Over the decades, I have been asked this question more times than I can count. “How do I get past my writer’s block?” To date, I don’t think anyone has liked my answer. The truth is, I’m just an armchair psychiatrist and possibly not a very good one. Writer’s block is like depression; there are a thousand things that can cause it.
But here’s what I believe causes it most of the time. Writing a book is hard. People don’t realize the toll writers endure both physically and psychologically. From your joints becoming stiff from sitting in front of the computer for countless hours, your gluteus maximus feeling like you just completed the Tour de France on a metal bike seat, the horrible diet that coincides with not taking the time to prepare real food, to seeing all the pics on social media of your friends kayaking, swimming, vacationing, and having all the fun you’ve denied yourself.
It’s human nature. If we know something is going to be difficult and demand personal sacrifices, our minds start devising excuses to get out of it. Suddenly we don’t know which direction to take the story. Suddenly we’re not sure about the entire premise. We start to question our abilities. We begin to wonder if we’re even good enough to write the book. Then we start to think about all the projects around the house that are being neglected. And voila — writer’s block.
Want to know the things that aspiring writers say that really irk me? “I write when I’m in the mood.” Or “I can only write when I’m inspired.” If you keep thinking that way, you’ll never be a real writer. Think about any real job you’ve ever had: waitress, cashier, factory worker, teacher, police officer, doctor, soldier, hair dresser, or the person who eats dogfood so they can claim it’s “better tasting”. How many times did you ever call in and say, “Gosh, I’m just not inspired today, so I’m not coming in.”?
The thing is, if you don’t start taking yourself seriously as a writer, how can you expect anyone else to? You have to schedule time to write, and when that time comes, you write. Hence, when people ask me what is the cure for writer’s block, I say one word. “Write.” When they argue that it can’t be that simple, I disagree. If you’re going to swim 100 laps, you better jump in the pool. If you’re going to write a book, you better sit in front of the computer and type “Chapter One” and keep going.
I have found that when my mind can’t seem to focus on the story and I’m not “feeling it” at all, that’s when some of my best ideas come out. When I’m not thinking clearly, often the story goes in new and exciting directions. Some of my best creative writing happens when my brain is out of sync. If you don’t like what you wrote one day, that’s fine. That’s the process. Not everything you write will make it into the final version anyway.
So, if you want to be a writer then write. And one day, when your friends who were partying and going to cookouts see your new book and pics of your successful book signings, enjoy it. When they all message to say, “I could never do that,” believe them. Because writing a book is not easy, but nothing in this life worth doing ever is.
Neal Wooten is a contributor to the Huff Post, columnist for the Mountain Valley News, author, artist, and standup comic. His new true-crime memoir, With the Devil’s Help (Pegasus Crime/Simon and Schuster), is being made into a miniseries. He is also the creator of the cartoon, Pancho el Pit Bull, which is being made into an animated series in South America.