If you spend much time in my company, sooner or later you’re likely to hear me say, “I want to do some writing.” This is often a preamble to the phrase, “…but I don’t have a good story idea.”
I mentioned this to a friend once and they told me they couldn’t get what I meant. If I didn’t have a story in mind, the question was, what could “wanting to write” mean?
This is where the distinction comes between someone who is, or who isn’t, a writer. For me, the act of writing itself — composing sentences, arranging phrases in meaningful (and hopefully pleasing) ways — is itself a pleasurable activity. I find writing to be very therapeutic (and let’s face it, there are times when I need a lot of therapy), and when I’m really clicking, it’s just plain fun.
Contrast this with, for instance, my buddy Vince. Vince writes very well, but he doesn’t enjoy it. For him, writing is a necessary part of creating his comics, but it’s a means to an end. Thus, by my definition, even though he does it very well, he isn’t “a writer” per se. (On the other hand, compare with Stephen Fry, who is not just a writer, but a WRIIIIIITER. If somebody who can’t stop talking suffers from logorrhea, perhaps the esteemed Mr. Fry has “blogorrhea.” But I kid. I love you, Stephen, honestly! In a brotherly, fannish, not-at-all-weird-or-stalkerish way. …Sorry, where was I?)
However, there’s another wrinkle to all this: I’ve mentioned before that I have a little black notebook (as well as a WordPerfect document sitting neglected on the hard drive) that contains little bits that could be fleshed out into stories someday. Usually these are just premises or snatches of a scene, such as:
- “Astronomer looking through telescope realizes that nebula just blinked.”
- “Workers building a dam uncover one of the scattered pieces of Osiris.”
- “Brody Coyote’s roommate entreats him to help land bf/gf … zany hijinks ensue.”
- “Couple driving out to a friend’s wedding in the country get lost and end up at creepy house.”
Now for most people, putting these things together would be a no-brainer. “Desire to write + list of story premises = write one of those!” But for some reason, I have this crazy mental block about that. When I find myself in that aimless “I want to write but have no story” mode, it almost never occurs to me to grab one of these bits and go — or if it does occur to me, I sit and stare at the list for a while and end up just going, “Nah.” Like the guy who’s hungry but can’t think of anything he wants to eat, I end up skipping the whole thing all together in a kind of dissatisfied funk.
People who write to pay the bills snort derisively at this kind of thing, and I can’t blame them. Surely if I needed to write, one of those premises would be serviceable enough and with a little polishing might turn out to be brilliant. So where’s the hangup? This invisible disconnect between having the pieces I need to get started and actually doing it: this is what I think of as “writer’s block,” and looking at it coldly it is obviously some psychological thing.
But knowing what it is, knowing what to do about it, and actually putting that into motion are three very different things. I know very well from my past fights with depression that being able to identify a behavior as irrational doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to change it, although it’s certainly a big step.
For myself, the thing that seems to work best is to just sit down and write something, even if it’s just a journal entry or a fragment of a scene that I don’t ever intend to use. Occasionally I’ve written long and whiny rants about how hard-done by the universe I am, which I then promptly delete once I’ve gotten it out of my system. What it is that I’m writing doesn’t much matter, it’s the process of actually doing it that counts. Because once I actually sit down at the keyboard and start clacking away, I get so into how much fun I’m having writing something that I forget that I was all neurotic about stuff a few minutes ago. It is usually at that point, assuming I don’t spend all of my allocated time warming up, that I can then pull out a story idea and start actually getting somewhere on it.
The same thing applies to art, actually, although in my personal case that tends to be a little more of a struggle. Although my art has vastly improved over the years, it’s still something that tends to be rather hard for me, so I have to be a lot more psyched up in order to be having fun while I do it.