How to kick WRITER’S BLOCK to the curb

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Ugh, writer’s block!

Writer’s block is enemy number one to anyone attempting to live the creative writing life. We all know the usual version of it: staring at the blank page and seeing a wall.

But there are two other sinister versions of writer’s block that are easy to overlook.

Version 1 – “I can’t write because I have to clean the gutters”

This version makes doing ANYTHING ELSE BUT WRITING seem imperative. “I told myself I would write this morning, but that grout in my shower isn’t going to scrub itself.

And I really should learn to make jam today, I’ve been meaning to do that.

And maybe I should dust….”

I hate cleaning house, but when I have this kind of writer’s block, I turn into Mary Poppins tidying the nursery. The busyness makes me feel good. After all, I’m still accomplishing something.

It’s easy to forget I’m actually running from the work I want to be doing… writing.

Because, oh yeah, I want to be a writer, not have immaculate gutters that are the envy of my neighborhood.

If you can dodge this obstacle and manage to actually get to the desk and tune out the dishes, writer’s block will get mad and pull no punches.

Version 2 – “You will never be a writer”

And then there is the other manifestation of writer’s block: the ugly voices that come out to bash you where it hurts. The critical voices inside can be almost too much to take.

At its heart, writer’s block is every critical voice you’ve ever heard coming out to dance on your dreams in golf cleats.

And since “a dream is a wish your heart makes” (thank you Cinderella), your heart feels battered and bruised by these voices. It hurts! No wonder we would rather tackle the laundry than write!

Whenever I set out to write, my voices are waiting in ambush.

They say things like:

“What are you even writing? This is terrible.”

“You have nothing original to say. Why are you trying to write at all?”

“You don’t know what to do next. This novel is a hot mess.”

And the one that cuts to the heart of it all:

“There is no way this will ever be good enough.”

Oddly enough, the advice the voices give is always the same:

“Just stop. You should definitely stop… NOW! Don’t even sit down; don’t even try! Whatever you make won’t be good enough.”

Sheesh. Is it any wonder writers get blocked when we have those kinds of negative Nancys driving the creativity bus?

I say it’s time you take charge of your own bus and boot the voices to the curb.

The best way I know to deal with voices that spew out fear is to look them right in the face, listen to what they say, take a deep breath and say, “Okay… and?”

In other words, challenge the heck out of them.

Let’s take the “your not good enough and never will be so don’t even think about trying to be a writer, ever” voice. This one, in my opinion, is the evil mastermind of all the other voices. If you deal this voice a death blow, the minion voices will shrink back into the shadows.

When my voice looks at my writing or my little fledgling idea and says, “This isn’t good enough,” I like to say, “You’re right.”

That’s right. I let myself agree.

Because here is what I’ve learned as I’ve studied writing craft and process: a first draft doesn’t have to be good enough. I will say it again.

A first draft doesn’t have to be “good enough.”

And every time I sit down to write something, to create something new that didn’t exist before, THAT is a first draft. Nobody’s first drafts are good enough. Not Shakespeare’s, not Neil Gamon’s, not yours, not mine.

Let’s consider a writing/garden metaphor for a moment. Some writers plan out their garden, they make neat rows, study seed catalogs, and get everything mapped out before they stick one shovel into the dirt or plant one seed. But when the garden grows it will still be a wild thing with shoots spreading out all over, weeds creeping in, and big ugly cutworms crawling onto the tomato plants.

Other writers will throw a bunch of wildflower seeds wherever, won’t till the ground first, and if the fancy strikes them, will buy up whatever plants are on sale and half-wilted at Walmart and throw those in too.

My point: whether planned out or grown from the seat of your pants, both “gardens” will have to be pruned, shaped, and cared for to reach their full potential. Maybe some will need more shaping and tending than others, but neither will be “good enough” from the get go, at least if you want a good garden in the end.

