It’s not writer’s block.
I’m not not-writing because I don’t know where the story needs to go, or because I’ve lost interest. It’s not because I’ve grown to hate my chair or my keyboard, or that I needed a change of scenery. The symptoms aren’t really in line with writer’s block.
No, what I’m suffering from, suffering with, is Writer’s Avoidance.
I can’t quite face my manuscript. Every time I try to look it in the eye to reread recent paragraphs or to add new ones, I find my eyes skimming away. You know, in the way you do when you’re trying to avoid a delicate conversation, when you’re about to lie to a friend.
Every time I look at my document, I find my eyes just automatlcally skipping past the monitor to look at the clock, the weather outside the window, or the really fascinating faux-woodgrain in the desk.
I can’t look my manuscript in the eye.
I find this an intriguing dilemma, really. Writing is like any other relationship—you need honest, open lines of communication for it to work, and apparently ours are blocked.
- Maybe I’ve been doing so much reading lately that I’m feeling unfaithful.
(“I know, darling, I read another novel, but it meant nothing to me! You’re the one I love!”)
- Maybe my conscience is guilty.
(“Really, I meant to get back to you sooner, but I’ve been busy. I had other things to type.”)
- Maybe we’re growing apart.
(“You said you’d always be there for me, but sometimes you feel so distant, I can’t reach you at all.”)
- Maybe we know each other too well.
(“I feel like I know you so well, there’s no excitement, no new surprises any more.”)
- Maybe we’re bored with each other.
(“I think we should see other manuscripts.…”)
- Maybe we’re not popular enough.
(“We got turned down by the cool kids again (aka literary agents) for the “After Titanic” book.”>
- Maybe we don’t have a future.
(“Why should we bother working on the sequel if we can’t get anyone interested in the first book? We should just stay home and wash our hair and pretend we don’t care.”)
- Maybe the timing is bad.
(“What? I said I’d be back and here I am, ready at the keyboard, and you won’t even look at me.”)
- Maybe the past is getting in the way.
(“It’s just that, there are so many things in the draft we’re going to have to get rid of, I can’t bear to move forward.”)
I suppose the take-away lesson here is that writing is like any other relationship.
There’s more to it than just showing up—you need to work at it, beguile it, woo it, coax it, flirt with it, flatter it … and when all that charm doesn’t work, sometimes you just have to really face what is and is not working in the relationship. Clear away the cobwebs of over-familiarity and do something different, something daring to bring the magic back.
Obviously, you can’t take your writing away for a romantic weekend of autumn leaf-peeping, but you can throw something expected and new into the mix. Shake your characters up. Take THEM someplace new. Work on an area you haven’t seen in a while—make the manuscript feel special and loved, as if it is the only one that matters to you.
And above all, don’t let its evasiveness beat you. If it won’t meet your eyes, just stare it down in a loving way until it gives in and says, “What?” That’s your opening to jump in with a burst of brilliant prose that will make it weak in the commas and fall in love with you all over again.