What’s Plugging You Up, WriterFace?

Hi, guys.

It’s been a bit, I know.  But I mean, it’s NaNo time and you know how much I like to bitch and moan about that, so I had to wander back here eventually.  It’s been a really weird few months, I won’t lie.  Weirder than usual.  I’ve been a big plugged up, like there are lots of bits of things in the way of doing what I need to do to be really successful at this writing shit.  So, what the Hell.  Let’s make a blog!

“It’s Writer’s Block” and Other Things I’ll Punch You for Saying

First of all, I want to make this heard loud and fucking clear.  There is NO such thing as Writer’s Block.  There’s “I don’t wanna,” there’s “I have to eat a bunch of sugar to overcome my inner critic,” there’s “I’m being pulled in too many directions to complete a thought,” but there’s no such motherfucking as Writer’s Block.  There’s just doing and not doing, and not doing is typically due to a psychological overwhelm.

It’s not because of your magical fairy farts that are unique to your writerly garb.  It’s because you’re not willing or able to focus on the project.  Period.

Ok, so now that we’ve got that out of the way I’m going to say that sometimes I really, really want to write, but I feel all plugged up.  Like a tube of toothpaste with a hard bit at the end.

Wait… let me back up a little bit.

My Writing Technique: Mental Pre-Writing

When I write, I start by pre-writing in my head.  This is the bulk of my writing, to be honest.  Clients don’t necessarily understand or appreciate this method.  I’ve been fired before for not having ongoing notes, but fuck those guys because that’s just not how I work.  It’s in my head or it’s all done in one go, there’s not a lot to put down besides research required to fact check what I think is probably right.  I think everybody has a little bit of their own technique, but I’m pretty sure that mental pre-writing isn’t unusual in writers who are expected to crank copy like mad (like journalists, for example).  If it is, paint me pink and call me a Goddamn unicorn.

Anyway, so I have all these ideas jumbled up in my head, rattling around, sometimes mixing with one another, making weird hybrid ideas and eventually they’re ripe enough that I sit down and pull them out and work with them.  Sometimes time doesn’t allow that, so I pull them out not ripe and fucking salt and pepper the shit out of them and serve ’em up the best I can.

Not every piece is a Pulitzer.  Sometimes you just gotta get the information out there and live with the end result.  That’s life in the fast lane.  But rarely, another thing happens.  You get all plugged up.  If you think of that mental writing space as being sort of funnel shaped, then you can see where I’m going here.  This piece is too oblong or too big or too fucking green to go through the funnel properly, or two things are trying to go through at the same time, and nothing happens.  You can feel it trying to come out, it’s like an itch you can’t scratch, but nada.  That’s your mental plug.  Gross.

I’ve dealt with a lot of these little bastards, they’re nasty as fuck.  Luckily, there are a few tricks to work them loose so you can move on with your life and get your content delivered on time, every fucking time.  And that’s what we’re gonna talk about in the next section.  Prepare yourself for an obligatory header.

Tricks for Unplugging Your Writing Funnel

When your funnel’s plugged, it’s the worst sort of feeling.  The pressure’s building, both from your clients and internally, and you just might explode writing ideas everywhere if you’re not careful.  So let’s talk about unplugging.  We don’t need you to make a mess in here.

1. Write it Out.  I’d say about 60 percent of the time when I’m plugged up, it’s because I’m trying to enforce my own priority on projects that won’t have it.  For example, right now I need to be writing a dental blog that promises to actually be good fun, but I’m plugged up, so I’m writing this blog about being plugged up because it’s actually what’s causing the plug.  I reached up there and I saw that my lack of attention to this blog has been in my way for a while, so I’m fixing that shit.  Unplugging the funnel.  Prepare for chaos!

