Tag Archives: writers block

The Writer’s Guide to Pulling Teeth

I know how it is. You wake up. Or maybe you’re about to go to bed. Whenever it is, you sit down to write.

You know what you want to say, you understand the turns the plot needs to take, and you’ve got a good handle on your characters. But when you actually start to write it feels like things Just. Aren’t. Working.

Your brain feels like sludge, the words dribble onto the screen like thick sewage, and you start to get depressed. You know you’re better than this. You can remember good days, great days even, when the story flowed out like a mighty river, when the only thing that could hold it back was the fact that you couldn’t type fast enough to get it all out.

How do I know all this? Well, the truth is, I’m clinging to the ceiling directly above you at this very moment, looking down on your foolish attempts with my segmented eyes.

Don’t look.

Wait, no, I’m sorry. What I meant to say is that I know your pain because I’ve gone through it too.

I’ll be sitting there trying to get the words out, and it’s like pulling teeth. I’m the word-dentist reaching into the mouth of creativity and yanking out sentences with a pair of vice grips. What’s that? Pain killers? You don’t need no stinking pain killers. Man up.

And you know what? That’s okay.

Not every day of writing needs to be fun or easy. Sometimes the flow just won’t happen like you want it to.  It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or your work. It just means that you need to slow down. Take your time. Let your mind have time to get it right.

This is something I’ve been personally coming to terms with more and more lately. I’ve been learning to stop beating myself up when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Because, on the one hand, we all know creativity boils down to a lot of hard work. But in your gung-ho fervor to sling those words, don’t forget that there’s something slightly magical about this whole process.

Maybe you think you’re ready to write, but some part of the back of your brain is telling you there’s something wrong. Maybe you haven’t sorted out the plot as well as you thought. Maybe your sleep deprived brain just doesn’t have the energy it needs.

Whatever. Like I said, it’s okay. Stop being miserable about the fact that you can’t hit a home run and focus on getting to first base.

And let me be perfectly transparent here: this advice isn’t really for you. It’s for me five years ago. It’s something I’ve been learning to deal with ever since I started writing. And after all that time I think I’m finally coming to the point where I can accept the good along with the bad, take the easy days and the hard days as they come.

But maybe you can get something out of it too. I hope so. If not, I’ll refund your money in full, cash, no questions asked.

I’ll hand it down to you from my spot on the ceiling.

P.S. I really dig the title “word dentist.” If I ever make it as a writer, I think that’s what I’m going to put in those little forms where it says “Occupation.”

A Modest Proposal for the Preventing of Writer’s Block

No such thing as writer’s block.

You heard me. Don’t bother arguing. Chuck Wendig said it first, so you know it must be true.

But, but…well you’ve been there. I’ve been there too. You sit down at your computer, or with a clay tablet and chisel or whatever it is you happen to use to write an and…nothin’. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Diddly has moved into your brain and Squat is measuring for the new drapes. It’s not a pretty picture.

But you tell yourself it’s all in your head. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block. Gas station attendants don’t get gas station attendant’s block. Carpenters don’t get carpenter’s block.

So what’s your problem?


See, there are days when I don’t feel like going into work. There are days when I get in my car and I hate the thought of staying so long inside that the sun will be long gone by the time I come back out again.

But I do it anyway. Because I like to eat. Because I like living in a house with air-conditioning and running water. Because I like the idea of my wife not dying from acute ketoacidosis due to lack of insulin. Because I have to.

Writing is the same way for me. Every day I get up and I write a new blog post. Some days I really honestly don’t feel like doing it. But in the back of my mind there is someone out there who is expecting this post. You’ve got my blog in your RSS feed on your phone and if it doesn’t show up before you take your lunch break at work you’re going to wonder what happened to me.

Maybe the person I just described doesn’t actually exist. But in my mind he does. And I’m accountable to him. I’m accountable to all of you. But my other writing? You don’t know about it. You don’t know if I wrote a hundred words today or a thousand. I’m not accountable to anyone for that writing.

