How to act your way into right thinking.

Pair of shoes standing on a road with three white arrow on the pavement

I’ve had two crippling bouts of writers’ block in my career.

I experienced the first after I published my first novel. My editor said, “we loved the book!  What else do you have?” 

I replied confidently, “I’ll get you a proposal as soon as I can!”

Then I promptly stared at a blank screen until drops of blood formed at my temples. (Okay, it wasn’t quite that bad.  But sure felt like it.) 

I didn’t finish another book, or write more than a few chapters, for a year and a half.

It’s not that you can’t type.  It’s that you don’t.  Or you do… and then you look at the words that you’ve been spewing, and you recoil with an almost physical revulsion.

The latest was when a serious of tumultuous events were pounding through my life, to the point where a typhoon would’ve seemed like a tropical vacation.  Lots of external stuff, lots of deadlines.

Even though I knew what the story should be, I developed keyboard-o-phobia.  I would clean my kitchen floor with a toothbrush before I’d drag myself to my desktop.

Blog Block.

When I was starting this blog, my website imploded.  Rather, I foolishly decided to try to install an add-on that had no earthly business being on my WordPress site, and it spanked me for my impertinence.  In my non-techie way, I did everything I could to resuscitate the thing, to no avail.

I finally just started over. It broke my heart, and the progress felt impossibly slow, but I did it.

As I was gearing up to start posting again, I saw some similarities between all these blocks… or, more specifically, how to get out of these blocks.

1. I was unable to let go.

I don’t know about you, but I get this “perfect idea” in my head.  Of the novel I want to write.  Or how my writing career ought to go.  Or how much I loved what I had on my blog.

I couldn’t let it go.  Not any of it.  Even though letting go of my preconceptions — for plot ideas, for example, or the old blog posts — was exactly what I needed to do to move forward.

2. I “wasn’t quite sure” what I ought to do next.

This is one of my all time favorite Stephen King quotes, from his novel Misery (which, if you write genre fiction, I think you absolutely have to read):

“…not being sure of things, he knew, was a charmless corner of purgatory reserved for writers who were driving fast with no idea at all where they were going.”

I’m a plotter.  Not because I think that once I’ve got the outline, things are going to go swimmingly and I’m going to skip through a meadow of happiness from the opening to THE END.

I write a plot outline so I narrow my choices.  If I’m presented with too many options, I find myself vacillating, getting overwhelmed… getting paralyzed.  It doesn’t matter if, when I’m in the scene, things turn out differently.  The plot outline is there to make sure I make a choice.

3. Inertia.

“An object at rest… CANNOT BE STOPPED!”

Ah.  Words of wisdom from The Tick.

It takes just a minute to say, “I think I’m going to play Stardew Valley instead of writing today.”  And then before you know it, an hour vanishes.

If you need to take a day to recharge, there’s no harm in that.  It’s when that day stretches out into a week that you realize you’re in trouble.  And it sneaks up on you.  Suddenly, you’re not quite sure how to start up.

An object at rest tends to stay at rest.

As it happens, there’s only one solution to all of these.

Just. Keep. Moving.

There’s a quote, I believe from AA, that I love and that is very applicable here.

You can’t think your way to right action. You have to act your way to right thinking.

All the thought exercises and discussion and mental acrobatics in the world are not going to help as much as one tiny action will. They’re not worthless… but they’re not the way out, either.

One page.  One paragraph.  One sentence.  This sounds very facile, but ultimately, small steps are your best tools in escaping a stuck point.

There are plenty of other things that help.  I’m a big fan of support groups, accountability, mind tricks like Write or Die.  I am a huge fan of bribes (as I stare at the chocolate cake on the counter, which I’ve promised myself I can eat when I’m done with this.)

But at the end of the day, you’ve got to just keep moving.