I never used to think it was. I always thought it was a bit of a silly concept, really. You can’t think what to write? Just write something else! If you’re struggling to complete a scene/chapter/book, simply switch to writing a different scene/chapter/book and all your problems will be solved. It doesn’t matter what you write, after all, as long as you’re writing.
That’s probably reasonable advice for a normal case of being stuck, but true writer’s block is different. Or at least, the thing that I’m now calling writer’s block – having experienced it, and still experiencing it right now – is different from any other kind of writing struggle I’ve had before.
I’ve posted a few times recently about the difficulty I’m experiencing with my third Darkhaven novel, and people have come back with a ton of advice. Set a certain amount of time aside for writing each day – it doesn’t matter if you only write a sentence during that time, as long as you’re doing it. Write something else, something fun instead of deadline-driven. Give yourself a break – walk away, do other things, come back to it when you’re feeling refreshed. I love all my writer friends, and I really, really appreciate the time they’ve taken to support me. But the thing is, I’m on a deadline.
Now, I usually love deadlines. They’re the main impetus I have to get anything done. In the past, writing without a deadline has been equivalent to never finishing, because I have no reason to draw a line under what I’ve done and say That’s good enough. So I just tinker endlessly. But with this particular deadline … well, I’ve already pushed it back once, and that’s once too many. I meet deadlines. I pride myself on meeting deadlines. I don’t want to feel like I’m failing as a deadline-meeter as well as a writer.
At this point, you may be detecting a certain level of obsessiveness. Everyone misses deadlines sometimes. It happens. Just ask for another extension. But my problem with that is that I’m afraid it will push me deeper into the cycle of I can’t do this. I’m already pretty deep in it. I need it to crack open and release me, not sink its teeth in further. Having more time would stretch the problem into the future, making it more daunting, and sending my brain more tightly into its relentless spiral of self-doubt.
So as a result, I don’t have time to take a break or write something different. And while setting aside a certain amount of time for writing every day would be lovely, it’s not going to happen. I get time when I get time. Sometimes my children are ill. Sometimes my husband needs help with something. Sometimes there’s another job to do. And since I get a maximum of two hours a day for everything that’s not kids or work, there’s no way I can consistently spend those two hours on writing.
(And yes, I could sleep less. But I have a full-time job, and I don’t consider it ethical to function at less than my full capability at work because I’ve deliberately cut my sleep short in order to write. I know how much sleep I need to do a good job. With children around, I don’t always get it as it is. I certainly can’t justify getting less than what I do get.)
But all of this is missing the point, really. Because the thing about writer’s block is that it stops me from writing anything at all. (Fiction, anyway – I seem to be perfectly capable of writing reviews and opinion pieces and articles about goddamn writer’s block.) No matter whether the period of time I have to write in is big or small, no matter what I try to write, there’s a little voice that tells me I’m useless. And not only that – there is what almost seems to be a literal block in my brain, preventing me from being able to think about what I’m working on. I try and think about it, and my brain throws up distractions – or, failing that, it just goes completely blank. And yet when I’m not writing, that exact same brain nags me constantly about it: you should be writing. You’re going to miss your deadline. You’re going to fail. So even the option of relaxing and doing something else is closed to me, because I can’t relax. Ever. Ever.
I can imagine some of the more seasoned writers among you nodding wisely and saying It sounds as though your heart isn’t really in this book. You don’t love it enough. Maybe your subconscious knows there’s a plot hole, maybe you’ve made a narrative or stylistic choice somewhere that you don’t like, maybe you’re simply fed up with the characters. But honestly? I’m pretty sure that none of that is true. I like this book. I think it could be the best one yet. I just don’t know how to get it out of me.
My fingers have moved faster over the keys, typing this article, than they have done for months writing the thing I want and need to write. That’s pretty sad.