Writer’s Block

I don’t much get writer’s block.

Some years ago–twenty-three, to be exact–I didn’t write for a while. For years. I kept trying, but nothing came out. In retrospect, I know why: I was in a bad relationship, and I had to lie to myself day to day to get anything done at all.

Fiction demands a deep, internal truth. Non-fiction has a quality about it, a tangible reality it can fall back on when events begin to seem surreal. (The real world is far more mad than any fiction you’ll ever read.) If fiction skimps on truth, the made-up elements of the story won’t be able to involve the reader at all. When you’re constantly lying to yourself, it’s impossible to escape into fiction, even in your own head. It’s like trying to ice skate when the lake isn’t frozen.

These days, it’s not a lack of truth that’s my problem. It’s way, way too much of it.

A lot of folks like to say writer’s block doesn’t exist. I kind of get it. Unless someone’s literally deprived you of hands, pen, and paper, you’re physically able to write something. If you’re stuck, these people argue, just write random stuff until you’re unstuck! It’s easy!!

They don’t know what they’re talking about.

My head’s full of all kinds of fictional stuff right now. I’ve got a great scene I’m working on. I’m actually dying to write it. But I open up Scrivener, and create the new chapter…and I stare. And stare. And stare. In my head I can see it, see them stand, face each other; I can hear my MC’s voice, what they say; I feel anger, compassion, fear. It’s all there. But the words aren’t coming.

It’s not lying this time. I don’t really do that anymore. I can go through pockets of lying to myself, but most of the time I’m like a reformed smoker: I get a whiff of destructive self-delusion, and I pounce until it’s gone. This time…this time I think I’m just tired.

Our lives are full of things we can control. We don’t even know what those are until we find ourselves changing them. But the truth is, more of life than we like to admit is immutable. It’s a river apart from us, something we can be tossed around in, but can’t redirect. Heaven knows there’s nowhere we can get off, never mind how much we get tumbled.

The bends are sharp, the canyons are dark, and we can’t see what’s up ahead. We always hope it’s sunshine. Surely there’s always sunshine. Eventually.

Isn’t there?

The thing is, writer’s block isn’t always universal. I’ve got two novels–done to varying degrees- I need to work on, and a themed short story collection I’ve been poking at for a while. But it’s so much easier to get sidetracked by other things. (Like blogging!) Which isn’t always bad; I wrote a short story for actual money last year.

And I do write about reality. “Single Point of Failure” was kind of about reality. The short I sold is definitely about reality. They’re both about what we think we can control, and how we’re generally completely wrong. (I suppose “Thinking Inside the Box” is that as well, isn’t it? I hope I’m not turning into a single-issue writer.)

When I was younger, I saw writing as an escape, a way to get away from the real world. It wasn’t until I’d been writing for a long time that I began to see I wasn’t escaping the real world so much as processing it. But back then, it was a way out of situations that weren’t permanent. It was a way of finding the things I actually could change. Oddly, it was a way of taking control.

Right now? That scene in my head that I want to write…what a wonderful escape. Building the question in the reader’s mind, making them doubt the outcome even when they’re 99.9% sure of it, giving them a good enough payoff that even if they knew where it was going, they’re grateful and satisfied when it gets there. I like scenes like that, scenes I know I can make work, that’ll feel right once I’ve got them down, that will give the novel one of its big touchpoints. It’s fun writing scenes like that.

I suppose I can’t quite get to the truth of it. I can’t quite convince myself of the satisfying conclusion when everything around me seems so chaotic. When things I most want to change are things I can’t even touch. There’s nothing to do but hold on tight to my loved ones and ride the rapids with them as long as I can.

My touchpoint scene feels like cheating. It feels like sitting down in the middle of a race while my team keeps going. No matter what my intentions…I’m not sure I’d get up again.¬†All I can do is stop and breathe whenever I get the chance, and pouring energy into something else feels like wasting fuel I’m desperately going to need very, very soon.

So yeah. Writer’s block is a real thing. Different people get it in different ways, but it’s no less a block just because nobody’s handcuffed me and taken away my laptop.

One of these days I’ll be able to steer again. And then? That touchpoint scene is going to feel a lot like an escape route.

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