"There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough."
That’s a little quote from somebody named William Stafford, an American poet. He offered up that little pearl of wisdom to a bunch of other budding poets who were having trouble getting started.
So what does it mean? Does it mean that I should have no standards and just write crap or does it mean that I should raise my standards and that maybe writer’s block is, from time to time, a good thing? As far as I'm concerned, I’m going with the good thing.
Look. most of us have probably been there more than a couple of times throughout our little foray into the world of writing. You sit there staring at a blank piece of paper or a monitor and the words, for whatever reason, just won’t come. Oh, maybe they dance and swirl around inside your head but for some God forsaken reason, when you commit them to paper, they just don’t sound like you intended them to. Pencils or pens are thrown down in disgust, papers are wadded into little balls and thrown in the direction of the omnipresent trash can and the delete button is only a click or two away.
So what’s holding you back?
Maybe it’s that little voice in your head that whispers to you that you really have nothing much to say. Maybe you’re afraid of actually letting somebody else read and criticize your work. Maybe you flash back in time to your third grade English class and the time you had to stand up in front of a bunch of people and recite the inevitable “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” and everybody in the room laughed. I mean, there you were, pouring your heart and soul out, maybe professing for the first time in public your first crush or rehashing the details of your little trip to Disneyworld or wherever and nobody seemed to give a shit. Maybe that was enough to cause you to say “Fuck this, that ain’t ever happening again.” Or maybe, just maybe, that little event lit a fire in you that needs to be re-kindled every now and then.
Where to start?
Well, if studies are to be believed then it’s usually in the beginning. Now, I don’t know how many studies have been conducted or who in their right mind would want to pay for such research, but it makes sense to me. So, if you cant find the beginning, what’s the alternative?
For starters, you could begin in the middle or the end and work yourself backwards. When you’re finally ready to post or publish that sucker, do you really think anybody is going to know that the inspiration
for the introduction
was the last thing to pop into your head?
Some tips for getting it down
Okay, your voice is crying to be heard but the feelings and the flow of words that you’re looking to express is lodged somewhere between your brain and the blank sheet of whatever that’s staring back at you. A tough place indeed but here are some things you might do to free them from their perceived prison.
Try talking to an inanimate object. Yeah, I know that sounds nutty, especially if you live with somebody else or have pets but sometimes it works. After all, if it can’t talk back to you, it can’t criticize you either. You might get some strange looks from Fido though.
Start with something easy. Words, if they’re written well, have a tendency to flow and most of the mightiest rivers in the world start out as a mere trickle. Once they begin heading downstream, they’ll pick up pace and rhythm.
Ever hear of free style writing? Just start banging away on the keyboard or scribbling away on the paper. Disregard punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors that would normally make you winch like you were stuck with a needle and get those hands and thoughts moving.
Get out of the house. Go talk a walk, bullshit with your neighbors, go to the grocery store, talk to a squirrel or scream at the sky. You’d be surprised what a cleansing effect the fresh air would have on you and it’s got to be better scenery than an ashtray full of cigarette butts or the clutter that adorns your desk.
Take a shower or a bath. That’s right, if you’ve been sweating out a particularly tough passage for hours and hours, you’re probably starting to stink. Chances are, your writing might take on the same aroma. Just as in life, there’s nothing wrong with a clean start every now and then.
Use another voice. Try and see the world or the topic you’re trying to describe through a different set of eyeballs. Take on a new perspective.
Don’t be so freakin’ hard on yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day ya know. I know that’s probably easier said than done but if you aren’t subject to deadlines, the world can and will wait for awhile.
Call a time out every now and then. I know that’s tough to do, especially when the words are tumbling out and the paper is grabbing at them like they were meant to be there but you’d be surprised what good things can happen if you walk away for a bit.
Write some shit. Yep, there, I went and said it. At least it’s something and shit has to be cleaned up or flushed. If you expect your first draft to be a masterpiece, you’ve set your expectations way too high.
Go have a cocktail or two. Or ten. Booze often has a liberating effect (or so I’m told) and maybe it will help calm your nerves. Jot down some notes if you have a nice buzz on and try to put some thoughts around them when you’ve sobered up.
There you have it folks. Naturally there are probably thousands of other ways for you to break the ties that bind you. From personal experience, these were just a couple that I found worked for me.
To me, writing is a voyage of discovery. You have a voice, you have an audience and even though they might be a tough one to please at times, they have your best interests at heart.