“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.”
– Roald Dahl
I can say this with absolute certainty: we’ve all been there. We’re on a deadline, or some sort of time limitation, and we’ve not written something in a while and want to dust off the cobwebs, or we simply feel like letting our creativity pour itself onto paper and see what kind of magic we can weave words with. So we sharpen our pencils, we crack our knuckles and snap our fingers, and we get ready to get down to it.
Writer’s block is undoubtedly the worst thing that can happen to a writer, whether it’s a journalist, novelist, poet, blogger, or any other sort of person who scribbles random words hoping for the best outcome. It can happen to anyone at any given moment – usually when we’ve got a deadline looming over us, or when we’ve just got to the best part of our novel. Losing your mojo can be devastating, not only for your writing itself, but for your confidence in doing it. As writers, doing this is often an intrinsic part of us that we feel a deep connection to, and a disconnect can lead to a period of disorientation and loss of self.
“Having writer’s block doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Last year, I finally got the job of my dreams. After writing for Cultured Vultures for well over a year, and running my blog for a similar amount of time, I got a job as a journalist for an up and coming gay magazine in Manchester. For someone who’s been writing from a young age, both fictional and in the journalistic field, getting a full time job in the writing industry was like finding a Jeremy Corbyn in a sea of Boris Johnsons. I was absolutely thrilled, and it felt like all of the hard work I’d done in the past – all the free writing I’d done for blogs without payment, all voluntary articles I’d done for websites – was all worth it.
Two months later, it was all pulled out from under me before I’d even had the chance to publish an article. And to make matters worse, I had two months worth of writing that I’d not been paid for (thankfully, Cultured Vultures was kind enough to publish the majority of the work that I’d written).
After this happened, I barely wrote a single article. Every time I tried to sit down and focus, I felt the ghosts from the past clinging onto me and pulling me back, telling me I couldn’t write, otherwise I’d still have that job. Nevermind the fact that it was circumstantial and no matter what I’d have done the situation would’ve remained the same, never mind the fact that most of my work was accepted elsewhere. I was so upset, so defeated, and so crushed, I didn’t think I’d ever want to bring myself to write professionally again.
So what makes us write? What pushes us?
How do we get through that awful writer’s block?
1. Keep going
Rejection is only one part of the story. If I printed out every one of my rejections, I could probably cover my whole room with them. Humiliation is character building, what doesn’t kill you gives you unhealthy coping mechanisms and a very dark sense of humour; editors are wankers. That’s the guts of your story, the parts we want to keep hearing about. Keep writing. Write shit, screw it up, write better shit, delete it, do it again. Stephen King insists that all first drafts are shit, Roald Dahl re-wrote Charlie & The Chocolate Factory from scratch because originally his grandchildren all told him it was terrible. It happens to the best. So just do it.
2. Take time out if you need to
You know better than anyone when you need to stop for a while. If I’d have forced myself to write during that one year period – despite the fact that I knew I didn’t have anything to give – I probably would’ve given up all together and become a stone-hearted corporate executive who licks Cristal off rent boys nipples in between lunches at Patisserie Valerie. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary to take a breather, because your mind needs to be stimulated by real life, and real life isn’t staring at a computer screen or a piece of paper waiting for words to materialise through sorcery. It’s not always that cut and dried.
3. Be kind to yourself
Taking a rest stop doesn’t make you a bad person. Missing your deadline doesn’t make you a bad person. Having writer’s block doesn’t make you a bad person. Sometimes, everything has to fall apart so you can put it back together in a way that is going to hold. It’s not too late to get back into doing what you love, and don’t ever think it is.
When something is a part of you, it’s like a limb, or an organ – it’s not something you can just get rid of. As I said above, we feel a disconnect because it’s intrinsic, it’s something that’s within us. Although I generally agree that ‘anyone can be a writer’ if they work at their craft, I also firmly believe that writers are born, not made. This is in our blood, in our DNA, and it’s not something we can ever lose. Writer’s block is just another challenge, another test of ourselves, but if we make it our mate, if we take it to the pub and have a few drinks and a shot or two with it, it’ll be much easier to bear than putting some boxing gloves on it and letting it beat the shit out of us. Be kind to yourself. This will pass.