Blocking Writer’s Block by JD Mader

Author JD Mader

I want to talk for a second about how to deal with writer’s block – don’t. Writer’s block is a myth. It is a psych-out. I have been writing for half my life and I have taught enough writing workshops to honestly believe that writer’s block does not exist…unless you let it exist.

Let me qualify that a bit. There are times when I am blocked on a certain piece, certainly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write. Writer’s block is fear, pure and simple. And it is easy to let that fear dominate you. But it is easy to avoid, too.

I write every day. Usually around 500 words. A lot more lately. There is never a day when I ‘can’t write’, because I don’t try to force it. If I am working on a novel and I feel jammed up, I write a story. If I can’t think of a story, I look around me…I start describing something. Usually, that leads to something. Sometimes it leads to 500 words of description. So what?

Another aspect to this is that you are hurting yourself if you demand the best all the time. Sometimes I write silly, ridiculous things. Sometimes I write more literary pieces. Sometimes I write out conversations. Sometimes I write songs. But there is never a time when I ‘can’t’ write – I refuse to accept that.

I mean, if you chopped off both my hands, it would be difficult. But as long as I have my hands and a pen or a computer, I can write. It may suck. It may make no sense. It may not be linear or have a plot. It may be a character study. It may be bad beat poetry, but I can write.

Writers can’t afford superstitions. I know a lot of people who get ‘writer’s block’, and it is always their choice. It is like Dumbo’s magic feather. Dumbo thought he needed the feather to fly. But it was all in his mind. Writers find all kinds of magic feathers. Certain times of the day…booze…a certain place. They give themselves escape routes…ways to rationalize that ‘they can’t write today’. Bullshit. Unless you suffer severe head trauma and suddenly become illiterate, you can write. It may not be the best thing you have ever written, but so what.

Once you accept the fact that writer’s block is a choice, you come to terms with the fact that there is no escape. You actively block all those escape routes. It builds confidence. And writing daily keeps you sharp. At any time of day, you can put my laptop in my hands and I can write you 500 words. I got my start in journalism and writer’s block is simply not permitted there. So, I don’t permit it now. You’re a writer. So write. And don’t let your brain get in the way. You asked for a guest blog. You got it. 500 words exactly. Well, now it is 500. Give or take.

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JD Mader is a writer and musician who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He likes short, semi-hostile walks at sunset and motorcycles. His novel, Joe Café,  is available on Kindle, and you can find many stories, essays, reviews, songs, and ramblings at his blog, Unemployed Imagination. His next novel, The Biker, will be available in the new year. His musical endeavors with The Flying Black Hats can be found on Last.fm and Bandcamp. You can also find him on Facebook and on twitter. Or you can try to find him in person, but, be aware, he startles easily.

Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

32 thoughts on “Blocking Writer’s Block by JD Mader”

  1. The mistake we make is when something becomes "a thing" just because it's been named. Writer's block. It's two words made of eleven letters. We could flip the letters around and make fun phrases instead, such as "belts irk crow" or "worst bi clerk". See? No writer's block now.

  2. Awesome. Absolutely on the money. "Writer's block" gets in my head if I allow it. Cut off my hands, I'll dictate. Lose my voice, I'll…well, I'll figure something out. Thank you for the kick in the ass!

  3. I was originally going to write a witty retort to this post, but I got nothing. It's almost as if I can't write because …something is – what's the word I'm looking for – blocking – me or my writing. I wish there was some simple name for that.

  4. Thanks guys. And props to John Fante who showed me the way to 500 words a day. He also kept writing by dictating to his wife when he was blind and dying. That's a writer.

  5. Thank you for your witty bit on Writer's Block, I enjoyed it very much and agree – it's a mind thing. I find that there are times when instead of Writer's Block I have diarrhea of the mind and just get way too wordy. I guess that's the reason for so many re-writes. When I wrote my novel of memories from the 40's a reader told me she remembered some of the same instances but my book was sure full of baloney – I told her that was why I called it fiction. Thanks again JD!

  6. I agree.

    I have taught, written, lectured, edited and more in the industry since 1985, and my findings are the same, Dan. But I have had several students and colleagues argue that if they have it, it must exist. I ask, "Laziness, perhaps? Procrastination? Lack of imagination or ability?" All these things masquerade under that guise.

