Dealing With Writer's Block by Ned Vizzini
I don't believe in writer's block anymore.
I believe in it for other people. It's possible, of course, to get to a point with your writing where you know that everything is terrible and you don't want to go on.
But I no longer believe in it for myself.
Why? Because I have deadlines. Deadlines that have nothing to do with my emotions or artistic satisfaction. Deadlines that know no reason or cajoling. And the deadlines don't understand writer's block.
But I have had it in the past and I know its vicissitudes. So I'll try to help you get over it, because it really is a terrible thing, with three tips:
- Find out why you don't understand your characters.
If you're blocked in a piece of writing, it's probably because you don't have a full understanding of the people you are writing about. This can be a tough thing to learn and to admit. You might be 60 or 120 pages into a book, thinking, “There's something off here—but no one will notice.” Unfortunately I can assure that people will.
If you're struck with this kind of writer's block, where it suddenly seems that you don't know the characters, you have to go back and fix them. This is never, ever fun work. But that's why it's work. You must go back and really understand your characters from the ground up—understand what music they like, what cars they drive, what their favorite food is—and once you have a good understanding, you will get un-blocked and be able to continue.
There is a simpler kind of writer's block that comes from not reading. You might start to neglect reading as a writer. A phrase I often tell myself is, It's time to stop being a consumer of culture and start being a creator of culture. But if you aren't consuming some culture, namely books, you will never be able to produce.
What are you reading? Is it any good? Is it worth your time? If not, abandon it. Pick something better. Only by reading inspiring work will you be able to keep writing.
- Make deadlines for yourself.
Birthdays are the best deadlines. How long has it been since your last one? What have you accomplished? If you're trying to write a book, you should probably be able to write it in a year. So have a quiet moment with yourself and promise: I will be finished with this by my next birthday. And if you don't reach your goal, you don't get cake.
Only by imposing deadlines will you be able to fully beat writer's block. And after you beat it enough, you'll be a professional and it will no longer be an option.
Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It's Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... In television, he has written for ABC's Last Resort and MTV's Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.