If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented. Stephen King, On Writing
Stephen King wrote that.
On good days, I remember that Stephen King — a man with both an amazing body of work and an absurdly cute dog — thinks I’m talented. I can’t use my income from writing to buy a solid gold pony, or even a solid gold hamster, but some years I made enough to keep myself in beer, books and boots.
On my bad days, I remind myself none of that paid writing is recent. I have written other things. Birthday cards. Emails to government representatives. Impassioned comments on Facebook on how Tropic Thunder is a great Christmas movie. But having failed miserably to write anything of substance in the last, oh, four years, it has come to the point at which I have to face the fact it may not be writer’s block.
Maybe I am just not a writer. Maybe I just have delusions of wordiness. A non-writer — with a block.
Feeling a bit like a non-writer too today? Are you ready to prevaricate and not-write like never before? Let us go together through the joyous stages of non-writer’s block, now with additional swearing and more CAPS that needed.
I opened this with a quote from a book. Reading books about writing is a great feel like a writer but not actually write anything. It is super-meta and I can’t recommend it enough. You can sit in coffee shops or on buses or work meetings (phone under the table, of course) basking in the warm glow of being a writer without actually producing a single word of original text.
Bonus; I didn’t even read a book on writing! I vaguely remembered the quote from back when I used to read books about writing and put an absurd sentence into Google (stephen king pay my gas bill) and it did the rest! Google can do basically anything. Go on Google, take the wheel and write this article! Autocomplete my manuscript! Take the first word, fill in the second, third and fourth words, and ad infinitum!
…Google, please also give us the first word. We’re struggling here.
You would like to be writing, you really really would, but you need to research for world-building purposes and writing techniques. How can you write without reading first? And looking up tips and tools from established writers? Oh wow, there is a page devoted to autocomplete games? Shussssssh, it’s not procrastination, we have a high score to beat.
Don’t want to write anything new? Have you considered the endless joys of editing your old stuff? You look it over and, hey, it’s not too terrible. So you add in a bit, and spruce it up a bit, correct some errors, change a few outdated references… and you’ve been working for 3 hours without actually having written anything new. It’s the literary equivalent of attempting to serve up those mystery frozen foods from back of the freezer as a balanced meal.
4? EDIT IT ALL
Cut the word count. Cut cut cut. Keep cutting. More. Even more. ALL OF IT. Trim the fat. Remove all the extraneous words. Kill your darlings. Throw out your notebooks. Destroy your pens! Give your clothing to charity! Screw it, donate a damned kidney, you’re not using it right now. EDIT YOUR LIFE, ALL OF IT, RIGHT NOW. The fun thing about editing is the more you do it, the further you can get from writing any words at all.
44. EDIT SOME MORE
Keep trimming and strimming until eventually you have just one sentence left. You are a prodigal sculptor releasing a small but perfect figure from a mountain of marble, or a genius archaeologist brushing fields of dirt away to find one shining coin or — let’s be more realistic here — a twitchy-eyed fanatic painstakingly polishing your turds to reveal a tiny piece of immaculately-preserved sweetcorn at the core. Such a fine line between wordsmith and turdsmith, don’t you think?
5. EAT SOMETHING
Maybe you aren’t crap. Maybe it’s just low blood sugar. Eat something. Eat everything! Fall down the rabbit hole that is cookery videos on YouTube and embrace a new career as a pastry chef! You can justify it by saying you will write about it some day. Or you can write 5,000 work blog posts on how to make toast for recipe sites.
“To understand what makes this toast so good, I need first to tell you a long-winded personal anecdote about Russia in 1986, which I will begin by quoting War and Peace in its entirety…”
It’s not Writer’s Block, it’s Non-Writer’s Commitment. I am so good at not writing I haven’t done it in months. Don’t want a thing written about? You should call me. I will absolutely never write a tell-all book about your secrets because I have: a) no muse left; b) fecking Google won’t give me a first bloody word, and; c) I am still editing down my 1,200 page Livejournal from the early noughties into a line of usable text. (The sentence is currently, “Wow, I was so drunk guys, sorry!”.)
OH GOD LEAVE ME ALONE I AM TRYING MY HARDEST
OR AT LEAST A TEENY BIT WHILE READING MY OLD BLOG AND LOOKING UP RECIPES FOR ROAST PORK AND ALSO DISTRACTING MYSELF WITH MEMES
Aren’t memes about writing great?
?? REPEAT FOREVER
For those of you hoping for a point to all this, or some useful advice, I feel it’s obvious you may need to go elsewhere.
May I suggest the rather excellent On Writing by Stephen King?