Did you ever hear of a house painter who had painter’s block? He or she just opened up the paint can and got on with it. Did you ever hear of a receptionist who had reception block? Feeling good or bad that day, they sat down and “receptioned” away. What about attorney’s block? Accountant’s block? Chef’s block? No?
So why is it any different for a writer?
Perhaps it is how the writing process is represented on TV and in the movies. You see the writer staring at a screen or into space incapable of putting anything down. Writer’s block, they call it.
Or you see someone staying at an idyllic cottage or seaside retreat that is supposed to be conducive to the writing process. They are substituting a perfect environment for actual writing. Oftentimes, they get little done.
Writing is a task, a job, an activity to confront and get done. The fact that you are dealing with words and significance, in my view, can sometimes make it harder to deal with than a physical task such as cleaning a floor, or painting a wall. You must be able to think straight, lay out facts in a sequence, and put words down. It could be a non-fiction piece about an area of relative unfamiliarity, or a created world of fiction. Whatever kind of writing, it can seem a lot easier than it is.
Some say they spend years working on a novel. It should take a few months tops. I well remember someone telling me they would need at least a month to research and write a magazine article. The same one took me a couple of days – it only paid $400, hardly a decent month’s wage.
When I wrote fiction, I targeted 2000 words per day, good or bad. I always made it. What about writer’s block? You just push through and get words down. If they aren’t good, you can always delete them or revise them.
If you really can’t write one day, do something else. On rare days, I am not quite with it mentally. I use those times to catch up on email, administrative tasks, or marketing actions. But if every day is like that, there is something wrong. Some days, when I feel that way, I don’t have the luxury of putting the article off for another couple of days. Deadlines loom. It’s time to grit your teeth and get it done.
When you can do that, you can call yourself a professional. And when you are one, you have fewer and fewer of such days.
This may be hard to stomach for the rookie or wannabe writer. But its certainly true for me. You really don’t need a beautiful vista to inspire you to be able to write. Such ideas are largely a pose, perhaps invented to entice people to book seaside cottages for the summer.
One of my most productive writing arenas is on a plane. Even a middle seat in economy. I get a lot done as soon as we pass 10,000 feet. I can do a 5-hour flight without a single break and write thousands of words. Good work, too.
What I love about airplanes is that you are stuck. Movies, these days, are so bad that there are rarely any I want to see. So I put on some music and get to work. When I’m home, it is easier to bounce off the task at hand, wash some dishes, put on some laundry, make a coffee, etc. It takes more discipline to write at home. But again, that’s another aspect of professionalism. You must possess the will to overcome any distractions and write.
That may be another reason why so few make it. It can be lonely. No workmates for banter. No boss walking in to entertain or annoy you. Just you, some ideas, and a screen.
I heard a story about a guy who could write wonderfully in a tiny New York apartment with a wife and two screaming toddlers under his feet all day. Success enabled him to move to a spacious country retreat. He was never as productive.
The moral of the story is that writer’s write. Whether you are overlooking a fjord with a rainbow forming over a cascading waterfall, or are sitting in a closet with no windows, you should be able to produce.
Get your head down, play a Nike commercial, and Just Do It!