I’ve faced a lot of scary pairings in my life. Empty pockets and past due bills. Dinner time and nasty food. Women and PMS. As a writer, however, I can confidently say that the scariest pairing I’ve ever seen—the Alien vs. Predator of the written word, if you will—is the blank screen and looming deadline (insert frantic screaming here).
Staring at a blank computer screen and knowing that you’re the one who’s responsible for filling it can be intimidating. Most of us can get past intimidation, though. It’s when we cross the line from intimidation to outright terror that we become paralyzed. When do we cross that line, you ask? We cross it when we ask ourselves, “What if?”
What if this thing I’m about to write doesn’t make sense? What if nobody likes it? What if my characters aren’t believable? What if my plot is corny? What if my mother reads the love scene on page 69?
When we ask ourselves, “What if?” we’re simply trying to find ways to deal with our fear. That’s where writer’s block comes from. It comes from fear. The fear that you won’t be able to fill that empty screen or meet that looming deadline. The fear that you won’t be able to write something that interests someone other than you. The fear that even if it does make sense, no one will like it.
Since writer’s block is fear, there are really only two ways to deal with it—fight or flight. You can sit there surfing the net when you’re supposed to be writing (we’d all be lying if we said we’d never done it). You could walk away and pretend you’ve got something else pressing to do. You could shut down the computer and say you’ll get back to it tomorrow. That’s flight. It’s running away from your fear. It’s the coward’s way out.
The only way to successfully deal with writer’s block is to face it; to fight your way through it, to write. I don’t care if you end up with twenty pages you’ll eventually have to toss. You write. I don’t care if you have to save what you’ve written for another project. You write. I don’t care if you end up penning the same sentence fifty times. You write.
That’s what writer’s do. We write. And when we do that, writer’s block isn’t so scary after all.
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author whose books include Payback, C.R.E.A.M., Ride Or Die, Keeping Up With The Jones, The Bridge, and Pipe Dream. An adjunct professor at Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts, Jones is an award-winning columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and has been published in Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia magazine and the Philadelphia Tribune. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and children.