BEHIND THE BOOK
On Overcoming Writer's Block:
I’m often asked how to find inspiration and how to overcome writer’s block. These questions have always baffled me. Not because I’m some inspired production machine effortlessly cranking out action and prose, but because the very notion that inspiration should somehow be required to write engaging fiction, or that it’s possible for words and ideas to flow without struggle, is quite beyond my own reality.
I know these things do exist for some authors. I know it in the same way I know that people who can pull jet planes with their teeth exist.
I claim to not experience writer’s block, but that’s an end product built out of much rawer material. The truer truth is that writer’s block is my perpetual creative state, and because I've never known anything other than difficulty in producing stories, I've never had any other choice but to overcome that difficulty. Every. Single. Day.
Which is why my very baffled answer to these questions has always been, “You write. What else would you do?”
In response, I’m usually met with the same blank, confused-but-trying-to-get-it expressions you’d expect to see on the faces of pilgrims who've just received an abstruse blessing from their guru. And so I explain further:
If you've never experienced this thing called “inspiration,” you learn not to wait for it. And in not waiting, you learn that this so-called “inspiration” comes from doing. As does clarity, as does story, and plot, and characters, and those very rare flashes of brilliance. All of this comes together through the action of doing: of sitting down, staring at the blank page, and hammering out one crappy word after the other—even when you've got nothing, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you’re pretty sure the time would be better served by getting up and pouring a bowl of Cheetos.
Sometimes the words you put down aren't even coherent. Sometimes the thoughts are jumbled. And certainly none of them read very well. But none of that matters. What matters is that you sit there and write, and you write, and you keep writing.
When one crappy sentence leads to a crappy paragraph, and a crappy paragraph leads to a crappy page, you now have the beginning of something. And in that something the ideas crystalize, and the flaws materialize, and you can take that something and delete what’s wrong and save what’s right. And the next day you do it again. After enough crappy pages, you begin to have a crappy story. And once you have a crappy story, you have something to chew on. Then, bit by bit, you see the ways in which you can make the crappy less crappy, and you go back to work on it, and then you do it again the next day. When enough of those days blur together, you begin to realize that the crap is even less crappy. So you keep at it until the crap gets buried beneath everything else that works.
The artist Chuck Close is credited with saying, “Inspiration is for amateurs - the rest of us just show up and get to work.” He also claimed to have never experienced painter’s block. I tend to think that he and I are pretty much on the same page in this regard.
Taylor Stevens is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling novelist who—by odds and expectations—should never have become either successful or published. Like many aspiring authors Stevens had no credentials or platform, and no direct route into the publishing world. But, unlike most, she was also limited by a life of cultural isolation and a sixth-grade education.
Born into an apocalyptic cult and raised in communes across the globe, Stevens grew up as a child laborer, cooking and cleaning for up to a hundred at a time, caring for younger commune children, or out on the streets begging on behalf of commune leaders. Books, movies, music, and pop-culture from the outside world were strictly forbidden, and she finally gained unlimited access to fiction after returning to the United States in her early thirties. Her books have since been published in over twenty languages, with The Informationist optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment.