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Writer’s block: Frozen to inaction

December 30, 2011

I don’t experience writer’s block like most writers; I like to think this is because I have nearly overcome it. In a lot of ways writer’s block is a myth, a farce played out upon us by some higher, laughing writing god.

The central concept of the thing, that you mentally can’t write at some point, is hogwash. You can always write. The crux of writer’s block is that you’re subconsciously thinking what you are writing isn’t very good, and that it’s not worth writing.

And the key to becoming a good writer is to tell yourself that all writing is good writing. Or all writing is bad writing and you’re just adding to the pile.

The key realization (which I’m talking myself into, in case you can’t tell) of writing is that nobody writes even a decent first draft, and if they tell you otherwise they are horrible liars. Sure, if I’m writing about games I can sometimes churn out a passable first draft, but I think that’s even worse than a bad one. A bad first draft I will revisit and nurse to health, during which time I’ll think about the argument I’m presenting. A passable first draft usually passes through critique without much negativity, and therefore it doesn’t get a chance to grow.

It’s a problem we as writers face. We like to think we’re hot shit. I mean, we’ve been told throughout school, usually, that we were. In high school people always commented on how brilliant my words were; it didn’t change too much in terms of writing. You’re so good for so many years that you expect it’ll all come easily.

At least I thought that. I don’t want to ascribe myself to you.

The most important thing to realize about writing I realized a couple weeks ago when I was writing a piece I’ve titled Harry Japan (provisionally, of course). The titular character is called Harry Japan because, in my mind, that name ascribes him his default personality; it’s also a name so utterly terrible I have to change it. When I started writing it, I barely had a scrap of plot, just this guy, an aggressive television litigator, and his newly hired law school graduate fact finder, scraping at the underbelly of Philadelphia for money.

First draft was absolute shit, but for me getting to that point is the greatest challenge. In the past I would have stopped myself. “No,” I would have said, “the draft won’t be good enough. Let’s think some more. Let’s find him a name.” I had to physically push myself to write the words on the page. And they’re awful. It’s an awful, awful first draft. But it made me realize a lot of things about the story, practical things. It revealed bits of the arc I’d created that didn’t hold up (for instance, I knew next to nothing about small claims court). It revealed technical issues, too: the biggest being that the protagonist didn’t have anyone to talk to to center him. If I’d waited, written a decent first draft, I might have realized this but would be too entrenched to change it.

It’s the same with the novel I’m working on, a young adult novel. It’s already changed tremendously from my original idea (the less said about, the better) into something a lot more interesting, a lot more me. The problem was that I couldn’t commit it to paper. It wasn’t perfect yet!

Writer’s block is the desire to create everything perfectly, and as an author overcoming that is my biggest challenge. Because terrible first drafts produce better results than decent ones.

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