Writer’s Block is a Lie
Writers write. That’s the definition of a writer, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. We don’t wait around for inspiration to hit us, because then it is too late; we stop writing and ergo, we are not being writers! Between graduate school and publications, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for ideas to come to me. Instead, each day I pay my homage to my muses – my commitment to my words shows the dedication to my work, and my faith that even though today, my muse may not be with me, she will come. She always comes when I need her the most, because she trusts that I will be faithful – and I am!
Quantity is for the writer. Quality is for the reader.
An English professor of mine who is a prolific writer told me that writers only publish about 10% of what they write. Translate this, and it means for every 100 words you put on the page, your reader only sees 10 of them – but they are your best 10! It is a fatal mistake that we learn in our high school English classes that word count matters. In my experience, yes, it matters – you must be able to mean more with less.
In order to get specifically to what you mean, you must write. You must write a lot of words. I learned this lesson a few years ago in my class, when I needed to write an autoethnography. Every day, I would freewrite and memo – jot down notes, thoughts, everything that came to my mind. I wrote over 40 pages, but none of it was focused or really explaining what I wanted to say. My professor taught me how to take those 40 pages, and code it for the most important topics. Then, I organized my topics, and rewrote the paper. This time, I stuck within the 25 paged limit, and did very well on it! However, it was still not good enough for publication. It took two more complete rewrites to get that paper down to less than 15 pages. Finally, finally, my work will be published in November or December of this month! This process took over two years to complete!
My lesson from this, is that I had to write a lot of words, and rewrite many of my ideas, until I could get them to exactly where they needed to be. Writing is a way of thinking – it is a process of placing stray thoughts into existence on a page. Only then, once these thoughts exist, can you shape them to the way you want. Even in this case, it takes a lot of time and practice, and fussing. Your finished product, however, may be very small, but it represents your best work.
Remember that readers don’t want quantity. They don’t want to sift through extraneous drivel to get at your meaning. Otherwise, you will have already lost them. Instead, always, put your best words forward. Hold back the other words, because they are for you. They are the ethos that you need in order to practice your art!
Everything is crap. Then you make it better.
It is a lie to believe that the first thing we write is what we end up publishing. Everything I write begins with typos, awkward sentences, and it’s just poo on a page. The art to writing comes in the editing process. When we write with the faith that we can go back and make it better, and we fuss over it to make it better – you write better! Also, after my 40 paged fiasco, I learned that sometimes, it’s better to start over, and I lost my fear of rewriting.
I have met people where their inner critic makes them afraid of writing. It is this fear that causes writer’s block, because people think that you must write brilliantly to begin, or that you must have a wonderful idea before you can write! What they don’t understand, is that the ideas come when you edit. The important thing is that there are words there, so that you can catch that idea at the moment it happens. Sometimes, it is not so much that you catch the idea, but that you build TO the idea. That may not happen until after multiple rewrites! You must have faith though, that it will come. When you work hard enough, the ideas and inspiration will always come. …and if the idea has not arrived? It means you must work harder!
Then, once the idea has arrived, you must refine your words. It’s like shaping a pile of clay into a sculpture – you mold it, and carve away the things that are not needed. You work on quality, and not quantity, until finally, it becomes presentable! The hard work is not necessarily in the writing of the words – it is all about the editing!
Beating the so called Block – Make writing a habit each and every day
My friend Aubrey wrote a fantastic post on capturing your muse when you write. She gives a wonderful list of ideas that you can try in order to keep writing. For me, I make writing habit: I write every day. Although it may not be about my topic, or a specific paper, I still continue to write, because I am in the habit of writing. Then I edit my work, and put it in the right place (ie. manuscript writing goes to my manuscript binder, RP ideas go into my idea notebook, comprehensive exam goes into comprehensives file…etc.).
Often times, like now when I have a deadline, I don’t the luxury of writing what I want to write, or what I feel like writing. So instead, I write a lot on the topic that I must write about. It may not be very good, but given enough time, I know that I can edit it to be better. In any case, I make progress. I make something that I can sculpt into what I need it to be. Writing every day gives you the clay that you need in order to create your art. Continue to practice, and this process becomes easier, and you develop a trust with your muses. The muses will always come when you need them, because they know that you are always there to welcome them when they arrive.
I end with a quote:
You only fail if you stop writing. ~Ray Bradbury
So…what are you waiting for? WRITE!