Uncorking the Genie
We’re all familiar with writer’s block, even those of us who aren’t writers. What, you never dreaded a school paper just because you didn’t know what to say? At least with a research paper, or a book report, there’s a kernel of… something there. With fiction it’s both easier and harder. Easier because, as you rightly point out, we’re just making it all up. Harder because fiction, unlike real life, must make a modicum of sense and follow a narrative path (even if said path doubles back on itself a few times. But woe betide the writer who loses his Reader in the deep dark woods far from home. The Reader may close up the book in fright, having lost the path entirely, and worse, they may never choose you, Author, as their guide again).
With all this in mind, is it any wonder we have times where we stare at the blank screen/paper and wonder just where our fickle muse got off to? Surely that mental genie is having more fun than we are, stuck here staring at the incessant blinking cursor. For me, being a professional means I need to have a measurable, predictable output when I sit down to write. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes to pull that cork, I have to build up a head of steam and pop it out by pressure, first. Like yesterday. We drove for about six hours, down into Kentucky and back, and spent about six hours visiting while we were down there. Tiring day, but as my Evil Muse pointed out, the next time I complain about being blocked, he’s going to pick up the car keys and herd me to it for a long drive to nowhere. We talk, in the car, and often enough we talk about writing. Sometimes he’ll give me the idea that crystallizes everything that has been floating nebulously around in my head and boom… it all comes out of solution into a beautiful structure.
For those times that hours in the car are just not practical, other solutions I have found include standing in the shower (there’s something about being places where you CANNOT write, and suddenly you need to write), doing dishes, walking the dog… Others have reported good results from similar activities.
However, for consistent daily results, keep in mind that writing is mental exercise. Just like building muscle and burning fat, you can’t just sit down one day, put in a huge burst of effort, and expect that to do all the work and you don’t have to go to the gym again this year. Small daily exercises will yield far more effective results in the long term. It feels uncomfortable and awkward at first, to make yourself write. You may doubt that what you are writing is worth keeping. I will be honest, in the long run you might not keep that work. But in the beginning, you aren’t allowed to doubt it. Keep writing, and when you come to the end of the tale, then and only then may you go back and see what you have wrought.
I’ve seen far too many people get hung up there, on the rocks and shoals of doubt. With the beginning of a story, they suddenly doubt if it’s right. Or they are uncomfortable with what they are writing. Readers may not know this, but writers are insecure, shallow creatures. This is why we crave and cling onto reviews, even long after our efforts on that particular book have ceased. However, if you the Author never finish that story, you’ll never know whether you got it right, or not.
I rarely give writing advice. When I do, it consists of a few simple things, but they all center around this. Write. Just write. if your muse is being recalcitrant, you can either pop the cork out by thinking about the story until it comes to life in your head and you wind up dictating it all in a rush as it is told to you, or you can force the cork out slowly by writing a little every day. Like exercise, that’s a slower process. But it will pay off in the long run, as you build up the mental muscles until when a sudden need says ‘I need a story/blog post/paper in an hour.. Go!” you’ll be able to do it almost effortlessly. And while a 10K word day will be a physical ache, after, it will also be a thrill like standing on top of a mountain looking down and remembering the day you could barely make it across a parking lot.