2. Cry it Out.  Maybe 20 percent of the time, I can’t make the words work right because something is really bothering me and I can’t quite focus on the task at hand.  I’m trying so hard to hold my emotions back that I can’t open the funnel fully to let the ideas out.  It’s a mess.  This has also been happening lately.  A good friend of mine died in late May and I didn’t realize how much trying to hold that tidal wave of emotion back had also been holding me back professionally until yesterday when I broke down crying because he wasn’t on Spotify.  Believe me, I felt as stupid writing that sentence as you did reading it.

I cried like someone had shot my dog for over an hour.  Just, buckets and buckets and I kind of still feel a bit leaky, if we’re being honest.  This was someone I used to collaborate with on stupid shenaniganry, as we both honed our craft.  I feel his loss in an immeasurable way.  But in all the crying, I also realized that I was starting to unplug.  Part of what was holding me back from a really cool opportunity, maybe the opportunity of my lifetime, was not wanting to move forward without Will, which is obviously impossible.  So, for every time that starts to plug up my funnel, we’re just gonna get out the chocolate and cry it the fuck out.  Endorphins are pretty cool.

3. Force it Out.  There are other times, not a huge number of them in the grand scheme, but enough, that the words don’t come and it feels like there’s no relief from vocabular constipation.  I think of those times like giving birth.  Not that I have, so I might be wrong about how it goes.  But, basically, you sit down and you write.  And that sounds easy, but when you’re plugged up solid, it’s the hardest thing.  But just write anything.  Write one word.  Then write another word.  Write a sentence.  Write two.  Write a paragraph.  Don’t worry if they’re awful, you can fix it in proofing.  Some days it just takes a few sentences, some days it takes whole paragraphs, but by simply purposefully writing on one topic, you’ll blow that plug to kingdom come.

Ok, that’s your useful bullshit bullshit for today, kiddos.  I’m back, shit’s gettin’ real.  It’s Day 7 of NaNo, I hope it’s going well for you.  Even though you know how I feel about that whole thing.

I’m not doing NaNo, but I am trying very hard to write some nice sonnets about cats for a friend who’s been having a rough time lately.  Best wishes to those of you who are.  Doing NaNo, I mean, not writing sonnets about cats.  But if you’re writing sonnets about cats, I’d be happy to pass them along to my friend.

If you’re reading this, Eli, they’re coming!  Sheesh!  Enough about it, it’s boring!!!!!!!! 😉


Writing for a Living Means Keeping Mr. Mojo Risin’

Frustrated writer thinking about her failureOf all the fucking stereotypes the world holds in high esteem concerning writers, there is one that is unfortunately true for the pros among us: we’re a frothy and moody bunch.  Normally, that frothiness can be channeled into throwing pencils aggressively into the drywall on the ceiling, kicking ducks at the park and yelling at kids to get off our lawn while still clad in a threadbare bathrobe, but once in a while all our normal anger, depression and fear repositories are overwhelmed.

In these times (after the Scotch and the cigarettes are gone), we may find ourselves in real fucking trouble.  I mean real fucking trouble.  Just like a nun questioning her belief in her High and Holy Husband, when we writers start to fall into a self-doubt spiral, it can be the end.  The fucking end, bro.  This is serious shit, so listen up.

The Doubt-Hate-Depression Spiral

There’s no question that people who are creative for a living have a little more than a minor problem with being properly adjusted.  We’re tolerated because we’ve got a skill that the village needs, just like that herbalist that lives at the edge of the swamp.  People don’t want to come to us, but they know they have to — and we kinda know this, deep down.  That’s why we keep to ourselves, cling to that old bathrobe and try not to get too attached to humanity.

Normally, the layers of dust and cigarette butts and beer caps are comfort enough as we write ourselves into an early grave, but sometimes we get just enough damage to our fucked up brand of angry self-worship that we start to doubt.  Am I good enough?  Am I in the right field?  Am I fucking up everything I touch?  Am I really just one. giant. douche?

That’s the doubt.  The doubt, it’s a cunt.  No one likes to doubt themselves, but when a writer begins to doubt, it’s career suicide.  You know your process, you know how you work, and you just… can’t.  You lock up.  You stare at the screen and cry or throw up or stab yourself repeatedly in the arm, to no avail.

