“When making music gets too easy, it becomes harder to make it sing” ~ Jack White
For a writer I don’t talk or write very much about writing. Not in general, anyway. I certainly talk about my writing enough, but not much about the craft. It’s a double-edged sword; why write about it when I should be writing it? Plus, every writer has their opinions on how best to write. They’re all different, and they all come from the same place; experience. But since everybody’s experience is different, their advice, their “rules”, will likewise be different. It’s why I’m loath to embrace the teachings of writing “gurus” or “experts” as really they’re teaching you how to write like them.
Take “Writer’s Block”. Some debate its existence. Some sniff they’ve never experienced writer’s block, and that its existence is the sign of a lazy wannabe writer. Thing is, I’m naturally suspicious of people who claim writing comes easy to them all the time. My guess is that’s because they’re not trying terribly hard, like they’re setting the bar low (like, on the ground low) and then crowing after they’ve jumped it with ease. Now they may be THAT good (and some are masters of their craft), but I’ve yet to see it in any writers I know, or in myself, and I’ve been writing pro coming up on fourteen years.
From my experience, writer’s block exists, though it’s less a wall you keep crashing into than a sign something is amiss with the project in question. Some structural flaw, some lapse in story logic preventing you from moving forward on it. It’s your mind telling you something’s wrong, and forcing you to articulate what the problem is.
For me writer’s block isn’t necessarily a bad thing; usually it means I’ve written myself into a corner and need to backtrack a bit, to write my way out. There have been times where I’ve had to take a break from a problematic project, go off and do something else for a bit, then come back to it, figure out where I got tripped up, and proceed from that point.
Around 12 years ago I had conceived the idea for a monster movie, while on a bighttime bus ride through a raging snowstorm back to the city. On getting back home I plotted it, outlined it, and started writing it. And I got to maybe the two thirds through it, to the point where … I … just … stopped. It felt like I’d hit a wall. I put it aside and told myself I’d get back to it in a day or two. Months elapsed and I still hadn’t returned to it.
Then, one night, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw the characters in that screenplay, all sitting around where I left them, checking their watches and saying; “He’s coming back, right”? They were just there, waiting for me. And the next morning I awoke, picked up the screenplay where I left it, and finished it in the next day and a bit; 40 pages drafted in a white hot flash of inspiration. Now, they were shitty pages, but they wre finished shitty pages, and I could look those pages now as a problem that needed solving. Determining just what I had done wrong was relatively easy, and by the end of that month I had rewritten and revised to the point I said to myself; “Hey, this isn’t too bad after all.”
[Turns out when it was finally finished, and sent out, ended up being the best received screenplay I’ve ever written. It’s yet to be produced, but it led to me being hired on numerous projects. It’s about vampires. It may still have life in it.]
So point being, sometimes you need to hit that wall. Sometimes you need writer’s block. You need to have limitations thrus upon you, to overcome them and become better at what you do. I’d rather face those obstacles than take the steps to ensure they’re never there in the first place. You do that, you’re just fooling yourself that you’re doing great work. You fear failure so much you’re not willing to risk it at all. Limitations force you to become more creative in how you solve those problems. Being more creative makes you better, no matter what your profession.
There’s a little known story about the Beatles that, I think, illustrates this perfectly. Post Rubber Soul, McCartney lobbied EMI, the Beatles’ label, to let the band travel to America, as the US of A had all the then state of the art technology not available to them in the UK. The Stones had done it, and the Beatles wanted to do it too; they wanted to play with these new toys. But contractual obligations with EMI left them stuck in the UK, much to their chagrin. They and their producer George Martin were forced, against their will, to decamp to the best studio they could find, which was still using WW2 era equipment.
The studio was Abbey Road.
And the albums they recorded there — Revolver, The White Album, and the landmark Sgt. Pepper became groundbreaking works. All because they had to take those limitations, that archaic technology, and bend it to their will to craft the sounds they heard in their heads.
So yeah, you ask me again, I’ll tell you that Writer’s Block definitely exists. It exists because I put it there, and in the process forced me to use the tools I had all along to smash it to pieces.