 2) Heisenberg's uncertainty principle only applies to very, very tiny things. And so I found myself attending a panel entitled "Care and Feeding of the Creative Process" last weekend in Los Angeles at the 64th Annual World Science Fiction Convention in hopes of figuring out a bit more about what I do, and maybe even figuring out how to do it better.

The panelists, all of whom are published authors and/or illustrators in the Fantasy and Science Fiction Market, began by agreeing on one thing: There is no such thing as Writer's Block.

That's a powerful concept. Whether or not you currently believe it, there is strength to be found in repeating aloud "there is no such thing as Writer's Block."

The panelists (Stephen Leigh, Laura Anne Gilman, James Stanley Daugherty, and one other whose name escapes me) went on to qualify these fighting words: there may be times when you cannot write what you were hoping to write. Usually this is because you've already written all day and you're exhausted, or because you simply don't know what you want to say. But actual cases where you sit down in front of the keyboard and cannot write anything are extremely rare. If that's REALLY what you've got, get psychiatric help.

I listened carefully throughout the panel, and identified tactics I could use in order to keep my Muse happy. The best, and most easily abused, is "I'm thinking about writing right now." Cleaning the kitchen, taking a shower, and folding laundry can all be part of the creative process, because they are activities that allow the mind to wander. Exploit these times, and chase your wandering mind onto productive paths. But don't make the mistake of doing chores instead of writing.

My second-favorite tactic is one they called "A.I.C." — Ass In Chair. Sit down, and don't get up. Get to work. You may not want to write right now, but if you want to get fed, paid, or finished with this, it is time to start. Plant yourself.

Closely related: don't allow distractions into your workspace. This is probably where most of us suffer — if you've got World of Warcraft or a massive Live Journal friends list waiting for you at the computer where you try to work, A.I.C. will fail unless you've got lots and lots of willpower. My own computer has no games on it.

The panelists went on to describe what is my current favorite muse-enhancing tactic: Think Outside of The Box. Literally… get up, pack up your work, and take it outside of your usual workspace. Go someplace else. Ms. Gilman described camping in the neighborhood Starbucks, where there was lots of conversational white-noise and a short and defensible supply line for caffeine.

A little over six months ago I began hauling my scripts to the local comics-and-games store. I seemed to feel more productive there, and while I didn't know exactly why, I figured I'd exploit it while it lasted. The Bonus Story for the first Schlock Mercenary book was pencilled and inked there. At this point almost ALL of my pencilling and inking is done down there. It's wonderful. They let me pull in a drawing table, and I'm kind of the "resident cartoonist" at this point. I still do all my scripting and coloring at home, but for some reason my pencilling and inking is just better and faster when I do it at the Dragon's Keep.

Maybe it's because I'm surrounded by the work of people who are a lot better at it than I am. Then again, perhaps it's because there's no place for me to take a nap, so I might as well just keep working until I'm done.

I've never heard of "artist's block." Perhaps that's because artists often start their day with warm-up sketches. They may not know what the day's project will look like when the day is still beginning, but they know they'll be drawing all day, so they might as well limber up. That seemed to be what the Worldcon panelists were driving at when they said "start by writing SOMETHING." And in that vein, I think I've figured out what comes next in my strip, so I can wrap up this blog entry and get some actual work done.

Howard

29 Comments

  1. Sure, it's possible to just sit down and write anything, but if you're:

    Â – writing to spec

    and

    Â – on a deadline

    Â Then for all intents and purposes you have writer's block. Sure, maybe not an all-encompassing block, but it is a barrier between where you are now and your paycheck…

  2. I'm always amused when someone claims that a particular condition, including writer's block, doesn't exist.Â

    Maybe it doesn't affect the person making the claim. That's great for him or her but to infer from that that it doesn't exist for anyone else is stretching a point. It's like saying: "I don't put on weight even when I over-eat, so therefore obesity doesn't exist." Or "fish don't die when you throw them into water, so therefore drowning doesn't exist."

    Some writers may not be affected by writer's block or may have found that a particular way of dealing with it works for them. But since so many of the world's greatest writers have openly complained of having suffered from it, I'm prepared to believe them and concede that, despite periodic claims to the contrary, it does exist, after all.

    Broken Voice Comics
    Because comics are not just for kids

  3. None of the panelists at WorldCon called that "writers' block." You can if you want to, but I think that's actually your garden variety "I need this written right in a hurry, but I can't figure out what comes next."

    If that's all you're suffering from, you're probably a real writer, with an actual career in the field.

  4. More trite aphorisms. Thank you. For my next article I'll compare writers block to cancer, and have Lance Armstrong post testimonials.Â

    If you are having trouble writing, don't just call it "writers' block" and go get drunk. Sit down and try to figure out why you're not able to write what you want.

    Sure, great authors have claimed to have writers' block. And lots of other great writers have moved past that petty complaint, and figured out what needed to be figured out in order to write what needed to be written.

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