Seen a lot of writing advice on blogs lately, but I’m loathe to give any. I mean, what the hell do I know? You sit down, you bang on the keys, and you hope something salvageable comes out. How you go about it is your business.
All I’ve got to say is this – you gotta go about it.
And writer’s block is a ghost.
Ghosts are scary. Ghosts go bump in the night. Ghosts make you wake up shiny in your own sweat. Ghosts are the spirits of past failures come home to roost. Ghosts honor no rules. Ghosts whisper your own secrets in your ears and fill you with shame and chase away your faith and leave you unfamiliar with your own gifts.
Ghosts are romantic and tragic and darkly sexy, like the idea that there’s this torrent of heart wrenching words bottled up just the other side of this psychic dam, and that we are its instrument, and that if we could just exorcise this demon that blocks their release, the words would flow like milk and honey and all the world would marvel and our genius would at last be recognized.
Bullshit. There’s no such thing as ghosts.
I’ll tell you this right now. I’ve been writing professionally for thirty years, and I’ve never had writer’s block. Sure, there are days, even weeks, the occasional month, where I didn’t write. And I quivered at imagined shapes in dark hallways. But those shapes were the avatars I gave to my laziness. Writer’s block is sloth dressed up for polite discussion. It’s what we say instead of “I just didn’t have the discipline to sit my ass down today. Didn’t want to do the work. It was too hard.” Or what we say instead of “I’m not really sure I’m good at this. If I don’t write anything, then no one can prove I suck.”
Boo hoo fucking hoo.
Like anything else, writing takes practice. Like anything else, it’s easier some days than others. Like anything else you can get rusty.
And writing has inertia. Every day you write makes the next day easier. And every day you don’t write, your work in progress sinks into the ground a little until pretty soon it’s a rusty old pick up on flat tires in the over grown yard of your mental trailer and you’re gonna have to get out there with a pick ax and shovel just to get a definite article down on paper.
One of the Stockings said something in class once. David and Marion – both dead now, but both professors in the English program at Beloit College. David, I think. Let’s say David. Some kid was going on in that self-important way unique to 19-year-olds about what it meant to be a writer. So Professor Stocking asks “Are you a writer?” And the kid says of course he is. Professor Stocking asks “What did you write today?” And the kid says nothing. And Professor Stocking says “Then not today you’re not.”
So that’s our choice. Every day. Be a writer or don’t be a writer. But whichever way you play it, don’t blame any ghosts.