February 19, 2015
Many writers, especially young ones, will claim to have writer’s block; I was one of them. I no longer believe in writer’s block.
In graduate school when I met with playwright Romulus Linney for the first time to discuss ideas for my first full-length play, I handed him my four page free-write about how I had no ideas and told him I had writer’s block. He took the pages, smiled and told me something that has kept writer’s block away for almost twenty years. He said,
“Cynthia, I’m going to tell you something writer to writer, there is no such thing as writer’s block. You may not be inspired by an idea or you may not know how to develop an idea or you may be afraid of an idea, but there is no such thing as writer’s block. You can always sit down and write something. You may not like what you write, but so what. Ninety-nine percent of my writing is awful stuff no one has ever seen. But the remaining one percent, well, that’s the gold isn’t it?” He spread my four single sided pages on the table, “You have to do a lot more writing. You may have to write a hundred pages to find that one bit of gold. But I can guarantee you one thing, if you don’t do the work or you wait to be inspired, you will end up with nothing. Writing is hard work.”
I have never been able to prove Romulus wrong in all these years.
It is wonderful when lightning strikes and golden words flow from your finger tips. When that happens go with it; do not question or analyze it; ride that horse as far as you can. Unfortunately, that is the exception and not the rule; writers waiting for inspiration to write will have a long wait.
Most days inspiration must be wrested from granite. Lightning is more likely to strike when you are sitting at your keyboard writing dreck, then when you are playing Call of Duty or sleeping. Writing is busting rocks with your head without a helmet. My best stuff is the stuff I had to work to get. If writing was easy, everyone would do it. Writing is hard work that requires the courage of a skydiver.
There are writers who are not lazy and put in their time busting rocks with their heads and claim to have writer’s block. I think these writer’s are experiencing a crisis of faith.
Writing takes the same kind of courage as skydiving. The audience wants nothing less than your blood and tears on the page. To give them that, writers must go to very scary places and conjure their worse demons or their best; equally scary. Very often a writer is not prepared for what comes up. They write themselves onto the precipice of a cliff over a chasm with no bottom and don’t know what to do. When this happens there are two choices; go back the way you came or jump.
Slowly stepping backward off the cliff and finding a way around will often solve the issue. But I recommend taking the leap off the lion’s head or a leap of faith. In the business of writing, the very worse thing you can be is mediocre; by taking the leap you will either soar with the eagles or fail spectacularly; both are good results. Not every writer is ready to jump. Most writers will find cliffs over bottomless chasms long before they are ready to leap, I sure did. If you are not ready, do not worry. Go back and find another path. But one time, when the fear is a bit less, just jump.
When I find myself on one of these cliffs and do not know if I have the courage to jump, I like to watch the movie, “Indiana Jones and Last Crusade,” because it turns on a leap of faith and has a great visual for it.
I encourage all writers to learn to identify a cliff when they are on one. Usually a little voice in your head will say, “I you can’t write that!” or “That is stupid!” or “What will my parents think if they read that?” Have faith in yourself and take the leap. Take it from an experienced cliff jumper, it won’t hurt. I promise.
This video illustrates the battle beautifully. The guy in the knit cap is the voice of the inner judge which Dr. Jones ignores.