November 30, 2021
by Samantha Hoffman
What do you say we retire the term writer’s block? It sounds like an incurable disease when, really, it’s not a disease and it’s not incurable, it’s just a break or a lull; a slowdown. A block is something you can’t get around or go through, and you can’t see the other side. If we say we’re blocked it’s sort of like giving ourselves license to quit.
Don’t quit. Take a breather. No one can put 100% into anything 100% of the time. We all go through fallow periods, times when we don’t feel creative or motivated, where we need a break. Why do we need a special term for something that’s just an ordinary part of life?
When writers feel blocked we’re simply stalled. We may be uninspired or unsure where our story is going (fiction or nonfiction), we might be frustrated, we might just not feel like writing. If you seem unable to write, don’t worry about giving it a name. Just like a traffic jam, it’ll eventually ease up and you’ll start moving again.
The fact is, it’s hard to write a book. It takes work and dedication. You’ll get there. It takes endurance, like running a marathon. You train for a marathon; you begin with a couple of miles and you build up until you can run 26.2. Write a chapter or a scene at a time and you’ll finish the race. Do something every day, even if it’s one line. Thinking about it counts.
If you need a boost, look for accountability. For me, it’s with London Writers Salon, a Zoom group that meets 5 days a week in different time zones, where you write with a community for 50 minutes. For some reason this works for me. Since I started nearly 6 weeks ago I have written 14,497 words on a novel I was frustrated with, and stuck. Since I joined this group I know that 10:00 am Monday through Friday is a dedicated time for my writing, a time when I will not be distracted by the internet or TV or organizing my silverware drawer. I will either be writing or thinking about the story or staring into space, but it will be dedicated to my writing.
Maybe it’ll work for you. Or maybe you’ll find an accountability partner or join a writing group. Whatever, something will work if you don’t get hung up on a stupid term that is debilitating.
Here's what Aaron Sorkin says when someone asks him if he ever experiences writer's block: "I just have to laugh because that is my default position. I'm in a constant state of writer's block. What I run into from time to time is not having writer's block and those are great days...There are plenty of times when you start writing the screenplay and somewhere in the middle you run into a snowbank. There's something I'm writing right now, I've been on page 15 for about 5 weeks...Somehow or other you spring yourself from jail."
Next I'm going to suggest we retire the term pantser. Do we really need a name for writers who outline and those who don't? And if we do, we're writers...can't we come up with something more eloquent than that? But that's for another time.
Meanwhile, just keep writing and somehow or other you will spring yourself from jail.
Writer, editor, artist, personal assistant, private chef, runner (8-time marathoner), film and theatre buff, traveler… Author of What More Could You Wish For (St. Martin’s Press).
V.P. of the Chicago Writers Association, Executive Director of Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference.
Visit me at www.samanthahoffman.com
Read my latest short story, Only One Syllable, published by Hypertext Magazine.
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