At the beginning of the month, Neil Gaiman came to Liverpool. I was lucky enough to have snagged two tickets to the opening of my university’s Centre for New and International Writing, which was being launched by Neil. I got the tickets over the Christmas break (they were even free), and when lessons started up again at the start of February I also found out that following the launch Neil was going to be hosting a writing masterclass for some lucky students. Places were obviously incredibly limited, and so to decide which students would be accepted, the English department held a small, simple competition: write a 350 word essay detailing why you want to attend the masterclass, how it would benefit you, and why you should be chosen.
I put off writing that essay for ages.
Eventually, it struck me that the worst possible thing I could do would be to not enter the competition. If I didn’t get it, then I wouldn’t have to sit and worry about whether I would have got it, whether I would have been good enough. I opened my essay with this sentence:
“After spending days agonising over the most effective way to phrase this essay, I realised that the best way to do it would be to actually write something down.”
I wrote the essay two weeks after one of my biggest inspirations, Monty Oum, passed away, and I realised that I needed to take opportunities as they presented themselves, and that the only thing stopping me from moving forward was me myself. I wrote the essay. I was accepted for the masterclass. I met an idol.
I learnt valuable advice from Neil over those two events. One of my favourite pieces was to “give all of your characters a funny hat”, which essentially meant to make each character memorable in some way. “That’s Sarah, you can tell because she always wears that big purple sombrero.” Be kind to your readers. Make your characters identifiable.
There was a lot of decent advice given, which I have neatly noted down at the back of my lecture notes, but the piece that has stuck with me the most is less a piece of advice and more a simple fact:
There is no such thing as writer’s block.
I don’t remember Neil’s particular phrasing, but I remember the gist. Basically, as writers, we’re creative. We’re very good at making simple, bland, boring things full of mystique and magic. It’s why we’re good at what we do. But we’re sneaky, and we use that to get away with being lazy. Writer’s Block is actually just a pretty way of saying “I’m stuck.”
Accountants probably have days where they don’t feel like doing their work. They don’t cry “accountant’s block” and simply refuse to do it, though. They get on with it. On the days when you have writer’s block, chances are you could still write an email, or a text message, or a letter. You could write lots of things. You could even, shock-horror, write more of whatever it is you’re stuck on. You’re not incapable of writing on the bad days. Nothing is blocked. Write on the bad days, force yourself through it, and then when you come to editing it, fix it. Throw out what’s unsalvageable (though odds are much of it won’t be), fix what can be saved, and get on with it. Chances are you might have done some of your best writing on the days were you were struggling. Odds are, when you come to sit and read through everything in one go, you won’t be able to tell what was written on the bad days and what was written on the good days. It all sounds like you, anyway.
So I’ve taken this advice and I’ve ran with it. I sit down every night and I write 2,000+ words of a story. It might not be very good, but I’m improving, and I’m getting my ideas down somewhere. Even on the days when I’ve struggled I’ve got out those 2,000 words, even on the days where I was exhausted both physically and mentally from my long days at university, or when I’d spent the evening writing an essay for one of my classes, I’ve made sure to write something down. And sometimes, when I’ve been stuck or tired or just feeling lazy and I’ve still made myself write those 2,000 words, I’ve ended up writing double, or triple that. Sometimes an idea catches and I have to run with it. The next day I’m even more excited to keep going.
Monty Oum taught me to keep moving forward, and Neil Gaiman has taught me that I can. There’s no reason I can’t.
If you ever hear me whining about writer’s block, call me out on it. I don’t have writer’s block, and neither do you. Go and write something. You can.