3 min read

Writer's Block Isn't Real... Is It?

I've been nibble-reading (is this a term? can we make it a term? When you read a book in "small bites" over an extended period of time?) Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I initially thought Verlyn was a woman and I was mighty impressed by the strong, authoritative tone of this craft book until I learned otherwise – Eep! Now, it feels a bit pushy, but the advice ain't bad.

As you can probably guess, the main crux of this book is to write short sentences. Writing a short sentence is infinitely more challenging than writing lengthy sentences. The longer your sentence, the more likely you are to lose control of it. Then, your writing becomes rambling. Keep your sentences so tight they plink like a guitar string when plucked.

Looking for a writing prompt? Pull up an old first draft. Rewrite the intro in the shortest, tightest sentences possible. How does your work change? What gets cut? What do you want to add back in?

Writing is a series of choices. As I've grown as a writer, I've noticed that in my early drafts, I now default to shorter sentences. They're easier to move around and revise. I can tell when I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say because my sentences get longer (and the words I use do too!) and unintentionally lax. This is okay, it's what revision's for, but it's a pattern I've observed in my writing practice.

Looking for another writing prompt? Go through a first draft. Stop at any sentence longer than five words. Question if it needs to be that long. Revise accordingly.

But back to Verlyn.

I'm about 1/3 of the way through the book. Verlyn shares some thoughts on writer's block,

So, let's suppose there's no such thing as writer's block. There's loss of confidence and forgetting to think and failing to prepare and not reading enough and giving up on patience and hastening to write and fearing your audience and never really trying to understand how sentences work. Above al, there's never learning to trust yourself or your capacity to learn to think or perceive. People will continue to believe writing is natural. This harms only writers who believe it themselves.

Note: Verlyn has some interesting line breaks going on in this book, but to save time I just typed this excerpt up as one big paragraph.

This idea that it's not a block, writing is hard work, is both minor and major at the same time. There are just so many worries and doubts we have to keep at bay while we write. Verlyn is arguing that's part of the work too, just as much as any other aspect of writing.

Kind of like if you're a gardener, you don't go out into you backyard to break ground and then give up if the fertile is unyielding. Nope. You just put some muscle behind that shovel and keep digging.

Writing is the same way. BUT. This is not advice to sit at your desk and attempt to force yourself to grind something out. I don't think that works very well either. I am not a writer who has entirely disabused themselves of the notion that writing should feel natural and flow as you're doing it, so please understand this is my daily struggle, but I will suggest something that works for me, most of the time, whenever I decide to actually do it.

Set a timer. It's hard for me to force myself to write if I have a large block of time ahead of me. I just pout them whole time instead of getting to it. So, if I feel like I can't write, I set a 30-minute timer.  I tell myself I only have to write for 30-minutes and however little or much I write is totally fine. Usually, this is enough to get me going and by the time the timer goes off, I want to keep writing.

If it doesn't work, at the end of the 30-minutes, I move around. Staring blankly at your desk, internally berating yourself, just isn't helpful. I take a walk, I do the dishes, put away the laundry, scrub my shower, whatever keeps my body active but doesn't require my close attention. This allows my mind to relax just enough, that I start doing some mental writing problem-solving, and usually before the task is done I have a sentence or idea I take back to my desk with me.

What are ticks for busting through your writer's block?

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