Writer's Block, Seinfeld's Chain, and Hell's Titties

If you've ever spent any time reading about the art of writing, you've inevitably read some "expert" claiming that Writer's Block is a myth. If you've ever experienced Writer's Block, you know that claim to be complete horseshit.

"Plumbers don't get Plumber's Block," they say. There's a job that needs getting done and, goddammit, they get it done. Well guess what. Penguins don't get carpal tunnel syndrome, and that's just about as relevant.

Plumbing, as I understand it, is not all that creative a profession. You acquire a specific set of skills either through apprenticeship or plumber school or whatever, and then there you go. You can plumb like a motherfucker. You don't fret about finding exactly the right wrench which best expresses the feeling you're trying to convey. You pick the wrench that turns the thing that makes the shit go down your toilet. If you know what you're doing, it's pretty straightforward stuff. So it stands to reason that Plumber's Block isn't a thing.

Plumber's Crack, on the other hand, is all too real.

Plumber's Crack, on the other hand, is all too real.

Writer's Block is indeed a thing. Hell, I've just spent the past ten minutes staring at that last sentence and wondering what I should follow it up with. And then I wrote that sentence. And then that one.

Recognizing that Writer's Block exists isn't the same as admitting defeat. You can overcome it by getting in the right frame of mind and developing good habits.

One of the best things I've read about lately, with regard to keeping up steady productivity, is Jerry Seinfeld's method of 'Don't break the chain', in which he marks off days of a calendar with X's every day he produces new material. Eventually, there develops a chain of X's which he tries not to break. 

You may think that sounds like a cheap gimmick for people with little self-control or accountability. And you may be right, for I am just such a person.

Some of you familiar with my work may find it odd that I'm writing about increasing productivity when I've only released two short stories since releasing Critical Faliures V way back in April, and I've kind of slacked off on this blog as well.

I only started doing this chain thing three weeks ago, and I set some parameters specific to my situation and goals.

1. At least one thousand words a day.

If that sounds like a lot to you, your own personal goal needn't be so high. Maybe set it at five hundred, or even two hundred. You don't want it to be so high that it's unrealistic given your other time commitments, but neither do you want it to be so low that you don't feel a sense of pride accompanying that X on your calendar.

2. This blog doesn't count.

Again, that's a personal choice. For me, I've decided that my X's only apply to words that I intend to get paid for. If I'm going to increase my productivity, I'd also like to increase my income with it. Think about it. If I keep myself to one thousand words a day, that amounts to half a million words over the course of a year.

"The fuck it does."

"The fuck it does."

Please, Mr. Einstein. Hear me out.

This chain thing has many possible applications. Maybe you use it to hold yourself accountable to spending a certain amount of time per day on the treadmill. Maybe you use it to count the days you go without smoking.

But the reason I've found it even better for a writer is that I almost never stop at the thousandth word. And I'm not talking about just wrapping up the sentence you're on and clocking out at word 1,005. 

The big secret to overcoming Writer's Block is to just force yourself to start writing something. Even if it's shit, if you keep at it, eventually it will get you to a place where the story starts flowing. Kick that muse in the ass enough times, and sooner or later she'll wake the fuck up.

Since I started this strategy, I've had several days where I've doubled my word count goal. When the words are flowing, it doesn't feel like work. (Pro Tip: If it does, you might be in the wrong line of work.) And no, that shit doesn't roll over to the next day. The whole point is getting yourself in the habit of producing a set amount of words every. single. day. In the past three weeks of doing this, I estimate that I've written over thirty thousand words.

Here are two more obstacles that still might get in your way, and some suggestions for overcoming them.

1. Life gets in the way.

This happens to everyone. When it happens to you, you have to decide just how badly you want that X, and what you're willing to sacrifice in order to keep the chain going. Maybe you've got to stay up a couple of hours later. Maybe you have to record Game of Thrones and catch it the next day. Maybe you don't get to start drinking at three in the afternoon.

"If I may offer a counter-proposal."

"If I may offer a counter-proposal."

The words you write today aren't going to earn you shit today. As part of a completed body of work, they'll earn you a certain amount of money over the course of your life. The number of completed bodies of work you produce during your career will heavily influence, via increased visibility, what that amount is.

2. You're genuinely stuck in a story.

Again, this is a thing that happens. The heroes are in a sticky pickle, and you don't know how they're going to get out of it. In this case, powering through some bullshit solution might not be as rewarding to the reader than stewing on it for a while and coming up with a really kick-ass solution.

In that case, work on something else. There's nothing wrong with having your fingers in multiple pies, as long as you finish them all eventually. Currently, I'm fingering one such pie with my good friend and co-player on the Authors & Dragons podcast, Steve Wetherell.

"Bob, what happens at ConCarolinas stays in ConCarolinas."

"Bob, what happens at ConCarolinas stays in ConCarolinas."

Steve is the other half of my first multi-author collaboration, Hell's Titties, which has made it much easier for me to avoid breaking the chain. Accountability to one's self is one thing, but accountability to someone you're co-writing a work of fiction together with is quite another.

Having a big-ass ocean between us, our schedules don't align very well which, in this case, is an advantage. Every morning I wake up to an email with over a thousand more words from Steve on the project, and I'll feel like a huge asshole if I don't do the same for him.

Not wanting to feel like a huge asshole, as it turns out, is an effective incentive. We began conceptualizing this project less than a month ago, and we've nearly reached our 40k word count goal. Even taking into account having the work divided between the two of us, I believe that's the fastest I've ever written any work of this length.

There's a lot more I could say about collaboration, but I'll save that for another blog post.


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