Monday, September 21, 2009

Writer’s block: fact or fiction?

I’ve long maintained that I don’t believe in writer’s block. Sit down, focus, and knock some text out. I guess it’s my blue-collar, farmer roots. I don’t want to indulge the finicky muse. I just want to get shit done.

I’m revising this belief.

I’m tired. You might even say I’m burnt out. I don’t think I’ve taken a two-week vacation in my adult life. I work every weekend and often am taken unawares by B-list holidays. Recent Christmases have found me sitting at my parents’ dining room table trying to jack a neighbor’s WiFi so I can research a music legend for a possible book collaboration or write content for a retail website. Ho ho ho.

Being a freelance writer sounds idyllic to those on the outside. I get to set my own schedule. I am able to develop passion projects. I have the ability to meet up for coffee or lunch regularly. I can work in my housepants all day.

The reality? Not exactly puppy dogs and rainbows.

Don’t get me wrong. All the above “perks” are true but aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Scheduling is a bitch. Without meetings and others to report to, I find it nigh on impossible to keep to a routine. I need accountability beyond myself. I don’t draw a regular paycheck, so I take on all sorts of projects to pay the bills. I agree to unrealistic deadlines. I work seven days a week. I know I need to have more balance in theory, but I struggle to create this in practice. And I don’t sit in pajama bottoms all day, contrary to popular freelancer belief. What would Bill, my beloved UPS guy, think?

All this wears on me. And it wears on my writing. At times, my creative cupboard is bare.

Sure, I have techniques to jumpstart my writing when I’m staring at the screen. But if I’m uninspired by a project, it’s hard to make a cognitive shift so that I can plow through it in short order. Often, the projects that make my heart sing and my fingers fly get pushed to the side in favor of immediate, lucrative assignments. If I’m stuck with a claw-my-face-off project, I’ll put it aside for an hour or two and write something else that blows my skirt up. For instance, I’ll draft a blog post here or for Things I Want to Punch in the Face, a forum that provides me pure bliss. It’s an efficient way to re-juice me creatively.

And while I don’t exactly believe in waiting for that wifty bitch of a muse to roll in like Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu (although that’d be dope), I have discovered that my writing needs space to breathe and develop in my mind and heart before I can transfer it to the page. I’ve been batting around a teenage memoir like a cat with a mouse for years. It started out with one focus and I just couldn’t muster up enthusiasm to keep it going. I backburnered it and felt guilt over it for a year or two. Then something happened. I found the heart of the matter. It was only by giving it space that I realized that the real story, the painful one lurking behind my pithiness, was the one I needed to tell. It’s the project I have to write. In this case, writer’s block turned out to be a gift, not an excuse.

Meanwhile, I’m still staring at the screen and working to finish my urgent projects so I can fit my memoir into my schedule. I’m eager to have my heart singing and fingers soaring again but sometimes, I got nothing.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what do you do to alleviate writer’s block? What inspires you?

(photo: ifanboy.com)

11 comments:

Punkinhead said...

way to kick a burgeoning writer in the gonads, Jen. :P

No, I get it. I have felt z-e-r-o creative juices over the last year, and had actually forgotten what it was write to WANT to sit down and write. I was really surprised when I felt it again recently. I think my favorite thing to do when the right ideas/words aren't coming is to write about something completely different than what I'm trying to write about. If that makes sense. If it doesn't, tough shit... I must suck as a writer.

Jennifer Worick said...

Laurie: I'm so happy to hear that you're inspired to write again. Usually, crafting is a refuge but since I've had two craft books back to back, I'm crafted out and creatively bankrupt. So I sit here with my laptop and the white noise of the TV and wallow.

Chris said...

This is an interesting piece. It's so difficult, and so personal an issue. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of writer's block is my recurring bouts of insomnia.

When I can't sleep, I fight it and I lie there and I think up ways to help me sleep, like milk, or sex, or reading, or listening to a podcast, and still, I sometimes just can't sleep. It makes me angry that I can't sleep and then I can't sleep even more. Then, someone I was paying to tell me things told me, if you can't sleep, it's probably because you just aren't tired. Don't fight it.

When I have writer's block it's the most frustrating thing next to not sleeping for several days in a row. It drives me crazy. I think: I'm the same person. Why can't I write? But sometimes, I remember to let myself not write. Because when I just let it not happen, it will happen again. Because that's what I am. It won't dry up for long, because it's who I am.

