Let’s go through a common event, one that we all have experienced.
A police officer has pulled up behind you. Lights flashing, that crunch-crunch-crunch as he stomps his way over the asphalt. Your window is already open ’cause you know the drill, and your butt is clenched so tight an onlooker would think you’re three inches taller than you really are.
“You know why I pulled you over?”
Of course you do. You were going ninety-two in a residential district. Near a school. While drinking. With your hazard lights going. And a pair of rare (stolen) finches flapping around loose in the back seat. Also, you may or may not have a dead hooker in the trunk.
The cop unlimbers his ticket book, asks for your license and registration. Then, as you’re halfway to handing it over, he shakes his head, puts away the book, and starts walking away.
“Wait!” you scream. And because (as we’ve already seen) you are critically stupid, you add, “What about my ticket?”
The cop shrugs. “Not feelin’ it. I guess I’ve got cop’s block.”
Mind awhirl, you go home, thinking you’ll drop the dead hooker (who turns out to be in the trunk after all) in your garbage can. But it’s full. Trash day, the thing’s right there on the curb where it’s supposed to be, and the thing’s still full!
You run down the street to where the trash truck is driving, slowly, aimlessly.
“Why haven’t you emptied my trash?” you scream breathlessly. Breathless because the hooker corpse is still over your shoulder.
The guy in the truck looks depressed. He takes a shot of Jack Daniel’s out of a large bottle. “Sorry,” he says. “Trash maintenance engineer’s block.”
And he’s gone.
One thing about this story is ridiculous. Sadly, it’s not the fact that you have a thing for dead hookers.
No, it’s the idea that the cop and the “trash maintenance engineer” got “blocked.”
In the real world, “blocked” is baloney. “Blocked” is “incompetent,” followed swiftly by “fired.”
So why, oh why, to we writers get to be “blocked”?
Simple: it’s because we either don’t understand what it is to be a professional, or we don’t understand what writing is.
1) What it is to be a professional
Professional: “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or gain…following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged as a pastime…undertaken or engaged in as a means of livelihood or for gain.” (2014, Dictionary.com)
This article is addressed only at the professionals and those who hope to be. Those writers who want to write full- or part-time, and get paid for it. If you’re a hobbyist, fine. You can have “writer’s block” and use it as an excuse (or a reason, or whatever) not to write. Heck, you don’t need an excuse. Just don’t write. That’s the beautiful thing about hobbies. They’re a no-pressure part of life. Unlike the dead-hooker-thing. Which will catch up to you. Mark my words.*
Now, I’m one of the top selling indie horror writers in the U.S., a #1 bestseller on every major electronic platform, one of Amazon’s top selling horror writers for going on three years straight, and an international bestseller in over forty countries. My work has been translated overseas, and my books are Audible bestsellers. Heck, I’ve even outsold Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and that Fault in Our Stars guy a few times.
I don’t say this to brag, but I do say this so that you understand when I say most days I’m writing ten to twelve hours a day, I’m not just blowing smoke out my tooshie-parts. I’m working. Hard.
I’m a professional. And there’s no way I can do what I do without working all day, five (and sometimes six) days a week. A full “work” week, if you will.
If I’m not “feelin’ it,” I work anyway. I do my job. And my job is to write. Rain, shine, hot, cold, empty trunk or laden with dead hookers, “feelin’ it” or not, I write.
Pro-frickin’-fessional. That’s the definition, baby. Workin’ every day, all day. Punchin’ a card for a boss or bosses. It just so happens that your bosses when you are a writer are a) your audience and b) yourself. And if yourself isn’t the most douchiesest, demandingest boss you’ve ever had — one who refuses days off, bereavement days, and bathroom breaks, then you and your boss should have a heart-to-heart and you should tell him (or her) what’s what.
Either that or quit and find a new one. You’re a writer, so chances are there’s a meaner personality floating around somewhere in that messed up noggin of yours.
But you gotta write. No matter what.
Which brings us to…
2) What it is to write
“Oh noooooooooo,” laments the writer, begrizzled with writerly stubble (on the chin or legs, depending on grooming preferences, hormone imbalances, and/or affiliation to Nature Goddesses). “It hath been a fortnight and I hath wrought no writing. For nary a key on mine Apple computer of an old and creaky model have mine baby-soft fingers tickled. I am a victim of writer’s block, most sure and most foul.”
The problem with the writer in the above example is that he/she doesn’t understand writing. Doesn’t understand how writing works. Because there is a simple fact that most writers don’t understand:
“Writing” is not the same as “typing.” They often overlap, but should not be conflated.
Typing (for a writer) is when you bang on the keys, when you put the words on the page, and when you eventually type “The End” and congratulate yourself with a cigarette/brandy/healthful smoothie/meal out with the family/cheap hooker with a hinky heart.
But writing. . . writing is much more. Writing encompasses that typing. But it also includes the thinking about the story. The moments when we as writers walk around mumbling as we come up with new ideas, the glassy eyes that we get during social events, the outlining in thick crayon on legal pads (or napkins or the backs of nearby friends).
Writing even happens when we’re stuck. And that’s not a “block,” that’s part of the process.
When an architect is thinking, trying to figure out just the right curve or angle of a new building, is that architect’s block? Or when a CPA can’t figure out why column one and column two aren’t adding up, is that CPA’s block? No, it just means they keep worrying at the problem, chewing at it until it becomes clear. That’s not “block,” that’s “work.”
But “work” is scary for people who aren’t professionals. Who think that “writing” is code for “crapping out words with the ease of someone who ate a three-tier cake made entirely of ExLax and then having someone come along with their magic Pooper Scooper (TM) and convert my fecal wordiness into bricks of gold.”
Oops, I got back into Section One — what it is to be a professional. My bad. Rant over.
So the thing is, if you are “stuck,” that’s part of the writing process. It’s not a block, it’s an adventure and an opportunity. Where would the excitement of writing lie, if not in that glorious moment when you think you are absolutely, positively going to fail this time?
And, there’s another way to write: put down the pen. Walk away. Go see a movie. Read a book. People watch at the mall. But do them all as writing exercises. Watch the movie to see what did or didn’t work from a narrative standpoint. Ditto the book. Watch people to learn new character mannerisms, new ticks and idiosyncrasies.
Doing this is legit. It’s the equivalent of a coffee/cigarette/lunch/hooker break for any other profession. Only it’s a WORKING break. Because we professional writers work harder than anyone else.
Come back to your project. You might see something new. If not, keep thinking. Because you’re not blocked, you’re just working.
Fin: The hard reality
Pros work. And there’s no such thing as block.
That means you’ll keep working until you get it. If not, it doesn’t mean you were “blocked,” it means you “quit.”
I’ve written thirty-plus books in the last five years. Never been blocked, because there’s just no such thing.
Now get out there. Be a pro. Work.
* Don’t ask me how I know this. Just don’t.
Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and screenwriter, one of the top selling horror novelists on Amazon for over two years straight, and has been a bestselling novelist on various ebook lists in over forty countries. Find more writing advice at his website, or follow him on Facebook.