“That’s STUPID!” he says, leaning over my shoulder while stuffing another handful of Cheetos in his mouth. “In fact,” he continues, brushing the crumbs out of the week-old stubble on his puffy cheeks, “there are about a thousand reasons that I and a million other bloggers will take this drivel and rip it to utter shreds as soon as it hits Amazon-dot-com!” Brushing the cheese-flavored dust off of his pajama top, he chuckles again and changes his angle of attack as I labor to finish another paragraph. “So,” he says, “do you realize how many books Stephen King published by the time he was your age?”
That’s my anti-muse, the cause of all my writer’s block.
For me, getting ideas to write about has never been a problem. For me, writer’s block is more a case of failing to come up with ideas that some overweight blogger will fill his webpage with every typo and inconsistency that slips past me and my publisher’s editing department. Most of all, if I can’t figure out where to take my characters next, I’ve been paralyzed by the thought that any action they take, any action, will be ruled as ridiculous, worthless and weak by the nameless, invisible critic who hovers over my shoulder, and whose voice I cannot ignore even if I’m the only one who hears him.
Maybe your anti-muse was a cruel teacher, an unkind parent, or a merciless sibling. Whoever they are, you hear them when you’re stuck on a writing project and it keeps you from moving forwad.
So what to do?
1) Take a walk. Stephen King had writer’s block at about page 500 of The Stand. A walk in the woods uncluttered his mind and helped him cut the Gordian knot of plotlines and multiple characters he’d wound himself up in.
2) Put it away. Even if it’s 200 pages, you have permission to put it away and doe somethinge else for six weeks. Coming back to it with fresh eyes will make you see your work isn’t so bad, after all.
3) Read something else. When you write enough, you develop a sixth sense. Here, you think about page 400 where the prose of your favorite author’s book looks stiff and different, here’s where s/he hit the same thing I did!
Seeing another author overcome plot tangles, impossible odds for their characters, and other Herculean labors will often invigorate you and give you the impetus to keep going
4) Keep writing. You may want to ‘limber up’ with a legal notepad and a ballpoint pen, writing every thought that comes into your head for twenty minutes straight. You’l be surprised how easy ideas come your way after a few minutes of speed writing.
Whatever you do, never forget this: your anti-muse is not your friend. Stop inviting them to your writing sessions. You’ve got too much work to do! J
John McNichol lives in Vancouver, Washington. He is the author of The Young Chesterton Chronicles, an exciting Catholic adventure series for young men of most ages.