There Is No Such Thing As Writers' Block by Joseph Selby

Today I have a special guest blogger for you--Joseph Selby. Or as I like to think of him--the guy who doesn't let me get away with anything on Twitter. ;)  He always calls me out the moment I get overly dramatic. And now he's going to call all of us out because I know I'm not the only one who has used the excuse of "writer's block" to explain away why I haven't written.

So Joe's going to give it to us straight and tell us why we might be feeling like we're blocked and will give us some great tips on what we can do about.

So without further ado, take it away Joe...

There Is No Such Thing As Writers' Block by Joseph Selby

Terry Pratchett has a famous quote, "There is no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California that cannot write." I heard something similar when I was a freshman in high school (possibly by Vonnegut but I cannot remember now). It has proven to be the most valuable tip on writing I have ever heard.

Why? Because there is no such thing as writer's block.

There are factors that may inhibit one's writing: excessive stress from finances or health, relationship woes, etc. Stress can grind creativity into meal. But that's not writer's block. That's stress.

The big WB is some invisible curse that hides one's creativity behind a glass wall. You can see your creativity there. You remember it fondly. It waves and tells you to come over and play, but you cannot get to it. Bang all you wish against that glass wall, you cannot shatter it. Your momentum stalls or worse, your entire manuscript is ruined!

But the wall is not glass. It is imaginary. Now you may have encountered the WB a time or two, had a moment where all sense of what happens next deserted you. You were writing and writing and writing and...stopped. Your story looked out into a void and was consumed by the Nothing. Writer's block, you moan! Oh no! I was doing so well but now the Nothing has consumed my ability, and I have no luck dragon to help me escape! So you think I am being unfairly dismissive. Oh no, friend, I am being quite fairly dismissive.

Here's what really happened: You made a mistake. First, let's go down the checklist. Were there no external stressors like your partner leaving you or the bank foreclosing on your house? Are confident enough in your ability as a writer that you did not sabotage your own effort? That leaves writer's block. Or in reality, it leaves your subconscious writer telling your conscious writer that you made a mistake.

Now depending on how you write, you may follow an outline or you may be going along by the seat of your pants. In either case, your first draft is not going to be your final draft. It will require a lot of spit and a lot of polish before it's good and ready. You may edit while you work (like Roni) or you may wait until the draft is finished and then go back to revise (like me). But when writer's block strikes, you have made (and missed) a mistake that your subconscious knows will derail your entire effort later. Enough so that regardless of when you prefer to revise, you need to stop and do it now..

Perhaps it was an action against character or an event that could not happen based on the time and location of characters described in previous chapters. Perhaps you accidentally channeled Darth Vader's redemption scene without knowing it but everyone else in the world will point and mock you for it. Whatever you've done, your subconscious writer is telling you that you cannot go forward until you fix the problem. It turns off the creative switch and chains up your momentum, holding them hostage until you bow to its will.

Since you're stopped anyway, go back and check the previous two chapters. Often, the error is in the chapter you just finished.

Examine these chapters and compare them to the chapters before and the direction in which you want to take the manuscript. Is there something that doesn't sit right with you? Or is there something else that could be a hundred times cooler and you just missed it the first time around? If you do not find the error in these two chapters (you probably will according to Pratchett, and I've found that he's right), continue to work backward until you do. If you do not find an error, examine your plot as a whole. IS there a gaping pit in logic or character motivation? IS there logic or character motivation? IS that character just Darth Vader without a rebreather helmet and a light saber?

You made a mistake and as soon as you fix it, your creativity and momentum will rocket back like Augustus Gloop getting sucked up a liquid chocolate tube.

If you cannot find a mistake and you genuinely think you have writer's block, Sir Terry suggests you move to California.

Joseph L. Selby

is a fantasist seeking representation. From 9:30 to 5:00 he works as a media project manager for an educational publisher, bringing about the epocalypse. He blogs at

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