After the publication of my first book, the world looked like it was my oyster (man, was I a naive writer). I mean, I'd found the shortcut to literary success, right? No years of toiling to find an agent, no years of waiting for an editor to fall in love with my writing. I wrote, was selected to enter a competition, I won said competition, my book was published by a Big Six publisher. The fact that it was published only as an ebook, in 2003, didn't phase me. I knew - knew - that people would love it and it would be a big success and a representative from Random House would come to my door with flowers and a big Ed McMahon-sized check and a new contract detailing how my book would lovingly be printed in hardback and Darrell K. Sweet or maybe Boris Vallejo was going to do the cover art.
Truth is, Thagoth did do relatively well, for an ebook in 2003. About 300 sales that first year, lots of good ratings. But Random House had zero plans or interest in doing anything further with it. My editor was gone, casualty of a regime change, and my book was an orphan. I didn't really understand any of that for a while, and happily went on writing some fairly decent short stories, starting some interesting novels, and starting and discarding stories I knew, even as a young, inexperienced writer, weren't up to snuff. All very healthy and good and normal for a writer learning their chops.
When reality started to sink in, it was at the worst possible time. I was already sinking into the depths of clinical depression due to other stresses in my life; my writing career that wasn't pushed that decline into a nosedive.
All my projects came to a screeching halt. And stayed halted for about eight years.
Oh, I started quite a number of new things. Over the last few years I've gotten much more confident when it comes to the old Act I of storytelling. And editorially, I can polish the first third of a piece of writing like nobody's business. I can edit and revise and polish like a boss. But finish something?
Well. You know. All stories have the same general form, right? And the middle ground is a slog, and the ending either predictable or artificially forced. Who needs to finish anything? The beginning is where it's at, right? Right? Easier to pretend to feel this way than to face yet another abandoned project, anyway.
My point here being, every writer's block is personalized for that writer.
Some can start, but not finish. Some can't start at all, and the blank page or snowy-white screen are like some insurmountable curse. Others can write, but every word written or typed gives off a rancid stench. Yet others get lost in the process, the orderly world of words suddenly turned in to some cursed forest with no path out.
If you ever have writer's block, and somebody tells you 'just' to work your way though it, you have my permission to call them very bad names. If anyone ever tells you writer's block doesn't exist, go right ahead and punch them in the gut. If anyone, heaven help them, tells you writer's block is all in your head, smile and say to them 'yes, it is indeed in my head, which is also where the WORDS are, you cretin' and then taser them (I suggest the genitals).
Ah, you ask, but Mike, how do you defeat/cure/get rid of writer's block?
Your disease is personalized, my friend, and so must be the cure. I could give you a bottle of snake oil, with predictable results. But I can give you a little advice that might help:
- Stay the fuck away from negative people. Good general advice, critical for a writer.
- Don't think you're going to outwit writer's block. It's exactly as intelligent as you are.
- You only lose when you quit. Yes, I know it sucks -- eight years worth of suck for me, remember?
- Don't try to be too ambitious. It's much better to write something that sucks ass, but is complete, than to start your magnum opus and have it die on page 30, reinforcing the feeling of failure.
- Remember, when writing garbage, that you can always revise.
- Remember, when writing garbage, that you can always delete.
- Follow any spark of interest or creativity to see where it leads. Try very hard to have no expectations.
- Keep idea notes as they come to you.
- Realize that the desire and urge to write will flee as soon as you sit down to do it, and reappear as soon as you have to go to work. Realize that this is just your subconscious fucking with you. If you called in sick, you almost certainly would not have a breakthrough.
- Learn to listen to the small voice in your head that says 'hmm, that's interesting'. Learn to nurture that germ of an idea. It might sprout. the sprout might take root. It might grow a story. Don't try and force it; you wouldn't try and force a seedling to grow into a tomato.
- Periodically read really, really terrible writing that managed to get published. Make notes on why it was awful and how you would have done it better.
- Make an effort to experience new, different things. Feed your soul and your psyche.
- Know you are not alone.
Good luck, my friends, and remember to be kind, both to others and to yourself.