Writer's Block is a Lie
I don’t think writer’s block exists. I looked up the definition, it says “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”
Condition? Diabetes is a condition. Writer’s block is not a condition.
It’s possible to be unable to think of what to write or how to continue writing, it’s just that it’s so easy to deal with and I think people give the idea of writer’s block too much credit.
For example, I’ve been sitting in this chair for the last 20 minutes trying to decide something to write.
I thought to myself, oh I should write about politics. Then I said no, I don’t feel like writing about that. Then I started writing a blog about how shitty 9 to 5 jobs are. But I got bored quickly and deleted it. And then I said huh...maybe I’m having writer’s block? Oh, I can write about that!
My main issue with the idea of writer’s block is that it is self-fulfilling. You sit down for 5 minutes, you can’t think of anything to write, you go “oh I have writer’s block” and you stop trying. You’ll come back to it later once the writer’s block has passed.
I don’t think it’s there to begin with. I think it’s less that we can’t think of what to write and more that we don’t feel like thinking that hard. Sometimes I have to think pretty damn hard in order to get myself going. That’s when it is the hardest to start writing. But once the momentum kicks in, it’s the same as when I sit down and immediately start writing. The initial kick off is sometimes harder to generate, but the end result is the same or similar.
Writer’s block is a convenient excuse to stop trying.
I’m not gonna be a total dick and just dismiss the whole idea of it. There are times where I sit down, I give it some real effort and thought, and yet after 30 minutes I’ve got absolutely nothing. Well there are some easy fixes for this!
You know, this one I would ordinarily say is hard to get across to people. I suggest to a lot of my friends that they should read more. But I have no illusions about how hard it is to convince people to read.
However, if you are reading this perhaps it is because you are someone who writes. If you are someone who writes, that puts you into a much smaller group of people. Most of the people I know don’t write. Shit, even some of the comedians I know don’t write!
But if you are someone who writes, you are the type of person that this piece of advice should not be lost on. Why would you not read? Nothing? Not just articles, read a whole book. There is so much more thought that goes into a book. The more you read, the more you’ll be able to absorb some of the skill required to form a whole narrative and keep it interesting.
Books are sources of inspiration. Simple as that. If you are having trouble writing, read for 30 minutes and you will likely find the spark of inspiration that you are looking for. It almost always works for me.
Get Pissed Off
This works especially for joke writing. It is the sole reason I still have Twitter on my phone. Twitter is a horrible place and I have learned that I should not use it because it is a source of stress. It seems like every time I go on Twitter, I see something that bothers the fuck out of me.
BUT! The agitation gets me going and I become a full blown joke machine. So I’ve learned that Twitter, and Facebook to an extent, are necessary evils in my life.
There is a certain energy which comes over you when you are mad. You can channel that energy however you want. It is important to have a degree of self control to pull that off. When I see a tweet that I think is just so dumb it hurts, I’m tempted to respond back to that tweet something to the effect of “you are a dumb sack of shit.”
What a waste of that perfectly good energy! I doubt that me calling someone a dumb fuck is going to change their opinion on anything. However, if I can take that angry energy and use it to write a funny joke on the topic...that’s another story.
Donald Trump isn’t going to see that tweet you sent him about how much you hate him and think he sucks. Even if he did, he would probably just laugh at it. But if you take that anger and make a joke about how much of an asshole Trump is, you can get a bunch of people to laugh at him! I’m just using Trump as an example but it can be anyone or anything.
I’ve always found lists extremely helpful. Recently I was introduced to an idea strategy by James Altucher, I’ve talked about it on the podcast before. You write 10 ideas per day. After a few months you become an idea machine. The ideas can be about anything. It can be 10 ways to make football more fun to watch. Or 10 creative ways to make money on the side. Or 10 things you can do to fix up your website. You get the point.
So there’s two ways to apply this one. You can do it when you feel like you have writer’s block. Sometimes it’s hard to start writing a whole joke or article. It’s not hard to jot down a few bullet points. So you can sit there, it won’t even take 15 minutes, and just write down 10 things you would like to write about. From there, one of those ideas will most likely get you writing.
The other way to apply this one is to preemptively think of the ideas before you have writer’s block. Maybe I am laying down in bed and my thoughts are running wild. So I’ll think, ok, I have a lot of brain activity going on. Then I will start to list out all these blog posts that I can write. The last time I did this I intended to write 10 ideas, as is usually my intention. I ended up writing 26 blog post ideas. And every week or so, the 10 ideas of the day will be blog posts. At this point I have tons of potential blog post ideas ready to be executed. Are some of them bad? Of course! But even if 10-20% are good enough, that’s like 25 blogs. I do the same thing with joke ideas.
This still counts as writing as far as I am concerned. Especially with comedy. If you are someone who actually writes, and if you are anything like me, you have a huge batch of jokes, articles, or whatever else that you need to edit but you keep putting off. Well, maybe it would be best to do that while you can’t think of anything new.
