Sunday, December 4, 2011

The True Writer's Block - First Drafts

I need a bit of a break from the fiction for today so I'm writing this instead. It's just one of those days.

About a month ago I got into a discussion with a friend about writing and the concept of 10,000 hours to mastery and it spawned the idea of this post. You can find the discussion in the comments of Indre Viskontas' Effortless Mastery post.

I believe in writer's block. I do NOT believe that it is something that causes you to be unable to write, despite having suffered from it for very long stretches of time in the past. That is simply a misunderstanding that occurs when you run into a speed bump during your writing. Sometimes things come to you quickly, other times it doesn't. Those are the times you feel like you're blocked.

Over the years I have come to think of writing as being very similar to sculpture. Michaelangelo said “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

Writers too must do this, chipping away at our blocks to reveal a beautiful story or a novel. The main difference between the writer and and the sculptor is that we as writers have to create our blocks first. We do this by writing a first draft.

There are plenty of ways to write a first draft. You can do it slowly and carefully, editing as you go, valuing quality over quantity and/or speed. You can do it all in a rush, ignoring problems in a reckless, headlong dash to get it all down, valuing quantity (or speed) over quality; this is the NaNoWriMo method. But either way you need to end up with your first draft when you're done.

First drafts are just the starting point. The REAL work begins when the first draft is done. You've got your block. Now you have to carve it, shape it, chisel away at it, fine-tune it and polish it into something 'shaped and perfect in attitude and action.'

Embrace your writer's block, and then break it, and reshape it. Your writing will thank you for it.


  1. Love this description of writer's block! Makes it much less intimidating to consider.

    Thanks -


  2. I agree that a first draft is only the first step, and like the way you've described the act of "sculpting." However, I don't think that just because you write quickly you are sacrificing quality for quantity. No writer in this day and age can hope to be successful without being able to write fast. Many (successful and well-respected) authors put out one or more novels a year.

  3. That is true, but I wonder how true it will be in the future. We're rapidly approaching the point where traditional publishers will become unnecessary; for many writers, we're already at that point. Writers can make far more money from the sale of each individual copy of a book now than they could even just a few years ago, so will the need for speed remain the same?

  4. Good point. I think that it's an excellent evolution of the market, and that it will allow a lot more opportunity for writers to write in whatever fashion they darn well please. Then again, I just personally like writing quickly :)