In talking about the changes in the publishing industry and their devastating effect on midlist authors, I’ve touched on the phenomenon of writer’s block. I talked about it briefly in a guest blog elsewhere. For authors whose careers have been shattered, this is a very real and debilitating problem.
Really? you may say. Just this week, a twitter link led to a set of advice for writers that stated categorically, “Writer’s block is bogus,” and instructed the writer to just sit down and write and the words would come.
And on another blog, the same one where I was a guest in fact, a fellow longtime writer declared, “I don’t understand why people stop writing. I’ve never had that problem.”
This is so common it’s a meme. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s just an avoidance mechanism. Or an attention-getting device. Or an excuse. The advice is invariably, “Quit the drama and write.” “Just sit down and push out the words.” “Stop claiming you believe in ghosts and get real.”
I used to be that person. I had contracts. I had deadlines. I had bills to pay. I couldn’t wait for the Muse to get off the beach in Aruba and deliver the latest masterpiece. I had to get out there and write it no matter what state of mind I might fancy myself to be in. Of course there was no such thing as writer’s block. Who could afford it?
There were times, I will admit, when the words weren’t flowing and the well felt so dry I could feel the bucket scraping bottom. I’d push through to the end, send the ms. in, and collapse for a few days or weeks and let the well fill up. But it always did. And there was always another contract to keep me pushing on.
As the contracts got smaller and the bylines had to change to try to capture a new level of sales, the push got harder. The burnout came sooner. The love wasn’t there–the books were what they were, but that was mostly this season’s hay bill.
And then the contracts…weren’t. Other things happened at that same time, life things, emotional things. Everything crashed down. The well was dry, dry, dry.
And this time it didn’t refill.
Oh, there were words. Blogs. Articles. Editing happened, and teaching–those used different parts of the virtual brain, and paid the bills that writing could no longer pay. Insofar as writers write, this writer wrote…nonfiction.
Fiction wasn’t there. Everything else was just words. Stories were like breathing.
I coudn’t breathe. Literally. Would sit down and try to come up with something, anything, that resembled a story. And there would be nothing–except cold sweats, sick stomach, throbbing head. A panic attack, when I tried to do what I used to do all day, every day, because it was what I was.
Oh yes. Block is real. I have no doubt that a large part of what passes under that name is indeed an excuse, but for all those who deny that there is a genuine, gut-wrenching, brain-breaking, soul-destroying inability to get words of fiction down on a page, I am here to tell you in all sincerity: Lucky, lucky you. May you always be so blessed. And may you never slam head-on into that wall and have to hear that there is no wall and you are just making it up and what you are going through is bogus.
They used to say that about fibromyalgia. I have that, too. That’s not bogus, either–but now there are drugs and foundations and television commercials, so it must be real.
There’s no drug for genuine traumatic writers’ block. Tincture of time is about all that works. Support. Validation. Realizing you’re not alone–that’s huge. Accepting that the words that used to come at the speed of wings are hobbling along on crutches, and they may not come every day, or even most days. Finding a little bit of the old wonder again–an attack story, an idea that won’t let go. Recovering the confidence that used to go without saying. Learning to believe that the words are worthwhile, along with the ideas behind them and the writer who writes them.
I’m told I’m coddling victims here. Should just shut up and let the weak die off so the strong can rule. Never mind all the lost words or the lost writers. Who cares about them?
I do. Their readers do. And now there’s room for them to find their words again–to get them out there and be heard.
Some may not find the words again. They’ve said all they have to say. And that’s perfectly all right. But those who had more words in them, who were silenced by the collapse of the market for those particular words, no longer need to stay silent. Can find their way back.
In the comments on one of the earlier posts, someone asked, “Can a writer who has laid down the sword take it up again?” More than one writer responded, “Hell, yes!”
It’s not easy. It can be brutally, stomach-wrenchingly hard. Not helped at all by all the chirpers chirping, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block! You just have to write!”