That's easy for me to say, since I'm not a freelancer, 'just wait until you write again.' But to answer your question, I would have to say, yes, I believe in writer's block, because it happens. And I guess what I do to get inspiration is to wait for it to unblock again. I know that sounds pat, but it's kind of like living in suspense. Like it's happening to someone else, and it's almost like waiting for a gift. The anticipation, if you can distance yourself from it and go on with other things, can be almost delicious. I guess when it comes down to it, that's how I deal with it; I don't take it personally. I distance myself from the struggle so I don't get into the trap of telling myself I can force it.

When I say go on with other things, I mean I sometimes will be reading something fluffy and think how much better I could do it. Or, I will read reviews of others' work and decide that I must read that book. Or, I will paint or collage and while I'm doing it, an idea comes to me. But most of the time, I just wait around and suddenly something makes me run to the processor and blab about stuff.

Maybe it's because I love the sound of my own processor so damn much.

I hope things free up a bit more. In the meantime, be good to yourself if you can.

Jennifer Worick said...

Chris, thank you so much for this. My problem is not that I'm blocked on my passion projects; it's that I can't seem to power through the non-sexy but bill-paying projects. I need to just take away the emotionality around the stuff (guilt, etc.) and just approach it as a job. And when I work until I go to bed, I can't sleep because my mind races. I'm a bit of a tortured soul, but having friends (who I've never met in person!) support and buoy me keeps me plugging away.

mduette said...

Believe it or not, this helped me to read. From my perspective, you have my dream job, and you've got the added advantage of being a published, fairly-well-known author (as I told you before, *I* knew who you were before you found me on Twitter. I was stunned and flattered!)

I have no deadlines, no projects, and no timetable, but I do have a sense of urgency, especially having our sole breadwinner out of work. (though I did until my girls were born.) For me, writer's block is a complete lack of all motivation. I get defeated. I give up. I have grand ideas and then get discouraged..though life stress is a big factor and I let it be my crutch.

Only very recently, at the urging of a few loyal friends, have I felt like blogging again. Doesn't pay anything, sure, but it got me motivated again. I guess I had shoved myself back into the category of 'a person who writes.' It took a few others (again, whom I haven't met in person), calling me a 'writer,' to get my perspective back.

Funny that you mention the memoir thing, too. Just in the past two weeks I had my own revelation, and now know the story that I need to tell. And I will...it's just that soul-sucking stuff that I can't seem to jump-start myself into beginning to write about. I'm sure you know what I mean. How do you deal with that? As it is, I sacrifice sleep to have time to myself..to write, to think, to clear my head (as if *that* ever happens). And my time is often interrupted...it's inevitable.

I'm writing my own book here, and I'm sorry. Just trying to say that I liked this blog, I admire your courage to stick to a job that's often grueling, and making that leap of an investment in yourself. And coming from a not-quite author, for whatever it's worth, I think writer's block is real..only in my case more born of negative self-talk. Whee.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on the day) my writing gig is not freelance. Good for steady income, terrible if the dreaded creative block hits. What's really frustrating is that, being a one woman show for all things creative, the others on the team just don't "get it" when the brain drain strikes. As if you can just pump that stuff out on cue, any time, any topic!

Anonymous said...

Like a couple of other people who've commented here, I'm a bit confused because you seem to be talking about writer's block as a problem for freelancers working on assignment, as well as for other kinds of writers. Coming up with material isn't so much of an issue when the blog or magazine you are writing for says, "Here's your topic, get going." Or is it?

-- Jim Lowry

Jennifer Worick said...

Jim: Thanks for your comment. I am talking about all shades of writer's block. Right now, I'm blocked when writing those freelance assignments you describe. It's hard to write on demand, when you're required or need to churn out something every day. I'm just burnt out and it's challenging to continue to replenish the creative well.

Love Writing Again! said...

I totally agree. I've been writing for years, I work part time and this is the first time I've realised that my writing stopped being a hobby at some point and started just being work. So I'm trying to get back into that old love of it and blogging is my way of doing it...I've just put some of my work out there, if you get a mo, do check it out. Thanks!

Love Writing Again! said...

How can I follow you as a friend?!

Jennifer Worick said...

You can follow this blog, follow me on twitter @jennifer_worick, or look me up on Facebook at www.facebook.com/worick. Thanks!

A sampling of my books