In other words, your first draft was never meant to be “good enough,” or perfect. Because let’s be real, don’t we really compare our first drafts to finished and published books? Books that have taken years to write, revise, edit, edit, edit, rewrite, edit, proofread, and finally appear as a beautiful thing on a shelf.

It’s like comparing your kitten to a mountain lion and being angry that it can’t roar or hunt like a pro.

This is a first draft. This is what your are sitting down to write. You are planting the seed. You are watering the scraggly little bush. You are not whacking at it with the electric pruners because if you do that, it will die.

Do you hear me? Those critical voices, the ones that say it isn’t good enough, they will be your friends later on in the rodeo called revision. They will help you see which branch to cut, which area needs planting, where to throw some fertilizer.

But not yet.

Right now, you and your writing don’t have to be “good enough.”

What are some of your critical voices and are you letting them drive the creativity bus?

I hope you will boot them off at the next stop, sit back, and just write.

Little Journeys to Happyland

I love the cover of this vintage book. So many questions spring to mind!

1 – Why is there a creepy ant guy in green tights, and what is he whispering to the boy?

2 – Why are the trees wilted or covered in Spanish Moss?

3 – Why is the subtitle “Little Journeys to Happyland?”

This last one is my favorite.

Let’s face it. We all long to go to Happyland. That’s right. It’s one word.

For some, playing the bagpipes may be their Happyland. For others, it’s watching The Price is Right. For some, it may even be learning the Byzantine tones and practicing them all the time (if you don’t know what those are, feel free to ask my Choir Director husband).

For me, Happyland is writing and getting lost in something I’m working on to the point I think, “shouldn’t someone be fixing dinner about now?” Someone not me, of course.

For the last five years, ever since starting my novel and beginning the freelance writing journey for real, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to get to my Happyland.

It’s often hard to incorporate writing (especially my own writing) into my already busy life. Since I’ve misplaced my magic soap bubble (see picture above), and I can’t find my way to Happyland that easily, I see my options as follows:

1 – Write when kids are around. Only, I tend to get crabby when I do this. Something about having a 14 year old boy hanging over my shoulder and commenting, or being interrupted 52 times by other children is not conducive to creativity.

2 – Write after kids go to bed. Sounds good, except for the fact this is the only kid-free time most adults get to actually talk and see each other without someone walking someone else with pool noodles in the background. Did I mention I have 3 boys? So writing at night is not a great option.

3 – Write in the afternoon/during screen time. I can do this, and have in the past. However, something about the early afternoon/post-lunch makes my life energy devote itself to digestion and my brain suffers.

4 – What is left?! I can hear your desperation. How will she write? How will she ever get to Happyland?!

Early morning time.

It isn’t perfect, because it’s still early and morning, but it’s my best shot.

When I write in the morning the house is quiet. I put the dogs outside. I get a yogurt cup. I sit at my desk in my PJs. I open my computer and work.

Do I sometimes not get up right away, waste away my time in the void of my phone, and then try to still fit it all in before my 6 year old pads his way into my room? Maybe.

And when this happens do I feel crabby and disgruntled because somebody popped my Magic Soap Bubble to Happyland. Okay, yes.

But when this happens do I give up everything, decide I’ll never be a writer, and wallow in my inability to develop discipline and get up early.

Not anymore.

I let it go, do what I still can for today, and try to make better choices next time.

The crazy thing is, little imperfect choices, little journeys, can still get you to Happyland. The book isn’t subtitled, “Epic, Perfectly-Planned and Executed Journeys to Happyland with no Side Stops or Wasted Time.”

It’s called little journeys to Happyland. Little journeys. I mean, how far can you really travel in one go in a soap bubble anyway?

My little journeys are still something. And they still take me someplace if I don’t give up. And if I don’t pop my own bubble.

What ways do you order your life to make sure you have time to get to Happyland?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And stay tuned for the next post, “How being around kids (ALL THE TIME) can be a good thing for a writer. . . really.”