(I wrote the following in November of 2013 with no intention of publishing it. However in looking at it now, I realize that this might be of some interest to a few of my readers.)
I have one and only one cure for writer’s block. Sometimes it will take me a while to realize I even have writer’s block. I like to mull things over in my head a lot before I write them, so I can easily stare at a screen for awhile without being truly blocked. But occasionally I will find myself staring off away from the screen after having sat in front of the computer for several minutes. I’m not thinking about writing anymore because whatever I’m trying to write isn’t working. So my brain goes off in other directions. What’s funny is that I am still writing during these times, I’m just writing off-task. Rather than mulling over the thing I need to work on, I’m mulling over what makes a person good at cleaning or how television transitioned away from the single-season-with-summer-break schedule. I write dialogs of imagined conversations I wished I would have had with people I was previously angry with. I imagine how I might introduce myself were I to become a Wall Street consultant, or the many things I would say to congress were I ever given the chance. These are tiny, separate essays that I write in my brain all the time. I have no where to put them, which is why I continue to mull instead. And they are the things I escape to when writing isn’t happening.
After an unknown period of staring into space while I write one of these lost essays, I realize that I must be stuck. There is a block between what I know I must accomplish and the act of accomplishing it. And that’s when I employ the only means I have of getting unstuck from this particular problem. I write about why I can’t write.
It may go something like this: say I want to tell a story about someone close to me, but I’m afraid of casting them in an unfair light. I know I don’t think poorly of them, but I worry that I won’t have the craft to convey the facts in a way that remains both true and positive. And I get stuck. I try to think through my writing and I can only think of explanations that are unfair to my friend. I may not realize this unfairness is why all the words sound wrong, I just know they do. And so I begin to type out my reasoning. I drop whatever voice I’m using, I ignore any sense of time or space. I start typing as though I am directly addressing the page, and therefore the problem. And I usually can’t get through more than two paragraphs before the problem is solved. Either I have eased myself into the problem and started on the path towards my intended topic, or I have stumbled upon something even more interesting to write about. Either way I am writing. When I am done I typically go back and trash those first two paragraphs and, like magic, my story starts exactly where it ought to.
Writing through the problem is in fact what I am doing right now. The thing you are currently reading is an example of me getting over writer’s block. It’s National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to finish a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I did it last year and had a lot of fun. Since I still have a lot of trip to write about, I decided this year I would make my 50,000 words go towards getting the rest of the journey down on paper. This means that rather than writing a blog post every other day, I have to write 1-2 posts every day, depending on their length. It’s tiresome and difficult to do NaNo anyway, but I’ve managed to back myself into an especially difficult corner: I’m not allowed to suck.
That’s the phrase: Allow Yourself to Suck. I credit Mur Laugherty with those exact words, but the sentiment is true for everyone during NaNo. Your goal is to get a lot of words down on paper. Not all of those words will be great. It doesn’t matter. Editing is for December. For now you must keep writing.
But I can’t wait until December. I need to produce 13 fully edited posts before November is over. And considering it often takes me as long to edit a post as it does to write it, and considering many of my blogs have gone over the 1,667 words needed per day for NaNo, I have been writing with a NaNo-level time commitment for FIVE MONTHS. And for four of those months I was also trying to figure out where I was going to sleep every night.
I know there are professional writers who will easily crank out 4,000-10,000 words a day all the time. But I am not there yet, and as I understand it that kind of production takes many people years to reach. And so I’m left with my only recourse, my only solution. I write out my problems. Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to get back on track. Maybe I’ll have to write through some more problems first. But for now, I can clock the rough draft of this post at 864 words, which brings me over the edge for how much I needed to write today. It’s a long way to December. But it was a long way across the country and back. And just like hiking up the Grand Canyon or driving through Oklahoma farmland, sometimes forward is the only direction. Walk, walk. Drive, drive.