I sat down to write this post with a flurry of ideas in mind. I had four different topics with the beginning sentences for each already crafted. I thought this would be a breeze since I already knew where to begin. I’d sit down at my computer and easily bang out this post and a first draft of the next three. I confidently placed my hands on the keyboard and typed each beginning into its own word document then toggled to the first to begin working. Then I froze. The devil writer’s block sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear that all my ideas are crap and that I can’t write worth a damn.
This is an ongoing problem for me. I start with an idea, an opening line, then nothing. I have written hundreds of first lines which I have never developed. They sit in a folder in my inbox, in a binder in my bedroom, and scattered in the drawer of my desk. I have mountains of ideas hastily scrawled on scraps of paper, stolen restaurant menus, and torn corners of newspaper.
I approach writing like the piece needs to unfold linearly. If I can’t make “B” happen after “A”, followed by “C”, I abandon the story. I try to recognize when this is happening and give myself permission to continue writing somewhere else in the story. If I know how I want to end, I tell myself it’s okay to write the ending before the body is done. Sometimes I have a point I want to make, or a metaphor I want to include. It’s okay to jump to that point in the story and develop it without having the narrative leading up to it written. Every element of every story needs to be written sometime, and the story does not care in which order I write it.
Another problem I encounter is thinking every word, sentence and paragraph needs to be perfect the first time. This is a road block in the path of many writers. We need to write a lot, and some of that writing is going to be garbage. Spending hours or days writing something you aren’t proud of may seem like a giant waste of time, but it’s necessary.
I like to compare writing poorly with football practice. Peyton Manning wasn’t born throwing a football in a tight spiral with laser precision. He spent hours practicing and threw a lot of really bad passes before he got to where he is today. Writing is no different. Another way to think of it is the way BPP director Abby Murray said it to me. The garbage you write is like the salad you have to eat, not because it tastes good, but because it’s good for you. Writers have to eat a lot of salad before we can have our dessert.
The comforting thing about writer’s block, if there can possibly be anything comforting, is that we are not alone. Every writer experiences it. When I did a Google search for writer’s block it returned nearly 4 million results. Which tells me that when writer’s find themselves unable to write, they write about not writing. Which is exactly what they should be doing… writing something. Don’t worry about order or perfection or publication, just keep writing.
Write to express yourself and release your ideas to the world. Don’t write to please someone else, or to get famous, or because you’re trying to get published. Write what you’re feeling. Write what you’re thinking. Write the stuff that fills you with emotion. When the time is right, the fame and publication stuff will take care of itself. Put your pen on the paper and let the ideas flow.
Begin writing your next poem, story, or essay right now and allow yourself to write poorly or begin in the middle or at the end. Don’t allow writer’s block to prevent you from writing! Try writing an ode to writer’s block, or a poem in the form of a “Dear John” letter, a rant, a tweet, or maybe a prayer asking for help to overcome a block and share them with us! Share your garbage and desserts with us too. Here’s a poem to help get you started!
Farewell Writer’s Block
You have to leave, we don’t serve your kind
There’s rules in this place you fail to mind.
We’ve allowed your kind in here before
It didn’t end well, so there’s the door.
Leave now before you infect the whole place
Somebody please lead him out of this space.
If you won’t go now we’ll carry you out
You fill us with fear, self-loathing and doubt.
This is a place where creating is fun,
Ideas grow legs and learn to run.
Away you go, climb under your rock,
Adieu and farewell, Writer’s Block.
BPP Spring 2015 Intern