    Thing is, people would rather admit to having a fake malady than own up to laziness.

    Your best sentence, which gets written on a sticky-note and stuck on my metaphorical fridge is "Writers can't afford superstitions."

    1. Thanks Rosanne. That was my favorite sentence as well. And you're right, whether it is writing or rock climbing, some make excuses and some just keep climbing.

  7. Okay, wait, my contrary nature has been challenged, and I do want to play devil's avocado a little here. 🙂

    All of what folks are saying here is true, but I do think that certain conditions—such as depression—can militate against the creative urge. At its worst, sufferers are unable to get out of bed. Ideas? Plotlines? Scene-setting? Typing? Forget it. If you haven't the energy to brush your teeth for days, there isn't a chance you're gonna be placing words in any semblance of an order. Telling someone in that condition to get over it/themselves or accusing them of laziness is a little counterproductive.

    Just wanted to cover that not insignificant exception, particularly since the writing community itself experiences a high incidence of depression and other types of mental illness.

    1. Interesting, and I thought about that very issue. When I was so very depressed and sick a few months back, I wrote some days and some days I didn't – but not because I couldn't. I agree to an extent, but I also think that it is all about perspective. I have been clinically depressed, epically hungover, strung out, burnt out, tied up into the drama of others (the kids – you understand, D). And some days I did not write. But it was always a choice. I have been lower than a snake's belly and there have been periods where I 'did not' write, but I honestly don't think there has been a time when I 'could not' write unless I chose not to.

      1. See, I'm really only talking about the chronic kind of depression. I don't believe there is any choice when that one settles in. But if you can do it, Dan, you're a better man than me!

        I just sometimes wonder whether people who talk about depression in this way are really just talking about "the blues" or some other form of melancholia. In which case, I agree; there are behavioural and diet and exercise solutions that can mitigate its effects. But real serious depression is hardcore. Its victims are pretty much helpless. Not only can they not write, but they can't perform the simple daily tasks that keep us functioning as humans. We have to be careful not to extrapolate our individual anecdotal situations as if they were universal, though.

    2. David:

      Okay, David Antrobus, you have a point. I've never been that depressed, except perhaps for 3 or 4 times and for a couple of weeks, maybe. Mostly, it's a mild and persistent depression that easily disappears if I have sudden good luck (in writing, money, love).

      I would also have to add stress and fuzziness. These are not absolute, but simply an impediment that one must bulldoze over.

      Of course, easier said than done.

  8. Hi,

    Well said, and thanks for saying it. As a writer, my excuse to myself is, "I've got to sell. I've got to edit. I've got to upload to Smashwords." And that takes up most of the day, or the most precious part, and then, there's no energy left for writing.

    I think I need to pay someone to call me in the morning and threaten to personally come over and kick my ass if I don't start writing right away. I think that would make my Writers Block head for the hills.

    Thanks for posting in Book Junkies and letting me know about this site.

    1. Thank you, Richard. The 500 words a day thing was a turning point for me. I read Ask the Dust and became obsessed with John Fante when I was in college. He wrote 500 words a day, so I decided I would. It gets to be part of the day…like eating. You just do it. 500 is a good target, too. I often exceed it, but 500 is doable on any given day. Even if it's 500 words of nonsense, you just got to get em done.

      I have written about this and other subjects on my website: http://www.jdmader.com. Thanks for the comments.

      1. Basically, this is correct. Generally, you can do well if you ignore my caveats and obfuscations. I just love to delve further into the rabbit hole, find what's lurking there undetected.

  9. Great post JD. I totally agree with you, only I call it getting stuck…not writer's block. I get stuck when I don't know the direction the story is going or I need to stop and do research on something. When this happens, sometimes I pick up something else to work on, perhaps another writing that I had gotten stuck on. I have several writings going on at one time because of my stuckness, lol. And from about 1995 until about two years ago I was stuck for a long time…life got in my way. But now I keep on writing, but do not necessarily write everyday. Sometimes I just don't care to write anything…probably because of my day job as technical editor/writer, ugh.

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