When Writing Isn’t Working: My Experience

I feel like I’m phoning in the writing of late.

Doesn’t really matter what you think. I’m the doer. The deciderer. If I don’t buy what I’m sellin’, then I’m wasting my time.

Writing isn’t like washing dishes. Doing it on autopilot ain’t gonna float, Joe.

And I don’t know where that went. That “thing” that makes writing awesome.

For me, writing’s like a bad lover. Doesn’t always stick around when you need it. Communication’s either there or it’s not. It’s easy to feel alone when you’re with it, and not in a good way. There’s not a lot of dialogue, just feuding voices in your head.

People who claim they wish they could write have no idea what they’re asking for.

The Realities of Writing

It’s a demanding thing. It needs hours, days, weeks, years of your life to get done and get done well. Part of it’s sheer luck — getting born with a gift for words and swirlie-idea-thingies, well, you can’t send away for a degree at the University of Phoenix for that.

It’s a worldview. It’s believing you have a perspective that’s worth registering as a voice in the cosmic mix.

You have to really believe in yourself when you write. You need to commit to word choice, slap that vocabulary down. Then you have to turn around and doubt every fucking thing you wrote. You need to read it like you’re the Word Reaper, slashing ’em away with your sickle. It’s a Jekyll/Hyde thing, writing/editing. Love it, then hate it, on purpose.

There’s a lot of debate out there…

Does Writers’ Block Exist?

I can unequivocally say YEAH. Oh, yeah. Sometimes writers’ block (I use plural ’cause I know I ain’t alone in my “writer’s block” experience) is more like the Great Wall of China than it is the cinderblock fence down the road.

The thing is, it can be overcome. But sometimes the things causing the block just need attention, time, and perseverance. Sometimes it’s about making choices because priorities need to happen.

Face it. Writing happens by sitting on your ass with your implements of choice, doling out letters, words, phrases. No phone calls, no outside world, no need to wear pants.

Writing takes time away from everything and everyone in your life. It’s a selfish, solitary struggle. Hanging out with your friends? Gets in the way. Doing your dayjob? Another “block.” Dealing with real-life situations, everything from relationships to rehab? Another obstacle.

So, when you’re talking about life distractions, focus issues, and the equivalent of creative impotence, you can understand how TIMING is everything.

So, It Can Be Fixed, Right?

Writers’ block absolutely can be overcome. But it’s like the old joke — if there’s a wind at my back, the stars align, and the cosmos is on my side, maybe it’ll all work out.

You gotta have the right timing. That feeling of “Oh. I could… expound on that, you know. Well, THAT’s an interesting line…” is exactly when to jump on writing. Why I started this post was, I wrote this tweet and thought “I just like the way that sounds,” and thought “Maybe I should blog.”

So, if the mood hits, and you need a topic, well, what do you write about?

For me, if I’m at a loss, I’ll usually start writing about what I just ate and whether it was yummy. Then I’ll write about the weather. Then I somehow hit a “you know, earlier, X happened” or “I saw Y” vein, and the tangent will lead me into something that’s actually been playing in my head but all the STUFF got in the way. THEN I delete all the crap about breakfast, yummy-factor, and the weather. Poof. We has writing.

But there are times when I’m just not feeling the joy, and nothing has been interesting to me for a few days, and everything I write’s crap, even if I’m trying.

When they say “shit happens,” they’re talking about writing quality too. For all of us. Anyone who tells you that you can be consistently excellent at writing is someone who doesn’t have a fucking clue about writing.

You can sure try. But that’s what editing is for. Coming back with fresh eyes, judiciously cutting/splicing, and recreating it.

And Then We Edit

They say movies are born or killed in the editing suite. Sure, you can shoot a movie, but until the editor splices that thing together, it don’t mean jack. It’s as much in the edit as it is in the original draft that writing is made.

If you don’t have the passion when writing, or at least the craft of copy, then it’s a hard thing to salvage but it CAN be done, especially if you know you have more in you then you put on the page, and you’re open to rewriting and amending entire sections. Some of my best work was “add-on” work that I started just so I’d get my half-ass idea down, then completely reworked later.

Bottom Line: Fake It Till You Make It

Lately, writing’s been obligatory for me. Seldom is it something I’m inspired to write, and I know it feels that way to me when I read it back. Technically, it’s not bad. But it needs a little soul.

So, if I’m not writing well lately, why bother? ‘Cos that’s how you get past it. Keep trying. It’s why I wait for a notion to hit me. The chances of not sucking are higher when I’m not forcing it. Eventually, the things getting in my way will get the fuck out of my way, and I’ll have that day where I LOVE the feeling of writing.

Ultimately, as hard as writing is, as both a friend and foe, I’m quite sure writing and reading have saved my life at times, and they’ve certainly shaped who I am.

If writing is as much a state of being as it is of doing, I generally love the kind of perspective I have on the world. It’s fun being in my head when I’m on creative bents. It becomes like a drug I wonder how I could ever live without. But, like heroin junkies and other addicts, it’s a high we seldom get to live for very long because the price we pay is high. Eventually we come crashing back to that place where it’s a struggle to do things well.

But that’s why they call it a ride.

Love it or hate it, writing’s the thing that’s been a part of me more than and longer than anything else — and when I’m not doing it the way I want to, not hitting the target like I love to, it’s kind of hard not to feel like I’m not the person I thought I was.

And that, too, is part of writing. Self-doubt, disappointment. A “block” is something we take very personally, and with good reason.

But I’ve been blocked before, and breaking through it is an amazing feeling, and a great time to be a writer. It’s worth the struggle. For me, anyhow.