Writer’s block is an excuse, not a reason

So this is something that was posted earlier in March, but I wanted to share it with all the struggling writers out there. Someone asked Neil Gaiman how to cope with the dreaded writer’s block, since this person wasn’t finishing any piece of writing because he/she was chronically unsatisfied with what was landing on the page. Gaiman’s answer? Writer’s block is a convenient scapegoat, but it’s more “a combination of laziness, perfectionism and Getting Stuck.”

Even if a story’s lousy, you’ll learn something from it that will be useful as a writer, even if it’s just “don’t do that again”.

You’re always going to be dissatisfied with what you write. That’s part of being human. In our heads, stories are perfect, flawless, glittering, magical. Then we start to put them down on paper, one unsatisfactory word at a time. And each time our inner critics tell us that it’s a rotten idea and we should abandon it.

If you’re going to write, ignore your inner critic, while you’re writing. Do whatever you can to finish. Know that anything can be fixed later.

Remember: you don’t have to be brilliant when you start out. You just have to write. Every story you finish puts you closer to being a writer, and makes you a better writer.

His advice echoes what I was saying a few days ago about dealing with a mediocre or downright awful blog post—or any other sort of writing: Learn something and move on. Don’t dwell, and don’t cover it up. Make the most of your writing, flaws and all.

Writers who write for a living don’t get to blame an unproductive day on a fanciful and elusive concept like “writer’s block.” We have to write despite whether we feel like it or if everything sounds wrong and ugly and miserably off-pitch. We have to type and delete and retype, planting ourselves in front of a blank screen until we finally coax words—not necessarily the right ones—out into the open. Writing is a tough gig. But when we are, as Gaiman says, lazy or nit-picky or just plain Stuck, we push through … even if it’s only for that paycheck that always arrives a month late.

Even if writing isn’t your day job, you should treat it like one. So what if the words aren’t perfect? They’re never going to be, and that’s what revisions are for, anyway. It’s more important to finish what you start than let it fester and die before its time. Finish, and you’ll learn something. Finish, and you’ll have new experience to draw from.

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9 thoughts on “Writer’s block is an excuse, not a reason

  1. Ok, busted. I use writer’s block as an excuse not to write ALL the time. Gaiman has me pegged, wow.

    So do you, Stephanie. I’m a bit embarrassed right now….

    Thanks for the fabulous post…

    • We’ve all used it as an excuse at one time or another, so don’t feel too bad. :) Just know that writer’s block is not a justifiable condition … it’s a reason not to write!

  2. I don’t know – I suspect there are times when it’s good to step back, and relax a little. I’m not sure you can push yourself into creativity, as it comes differently for everyone.
    But using writer’s block as an excuse because it’s not perfect? I agree completely with Gaiman on that. It’s never going to be as good as you hope – that’s what drives you to keep trying.

    • Stepping back is good if you’re purposely trying to gain a fresh perspective on something you’ve written, but stepping back when you haven’t written anything at all … that’s not going to get the job done, so to speak! I appreciate what you’re trying to say, though, and we certainly all need to recharge now and then. :) But I think it’s important to acknowledge that creativity and inspiration doesn’t always fall into your lap. Sometimes you have to pursue it.

  3. For a long time, a stopper for me was the stories in our head are perfect, which they will always be because of where they reside. Often, I must remind myself of that, although writer’s block is not something I have claimed under that term but procrastination has me by the throat on a daily basis. Again, the solution is always, write.

    Karen

    • I’ve been known to be a big procrastinator, too, but the best part of suffering from procrastination is that if you experience it and learn to push through it, that gives you an edge. Not to mention it’s something to be proud of and a valuable skill to have. You’ll get a lot more done, too!

  4. i love neil gaiman. great topic. it is easy to get stuck when you are searching for the perfect sentence, THE perfect beginning to your manuscript, so you have to let all of that go. i think it was hemingway who said all first drafts are shit. you have to give yourself permission to right a really bad first draft and just bang the words out. “perfecting” is what revision is for.

    • Thanks for commenting! You’re absolutely right. Is there even such a thing as the perfect sentence or beginning? I think that’s what writers search for just by writing—but whether THE best, most perfect sentence has ever been or will ever be written? Doubtful.

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