That’s when you start to hate.  You hate that fucking judgmental cursor, you have that you got out of bed today, you hate that you’re not got the fucking job skills to work at McDonald’s, you hate yourself, you hate your computer, your friends, your clients, and all those other lying fucks who coaxed you into this line of work.

Now comes the depression.  Oh boy.  Since I can’t do the only fucking thing I know how to do, what am I going to do now?  How will I buy tequila and pay for the hookers who stroke my ego?  Who’s going to keep the lights on?  Where will I find a new job?  How can I escape this house of horrors I’ve created for myself?

… and so forth.  If you’ve not been there, you’ll get there.  Don’t worry, you’ll get there.  The nasty Writer’s Funk is often mistaken for Writer’s Block.  Writer’s Block is simply not knowing how to start — Writer’s Funk is not knowing how the fuck to go on with life as it is.

Defining Writer’s Funk

I’m there today, I’ve been there most of this week, in fact.  And after nearly 20 years of doing this, I know what to look for and how to throw it a curve ball.  But I’m betting you don’t, because the first time this shit hit me, I just couldn’t function at all.

Writer’s Funk starts when you’ve gotten a little bit of negative and/or neutral feedback (we’re ego maniacs deep down, never doubt that).  Then something happens to complicate it — maybe you’re sick or you’re having some trouble at home because your spouse is bitching about how sticky your office is or the kids are on fire or whatever.

This kind of stress builds rapidly, and, like the incredibly poorly adjusted people we are, we take it out on ourselves instead of exploding outward.  Obviously if I could write faster, I’d have more time to clean my sticky office, or if I didn’t have such a pussy for an immune system, I’d not be sick ever, or if I would have just fed the cat, it might not have died.  Whatever’s going on, it’s obviously your fault, whether you admit this openly or not.

That’s when you start to doubt.  And hate.  And hurt.  And get angry.  And want to quit.

You start to daydream about starting a lawn mowing business or working at the fucking bank or running away and waiting tables as your 35 year old self pathetically backpacks across Europe.  You start to wonder what life would have been like if you had just gone to veterinary school or if it’s too late to go back and get another useless MA.  You start to want to be anywhere but in front of your computer/typewriter/notebook/papyrus scroll/clay tablet.

You doubt you can birth anymore beautiful brain babies.  You’re pretty sure all you can manage are a few radioactive Flipper-kids instead.

That’s the Funk.  But it doesn’t have to win.

Writer’s Funk Happens to Everyone

Writer’s Funk happens to everybody, from fucking Stephen King to JK Rowlings to that stuck up copywriter who lives down the road.  Anybody who claims they’ve never experienced it are either delusional lying sacks of shit or have no actual writing experience.  It’s a soul-sucking industry, this.  It eats people whole and shits out wrecked spirits.

But it doesn’t have to.  Just like St. George slaying his big ass dragon, you can defeat the Writer’s Funk.  It’s actually really easy, believe it or not.  You’ve just got to listen to someone more experienced than yourself, because about now you’re giving yourself some really bad advice.

Step. Away. but not for long.  Take a weekend out of town, unplug, do something fun that you’ve not had time for in a long time because you were writing.  Charge your batteries with nature or Netflix or butchering small animals — whatever rocks your boat.

We don’t get vacations and that makes us believe that we don’t deserve them.  The further behind we get, the harder we push, but we’re just pushing out shit at that point.  Fix yourself, fix your brain and take a fucking break.  I’m the last person in the world to be giving this nugget of advice, but you need to start scheduling weekends and week-long vacations.

Yeah.  I said it.  Get the fuck away and fill yourself with new experiences so you have something to write about.  Everybody’s writing juice starts to spoil after a while.  Change your fuel, replace the fucking spark plugs and get back up on the pony and get moving.  You’ll find after a few days away, you’ll want to work again — and you’ll work faster, you’ll work harder and you’ll work better.

Hi ho, Silver!  Away!