Write in Public
It’s corny to be the dude in Starbucks with a laptop, but to be honest I find it helpful to be productive when I’m around other people. I’m not sure what it is exactly. It could be that there is a certain energy when people around you are producing. Or maybe it’s an ego thing that I want everyone to see that I’m a writer. Regardless, it tends to help me.
Otherwise, I find being outside on a nice day is very conducive to creativity. I like hearing the sounds of nature. I even like hearing the sounds of the opposite of nature! Like cars driving by. It allows for a situation where there is some slight distraction. I find that occasionally when I am in complete silence, my thoughts might run wild and I won’t be able to write effectively. The sounds of the outdoors negate that.
Associate Spaces with Creation
My girlfriend lives in a house with a porch. When we first started hanging out, we would always drink on the porch. We created a terrible association. Whenever we were on the porch, we would want to drink or smoke.
At a certain point we decided to stop being degenerates and better ourselves. We would read and write on the porch all the time instead of drinking there. After a while, we created a completely new association; a positive one. Now, her porch is my go-to place to write and learn.
Go for a Drive
This one is totally personal but I assume it might apply to others. For some reason, when I am driving I tend to think of more ideas.
There's an important key: make it a route that you know well. This way you won't have to focus too much on your location and the actual driving part. That will be more second nature, and this frees up space in your mind to think.
The typical route that I drive is about 25 minutes. It goes through some windy roads in a really nice area and puts me in a good state of mind.
For me, stories are the easiest thing to write. Creating a joke from scratch can be tough just because there is so much to choose from. There is also a pressure associated with it since whatever you write will (hopefully) be said on stage.
With stories, there are many potential starting placing. You can start with a character. Jot down some bullet points about this character. What is his back story? Is he a hero or a villian? What makes him interesting?
If you can’t think of a character, think of an event. If you can’t think of an event, think of a setting. You can even just write a sentence and build a story from there. I use that strategy a lot. I’ll think for a few minutes of a creative hook sentence. Once I write that, I take it from there.
Maybe the creative part of your brain is taking the day off. That is still not a sufficient excuse to not write. Journal entries do not require creativity to write. To make them interesting they require creativity, but our goal here is simply to start writing.
A journal entry can just be a recollection of past events. You can even write about your day so far. Even if nothing interesting happened. The benefit of writing a personal journal entry is that there is absolutely no pressure. It is not intended to be read by anyone else. You don’t even have to read it.
This can also be an excellent way to generate some new jokes. Write about a time you felt like you were in legitimate danger. Write about the first memory you have. Write about the most embarrassing thing that happened to you. The stories that pop up in your head when you think back on your life are probably the most interesting. A story which is interesting to begin with is the easiest type of story to convert into a joke (besides a story which is already funny, obviously).
Take the old joke or article. Reread it and really absorb the point you are trying to get across. That’s the thesis statement. Write it down, and use as few words as possible.
With this in mind, completely rewrite it from scratch. Don’t refer back to the original, try as best as you can to generate something entirely new based around the same main idea.
There is no way this won’t get you out of your writer’s block. You have already written it. You can write it again. Even if it comes out almost the same, you can at least make it 10% more clear what you are trying to get across (or 10% funnier).
You can find these anywhere. I would recommend visiting Reddit or just a Google search. Usually I will try to take the prompts and turn them into the weirdest fucking thing ever. Absolutely nothing to do with the prompt, totally off the rails. And it’s fun to do, give it a try.
Work The Muscle
This one is preventative so this is what you need to do before you get writer’s block.
If you are writing daily, you are going to have a strong ‘writing muscle’ or whatever you want to call it. The more you write, the less you are going to have to worry about getting writer’s block.
Comedians are interesting because I have heard many comedians say, “Just write 10 minutes a day.” I think most of them say this just to get people in the habit. But if you think 10 minutes a day of writing is going to make you a great comic...nah. “But Dave, Bill Burr doesn’t write!” Ok, so if you are as good as Bill Burr, you don’t have to write. But wouldn’t you want to anyway? Then you can be better than Bill Burr.
I’ve heard novelists answer the same question and say something like 6-10 hours a day, just to put it in perspective. And you can’t write for 10 minutes a day? Excuse me? How about an hour. It’s not hard to write for an hour a day.
I think a lot of people just use the idea of writer’s block to avoid work. It is an excuse to be lazy and not actually think hard. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking. The more that I’ve been thinking, the more I realize how little I actually used to think. I would let people think for me or I would do mindless things requiring little to no thinking. The more I think, the more I can write.
With so much to write about, writer’s block has become non-existent. And if it is really one of those situations where I just completely hit a wall, I just do one of the other things I discussed above. There is always something to do. Don’t let writer’s block be an excuse to do nothing!