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Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams: The Truth About Writer’s Block

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What We’re Drinking:

Here Gose Nothing! A wild fermented sour beer from Destihl brewery. I love sour beer! This was one I found in the fall that was later panned by a beer podcast that I listen to as not being a “true gose,” but I say to hell with that, if it makes the tongue happy then go with it. Anyway, I highly recommend it.

What We’re Saying:

James is partnering with hip hop artist ANTHM on some lyrics for his main character in Drag Down the Sun, and I’m struggling with collecting sufficient feedback on the novella project to push it through to production.

And here’s the meat of the episode: WRITER’S BLOCK DOESN’T EXIST.

It’s all a conspiracy.

When it comes down to it, writing is a mechanical interface between your fingers and the keyboard. You can always write. But we tell ourselves that we’re “blocked” as a way to avoid addressing real issues that are preventing you from writing, or when the writing is very difficult (which it sometimes really is).

And the thing is, this is a conspiracy that is transmitted culturally, like a virus. We hear people that we look up to talk about being blocked, and so when the road gets rough or when we have stuff in our head stopping us from writing, we repeat it. And the thing is, repeating this myth of the block only prevents us from identifying the root of the problem and resolving it so that we can move on with writing.

So what are some reasons why we succumb to this false narrative?

Well, sometimes we let perfect be the enemy of good. We worry so much that we need our writing to be beautiful and amazing that we intimidate ourselves out of sitting down and doing the work. It’s important to give yourself permission to write utter garbage. All writers do it. Some of them even publish it. I love Stephen King, but you cannot be that prolific and not publish some garbage. We all ultimately want to create something that’s great, but that’s a process. A process that starts with your garbage first draft. Not only that, but writing is how we learn to write, and you won’t learn unless you make mistakes.

And also? This fear is an illusion. You have no way of knowing that what you’re about to write is garbage. You might sit down and write the most amazing thing you’ve ever written.

Introducing structure in your writing habit can be a good way of combating writer’s block in the long term. Our brains love structure and patterns, and so adding writing time into your daily routine that is consistent and around the same time every day, eventually you’ll go to the desk and your brain will, without your interference or effort, have primed itself for writing.

A lot of the creative work that we do is done in idle time… during a walk, a shower, or a commute. And your brain will work on it when you don’t even know it’s working, and then you’ll have these eureka moments! These moments of inspiration! And that’s your brain serving you up an answer from the work it’s been doing behind the scenes.

Writing sprints are a great way to conquer so-called writer’s block. You set a timer and you write as much as you can as fast as you can until the timer goes off. I use this in combination with the pomodoro technique, which is a productivity hack that involves working in short but intense bursts interspersed with breaks.

James finds it helpful to not tell the content of his story to anyone; to keep it a secret until it’s finished. The rationale is to avoid getting the payoff for telling the story (a positive reaction) and thus losing the urge to finish writing it.

I, on the other hand, will never shut up about what I’m writing.

Writer’s block isn’t a real thing. It’s a story that we tell ourselves about the truth of what’s stopping us from writing. It’s a cultural conspiracy, and it’s a scourge on writerkind.

We love you. Get your butt in the chair and write.

7 comments to Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams: The Truth About Writer’s Block

  • WHAT A BUNCH OF HOITY TOITY ELITISTS YOU ARE!!!!!!

    #iswriting

  • Well put, and actually rather inspiring in a pragmatic sort of way. Thanks!

  • I’m glad you distinguished between ‘writer’s block’ and ‘needing to take time.’ Because of Reasons that are well-documented, I had to just set aside writing and prioritize taking care of my family for a couple of months, and not to beat myself up about it. I don’t have writer’s block, I have ‘this needs taking care of first.’ And it will come to an end on a certain date in a month and change.

    Before that, I was doing really, really well with a structured ‘eight minutes of writing when my alarm goes off in the morning,’ and then ‘sit down and write down whatever I was thinking while I was taking a shower,’ or whatever. Even if it doesn’t make any sense. It’s similar to pomodoro (at least the traditional 25/5) but eight minutes is weird and short enough to be ‘the time the dogs run around in the backyard during my 15m break from my paid work.’

  • […] Mandy Perry on Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams: The Truth About Writer’s Block […]

    • Oh, TOTALLY. That’s something I run into with work and school as well.

      Also? Recently I was contacted by a person from my past who threatened to kill me during a psychotic episode, because he believed I was torturing him as a means to get more material for my writing. That really put a crimp in my writing game for a while, I’m not gonna lie.

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