Conversing with Story: Writer’s Block, and Defining Yourself as a Writer

Story: What’s wrong?

Me: I’m not writing.

Story: That’s bad. Why not?

Me: I think I’m blocked.

Story: Maybe you need a high colonic.

Me: No, I mean I have writer’s block. I can’t write. I’m stuck in the mud.

Story: Uh huh.

Me: You don’t believe me.

Story: I believe you believe it. Answer me this, are you still reading? And reading critically?

Me: Of course I am.

Story: What else?

Me: Well, all my stories are sent out, I’m keeping up with the markets, staying in touch with other writers and editors and professionals on social networks. I plan on attending a convention or two this year. Oh and I went out to a movie last weekend and thought about how I could fix the story up there on the screen, and what they got wrong with characterization. So I guess I was thinking critically about that, too, along with some television I watched.

Story: So what you are saying is you have been spending all your time thinking about story, and how to improve story, along with the everyday business side of submitting your work and maintaining contact with other writers.

Me: That’s right.

Story: You’re not writing, but you are thinking about writing and thinking about stories all day long to the exclusion of all else. All day long your mind is working on writing, even though you are not physically writing.

Me: That’s pretty much it.

Story: I’ll let you in on a little secret. You’re not going to like it, though.

Me: Go ahead.

Story: You’re still writing. No, before you say another word, you are still writing. Do you honestly believe writing is nothing more than putting words on paper, or electrons on a computer screen? Is your definition of writing as a profession, as a human activity, that limited? The very concept is frightening.

Me: Now wait a minute. To be a writer you have to write. You have to complete stories and get them out so they can be considered for publication.

Story: I’m not arguing that point. I’m saying you are confusing writing with only one activity and defining yourself that way. You just told me you are reading critically, keeping up with the business side of things, and thinking about stories all day long. That’s process. That’s writing. Oh, sure, you can probably do more about the actual physical process of writing. There is almost always room for improvement in some area of this profession no matter who you are. But don’t get down on yourself because you are having trouble putting words on paper. Maybe the story isn’t ready to be written, have you thought of that? Maybe it has to mature more in your mind. You start writing a story before it’s ready to be written and you’re only asking for trouble. Amateurs make that mistake all the time, and you’re not an amateur.

Me: Nevertheless, a writer has to write.

Story: We are still in agreement. But you know all that stuff you’re still doing? That’s writing. It’s all writing. Again and again I see writers get hung up on this one limited definition  of what writing is all about, and it kills them. It kills them. They go around thinking  writing must be one thing specific, instead of what it really is: a multitude of physical and mental elements that come together for one purpose: to create story. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do more. I’m arguing you are wrong when you think you are doing nothing.

Me: I don’t know. I’m still not convinced.

Story: Remember Harper Lee?

Me: Of course I remember her. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. She was a famous writer. One of the best ever.

Story: She never wrote a damn thing after that book. Not anything of note, anyway. Was she still a writer?

Me: Well, of course she was, she–

Story: Slowly the light dawns in the bleak caverns of his mind. Yes, she was still a writer. She was a writer unto her dying day. She’s just one example. Want others? Google is your friend.

Look, I’m not saying you should not write, or not be concerned you are not writing. I’m saying don’t beat yourself up because you’re not physically putting something on paper everyday. Don’t define yourself that way. I’m not one who believes you can write by a clock.  I think a story is best served when the writer knows the time is right to sit down and work on the story. You will know this. It is innate. It will come to you over time and with increased confidence.

I hear writers say all the time “It’s all about butt in chair.” Yes, I agree. But you know what? I don’t care who they are, if they really and truly were not ready to write a story, then it wouldn’t get written. And if they forced the story then it wouldn’t be readable, or salable. In reality, all they are doing is fooling themselves. They are ready, the story is ready. There is nothing to force. You don’t force a story. That’s not writing, that’s hackery. Or, as Truman Capote said, that’s “typing.”  Just remember, writers give themselves way too much credit at times, while on the flip side they don’t give themselves enough credit when credit is due.

Me: I feel a little better about things now.

Story: Good. Just keep plugging away at the other aspects of the profession. You’ll get through this bad patch. The story will come when it, and when you, are ready.

Me: Yeah, but, how will I know when that story is ready to be written?

Story: Here I am.

Don't define yourself by one element of writing. Master all the elements.

2 Replies to “Conversing with Story: Writer’s Block, and Defining Yourself as a Writer”

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