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Writer’s Block: Turning a Negative into a Positive

Yes, even I the Sage One experiences writer’s block. In fact, I’ve got it right now. But the interesting thing is that I only have it around 2 out of my 4 classes, or I should say 2 out of 4 of my writing projects. Why is that? Bruce Holland Rogers, an award winning short fiction writer offers some thoughts on the matter in his essay Myth of Writer’s Block that are worth taking a look at, especially since he describes Writer’s block as is “a real live monster that you
ignore at your peril.”

Medusa: The Writer's God of Misery. She'll turn your brain into stone!

Personally, I responded to the idea that I have writer’s block simply because something is wrong with what I’m writing. Not that the writing is bad, but that when I sit down to work on these projects all my thoughts vanish behind my brain’s version of the Berlin Wall (clearly a situation where everyone loses). Since this only happens 1/2 the time, there must be something amiss about the blocky 1/2.

I think it’s as simple as this: I don’t give a shit about what I’m writing. Honestly. I wish I could just drop these two projects and work on the zillion or so other ideas that I have and am excited about. But I can’t, because that’s not how academia works. To get the grade you simply have to put your head down, do the work to the best of your ability, and be done with it. I wish I had some better news for you other student-writer’s out there struggling to get your final drafts on the page. I know how you feel, but the only light at the end of the tunnel that I can see is this: if you really don’t give a shit, then really don’t give a shit.

What I mean by that is just do whatever. Write some crap and call it a day, because here’s the gods honest truth about how college creative writing teachers grade (and I know because I am one): they really don’t care so long as you hand something in. That automatically gets you a B for effort, and a B ain’t bad. So if you want my advice, just have a fucking field day and write whatever bullshit comes to mind, string it together with some creative formatting, and laugh your ass off that you’re going to get away with the writer’s equivalent of murder (i.e. producing bad work). In this way you will turn a negative into a positive!

Positive 1 - Negative 0

Now, I’d like to point out that this method of overcoming writer’s block is only to be used as a last-ditch chance to save your ass. There are many other ways to overcome writer’s block that aren’t so cynical or potentially disastrous to your reputation. Let’s look at what those other methods might consist of.

First, you might want to try sneaking around writer’s block.

Like this guy who may look tough but is clearly hiding behind that column.

What I mean by that is this: write, but don’t write exactly how you should. If you’re having trouble writing a screenplay maybe sit down with your trusty marble notebook and write the first few pages as prose. That way you have something you can simply translate into the proper format. Or try this: write it in an email to a friend (though you might just want to save it as a draft and not actually send it). There’s something really soothing and comfortable-making about addressing your thoughts to a trusted friend. Most of the time it’s starring at the blank page that makes writer’s block feel so debilitating, so anything you can do to just get some words down with set you off down the right path.

Next. Just try your best in areas other than writing.

Like jujitsu.

 

Okay, I know I said your professors don’t give a shit about what you write so long as you meet the page requirement, but I lied. We do care, and there’s nothing more heartwarming than a student who clearly puts their all into their work. But here’s the thing: some students just aren’t good writers. That’s not their fault, and I’m certainly not going to dock them for not being born with natural talent. Also, some very good writers are just going through a rough time (creativity has been linked to insanity throughout the ages, so…). I’m not going to dock for that either. What I will dock them for is not trying. Come to office hours, write me a lengthy email about your current mental state, talk to me about what you’re thinking about writing, and always always come to class. Just do anything that shows that you care about your work. Your professors appreciate things like that and if you think you’re getting to the point where you might not turn in your final project, they’ll want to know why.

Thirdly, a lot of writer’s block actually arises out of perfectionism.

This chick was a perfectionist and look where that got her.

 

We think if it isn’t perfect then it isn’t worth writing. But here’s two great (and sometimes frustrating) things about creative writing: a. the work is never done, and b. all art is subjective, which means that there is no perfection in art. Once you realize that, you’re free to make mistakes, experiment, and enjoy whatever stage of the writing process you’re at. Also, along with point (a.), a lot of times when we’re experiencing writer’s block we’re usually jumping ahead, wishing we could just finish and be done with it, but the truth is even if you get to that last page and type the words THE END, that doesn’t mean the process stops there. You can always go back and revise once you’ve got a little more inspiration in you.

And one last final note. DON’T THINK OF IT AS WORK!!! Think of it as an “excercise.” This is especially useful if you’re a student-writer (as opposed to, say, an author accepted a writing grant but is now in the doldrums). Along with my last point about perfectionism, I’ll add that just as you should not expect perfection of yourself, your professors are also not expecting perfection. If you were perfect you wouldn’t need to be in school learning the tools of your craft. Instead, you are there to learn, and learning always always involves making mistakes. So be open to that, and remember that whatever project you’re working on it’s not like you’re competing in the Olympics. This is just an exercise leading up to that point.

And remember, I think you're a champ!

Hope that’s helpful!

Happy writing,

Holly