I’m notorious for saying that writer’s block is the luxury of the unpublished. That’s not entirely true, although I think it is more common now than in earlier decades. Plenty of famous and infamous writers throughout the history of the written word have suffered from writer’s block. However, in the harsh realities of modern publishing, if you expect to keep getting published, once you’re under a regular contract, you better be able to produce regularly, on time, and with a sustained quality.
That doesn’t mean you won’t hit a wall in your writing, get stuck, or find some other obstacle that gets between you and those blessed words “The End.” If you expect to sustain a writing career, especially in fiction, you’re going to have to learn how to integrate your writing and your life. Keeping them separate will not only continue to frustrate you, but fracture you psychologically. Business writers are invested in doing a hell of a good job in their copy, but they don’t invest the heart and soul fiction writers must in order to connect with their audience. It’s simply not the same writing experience, and many of the demands are very different. Whereas someone writing an annual report can get up and walk away at the end of the day, when you are doing your job properly, your characters will continue to whisper in your ear until you return to the page. Believe me, the numbers in the annual report never haunt me when I get up from the desk. But Jain Lazarus, Wyatt East, and Billy Root from my Jain Lazarus Adventures keep poking at me until I go back to my desk.
Unfortunately, sometimes they mumble or speak an incomprehensible language. Or even give you the silent treatment for awhile.
You’ve got to find ways to push through. The most important thing to do is to keep writing -- even if you switch to a different project for awhile. Writing is like running or yoga, or any other skill. You have to keep in practice. When you have too many days in a row without writing, your “writing muscles” atrophy. While you sometimes need to get away and not think about words on paper for a few days, if you expect to build a career, a writing practice is just as important as any skilled individual’s craft practice.
You also have to remember that why you THINK you’re stuck and why you’re ACTUALLY stuck might be two different things. Once you figure out WHY you’re stuck, you’ll be able to keep going. There are many different ways to figure it out, but most of them require stepping back and looking at the piece from a different perspective, not staying locked in to what you think you know and want, and all of them require you to keep writing.
What about the times when you want to put it away for awhile and look at it with fresh eyes? That’s okay, too. Just make sure you don’t put it aside indefinitely. Unfinished work weighs you down on a subconscious level, and it will start to bleed over into the next thing you write. If you put that aside, too, that will make you even heavier when you approach the next piece you write and so on and so forth. Finishing pieces is important to being able to create work.
And, even if you need to take “Perspective Breaks” occasionally, keeping up a regular writing practice will help you get back on track and stay on track when you get stuck. Remember that every word you write is another word you didn’t have yesterday.
Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in both fiction and non-fiction. Her blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee, can be found at http://devonellington.wordpress.com. She teaches frequently for Savvy Authors, and her workshop “Unstick Your Book” starts on March 3, 2001.