By Lisabet Sarai
Writer's block. It's a luxury that I can't afford. As I mentioned a few weeks ago when we were discussing writing habits, I normally set aside one day a week for writing. That's all I can manage, most weeks, and I have to spend that day productively if I want to achieve my goals--whether I feel like writing or not. The rest of my time is spoken for. If I don't write on the allocated day, I don't write. Enough said.
That doesn't mean that I always feel inspired. Sometimes the process of getting the words down is downright painful. But I do it anyway. I always have an ongoing project and I usually have a deadline. So I will sit down, open the file and bang away at the keyboard, even if what I'm creating seems to be total oushikusu (thanks, Garce!)
When the words aren't flowing, I try to relax my standards. I will force myself to leave a sentence or a paragraph that I know needs work and move on. I can return later, when the muse is in a more generous mood. I also try to turn off my inner critic. Yes, I know I used that same phrase a few pages ago, but let's just accept it for now. The more I obsess about how rotten my stuff is, the more difficult it is to fill the pages.
Actually, I think that "writer's block" is a vicious cycle. Our identities are so entwined with our writing that being blocked is terrifying. When we get stuck, we start to feel worthless. We question our talent and our commitment. Guilt and fear smother any hints of creativity. Writing becomes even more impossible. We wind ourselves up into an unproductive knot of negative emotions.
The key to unraveling this knot, at least for me, is to simply write, without thought or judgment or self-pressure. The days when it's the hardest, I will try to forget my deadline. I'll be happy if I can produce fifteen hundred words, instead of my target three thousand. At the end of the day, I will feel a sense of accomplishment, even if I know that the work isn't my best.
When I sold Raw Silk the first time, I was a total novice as far as contracts and the publishing world was concerned. The contract specified 85K words. I sent Black Lace a manuscript that was only 77K. I didn't realize that it mattered. I received a stern email from the editor indicating that they needed another eight thousand words within a few days or I'd be in violation of my contract.
I had a terrible cold. My head was pounding, my sinuses were clogged and I was probably running a fever. I wrote two new chapters in the course of a weekend, because I didn't have any choice. Reading them now, I think that they're among the best parts of the book.
I'm stubborn. Just ask my husband. And if I start something, then damn it, I'm going to finish it! There's a story from my childhood that says it all. When I was six or seven, my parents joined the YMCA so that my siblings and I could get the benefit of swimming lessons and other sports. Somehow I happened to be entered in a swimming race. I was never much of an athlete, but I did what I could.
The race was a half-dozen laps of the pool. My competitors finished while I was on my third lap. Nevertheless, I doggedly continued to paddle back and forth in order to complete the course. I vaguely remember that when I pulled my chubby little body out of the pool, there was a scattering of applause.
Inspiration is a wonderful thing. I love the buzz I feel when the words come easily, flowing from my imagination onto the page with scarcely any conscious intervention. Alas, that experience is relatively rare. (That's what makes it so amazing, perhaps.)
When inspiration fails, I fall back on perseverance. I decided years ago that I am going to take this author thing seriously. The only way to be a writer is to write. You can't wait for the right time, the right place, the right idea. And you can't allow fear to freeze your voice.