Writing is for pros, writer’s block is for dilettantes.
Maybe “dilettante” is the wrong word. Webster’s defines it as a person whose commitment to a field in the arts is not particularly deep or knowledgable. So I use it to categorize writers for whom writing is not a career. Writers who love their craft, but have other ways of making money, saving their passion for nights, weekends and vacations.
A pro, however, makes a living banging out words. Butt in the seat all day, stringing together hard-working phrases that tell stories, that educate and delight readers. Both pros and novices are struggling to write the right things, but a novice rarely has the pressure of a deadline.
It’s that deadline that makes all the difference. The deadline slots us into our respective categories – pro or novice. And it’s the deadline that erases writer’s block.
I’ll explain. I’m part of a writer’s organization. It’s full of gifted, talented writers working on fascinating projects. Sometimes one of them will mention being “blocked” and I have to think about what that means. Blocked? How can you be blocked when the deadline looms? I’ve never been blocked.
I realized that the writers who talk about being blocked are usually the ones working on their One Big Project, their Dream. This project has to be perfect. But there’s no deadline. That deadly combination allows writers to fuss endlessly with finding just the right word, just the right outline. That obsession with creating perfection can be paralyzing. How can I possibly progress if the work is crap? How can I move forward if brilliance isn’t forthcoming, if the Muse isn’t speaking?
The truth is, there never will be perfection. No writer, not even the bestselling authors I know, are 100% happy with their books or articles. They see plenty of flaws that readers miss. No writer I know would ever call their work “perfect.” Most settle for an admission of “good.”
So here’s how the pros avoid writer’s block: Just do it. Keep cranking it out, day after day. If the perfect words won’t come then you put down imperfect ones. You string together placeholder sentences that you plan to go back and fix later. You build paragraphs of basic story structure to prop up the piece so that you can keep moving. At some point, you find your groove and the writing becomes more beautiful.
It’s really that simple – the power of panic. Fear is a great motivator, and when the deadline is looming, you meet it. Or you lose your job.
That’s what I mean about novices vs professionals. When paying your mortgage and buying groceries depends on cranking out the copy, you don’t have the luxury of writer’s block. You sit your butt down and write. If the right words don’t come, you write the wrong ones until you stumble your way onto the right path.
But when nobody is screaming for your copy, or when your rent is already paid, then you can fiddle endlessly with “perfect.” For me, writing is less about “perfect” and more about “done.” Sometimes, happily, there is also “good.”