Maybe you’re stronger than me. Maybe you’ve got the self-discipline to sit down and work whether you feel like it or not, day in and day out, rain or shine. If you are, congratulations. You will go far in life.

But for me it can be a struggle. There are so many distractions available out there and even though I’ve written about staying committed to your writing before I still struggle with it myself. A few days ago someone tweeted this quote:

“You teach best what you most need to learn.” – Richard Bach

And it’s true. I do my best to encourage you all, and give you a kick in the pants when I think you might need it, but the truth is I haven’t got it all sorted out either. I’m working on it though.

I think fellow blogger The Hack Novelist is onto something. He opens his blog posts every day with the phrase “I wrote x words today.” He makes himself accountable for the work that no one but him sees.

I’m not going to do the same thing exactly, but what I am going to do is find someone to be accountable to. Probably someone out there in Twitterland. Someone who I’ll go to every day and say, “I wrote x words today.”

You may not like that specific scheme, but I encourage you to try something similar for yourself. Make yourself accountable to someone else and see if it doesn’t help you be more consistent with your goals. Because somewhere in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking, “I don’t feel like writing today, but if I don’t I’m going to have to tell Steve that I wrote all of zero words. Guess I’ll pound out at least a few hundred so I won’t look like a total bum.”

I think we’ll all be better for it. Because even though writing often seems like a solitary process, the truth is that this is the place where we need each other more than ever.

Writing Around the Block

Sometimes writing sucks.

I mean it. Sure there are times when the words are flowing like the wind beneath your wings, but then there are those other times…

Maybe your main character has painted himself into a corner and can’t get out without punching a huge plot hole into the wall of your story. Or maybe you get that “I’m a no good loser who’s never going to make something of himself in the world.”

Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve gotten to that point were your words taste like sawdust in your mouth and no matter how hard you try they won’t come out right.

In theory they should be fine words. They seem fine enough when you first think of them. But then, you try to put them down on paper and suddenly they’re all wrong. “Is this my writing?” you think. “Is this what it’s all come to? What is wrong with me?”

Or maybe this never happens to you at all. But it happens to me. Not frequently, but it does happen. It’s that wonderful little syndrome called writer’s block.

Writer’s block has something of a mythos about it. It’s so prevalent that even non-writers have heard of it, and speak of its gloom as if they had experienced it for themselves.

But we know the truth. It isn’t so much the terror of the blank page as it is the fear of the words themselves. We’re giving birth to a thought out of the darkest corners of our minds, and as we try to get the words out onto the paper we are gripped with the fear that our offspring will be stillborn.

Sometimes this problem has a physical root. I’ve noticed for instance that it’s nearly impossible for me to write if I’m very hungry. It’s not that I’m a glutton, but the simple fact is my brain needs the physical nutrients to work properly. Other times writer’s block can come out of a lack of sleep.

But sometimes it’s just there, like a heavy fog pressing down on our minds whenever we try to form thoughts into words.

But let me let you in on a little secret. Sometimes writer’s block is a trick, an illusion. It feels so real, I know. But it’s not.

I know because I had writers block this morning.

I sat down to write the blog post I had all planned out, and nothing was working. I really wanted to give up. I wanted to type, “Hey, guys can’t think of anything interesting to say today, so tune in tomorrow and see if it gets any better.”But then I asked myself, “What if I feel this way tomorrow or the next day, or the next one after that?”

I knew I had to make a stand. So I wrote. Starting with, “Sometimes writing sucks.”

And sometimes it really does. But I learned something valuable from Kristen Lamb a few weeks back. She said this: “Feelings lie.” Just two little words, and yet if we could learn to apply them, not only to writing, but to every area of our lives what a difference they could make. In its purest form writer’s block is nothing more than a feeling. And it lies every single time.

So when you’re looking at that blank screen and thinking all of your words sound like crap, sit down and write anyway. Don’t let your feelings dictate what kind of writer you’re going to be. Because you won’t always feel like a writer. But your feelings don’t define you. Your decisions define you. So when you don’t feel like writing, make the decision to write anyway.

When it’s all said and done, you’ll look back and wonder how you could have ever let a little thing like writer’s block stand in your way.