If it were that easy - if just writing solved every problem an author might have, from blocks, to undeveloped skills, to publication - I would be a fucking Pulitzer Prize winner with ten novels under my belt (hm, okay, realistically, given the time I've been writing seriously... three or four novels), because I write all the time. Alas, it doesn't work that way. How many essays did I read in April alone that admitted publication is as much luck as it is skill, while in some cases Lady Luck takes the greatest percentage of the credit?
However, this advice is especially unhelpful for dealing with writer's block, and I'm sick of seeing it. This goes hand-in-hand with another bit of advice that I find unhelpful in many ways: stop worrying about what you're writing; you can always go back and edit.
So, I'll be frank: both of these lines are true. You won't get anywhere with a writing career unless you write as often as possible, and you won't write very much or often if you're constantly nitpicking yesterday's sentences. My output increased dramatically once I stopped worrying about every little thing and made myself finish stories before trying to edit. Cultivating a habit of writing every single day eventually encourages the mind to expect some kind of writing time, maybe even the need to write, for the day to be complete, and this in turn may lead to greater comfort with the process-- meaning, you might learn how to ignore that crappy turn of phrase until you're done with the important things like plot and characterization. Even if you post all of your work online, you can always go back and tweak your stories.
But you know what-- when you're blocked, when your career looks like a sinking ship and it's all you can do choke a sentence or two out, advice to just keep writing, no matter how bad it is is a load of crap.
Consider our current economic crisis. Most of the people on my friends list know someone - a friend or family member - who has lost his/her job and is struggling to make ends meet. Four individuals in my own family are out of work, and my husband was in a similar situation only two and a half months ago. I have not been able to get a job, despite putting effort into securing one, and so I sit here at home every day and tell myself I'm a Writer. Because I write things.
Except-- I don't always write things. Sometimes sitting at the computer and facing a text file feels like going to the dentist and waiting for him to drill into my teeth without anesthesia. I sit here with the words just keep writing echoing in my skull, rather like the sound of a drill, and perhaps I even write something-- but it's bad. It's really bad. I look at what I just wrote and feel worse than I did when I sat down, because the sentences are choppy, the plot is weak, characters I normally write well are flat and uninteresting, nothing is happening-- didn't I just plot this out two days ago, when I was feeling okay? Don't I want to write this? (I do.) Isn't this supposed to work out?
So I put it away, and try to write something else, with the same results. A week later I might look at one of these stories and realize that yes - it really is as bad as I thought it was. For whatever reason, my mind was not up to the task of stringing words together the way it usually does. I look at my work and feel worse. I try again - I try to write, and it comes out just as bad, or worse than before. This happens again, and again, and again. Writing is the problem. Writing is not solving anything.
Two months later I am afraid to open notepad and start a story, and make up a million terrible excuses for why I can't write today, because the last thirty-five times I tried it went horribly wrong.
This isn't a matter of ratios; this isn't an illustration of the theory that 98% of everything is bad, and only 2% is worth saving. This isn't about getting all of that bad writing out of the way so you can write a good novel. This doesn't mean writing is hard - even though it is. This is your mind working against you. Maybe someone just died. Maybe you just lost your day job and won't be able to pay next month's rent. Maybe your friend's insurance company just ditched her because she was diagnosed with cancer, and she just doesn't have the money to pursue litigation if she's going to get treatment. Maybe you're trying to get off of your anti-depressant because you're tired of being dismissed by your own family because you're "crazy."
Sometimes you just have to take a break.
But that isn't the answer I'm aiming for with all of these examples. Just write and give it a break have their time and place, but really? There's no solution. We're all different. Our problems are different. Today, advice to keep writing might work, and tomorrow it'll be absolute rubbish - for the same person. One day you're feeling pessimistic, another you're deep in depression because shit just happened.
Sometimes - no, a lot of the time - I look back and discover that work written during a block, which I thought was terrible, is in fact not as bad as I thought. Sometimes a block has to do with your outlook, or your mood. We're our harshest critics (another saying that isn't always true by a longshot, but let's pretend).
At other times, it's more serious. Sometimes you can't rise above that block by writing, even if you sit down and make yourself analyze your own feelings until you come up with an honest answer as to what's bothering you. Knowing is not always half the battle. So tell me: what are you supposed to do when the problem isn't solved by writing? What if perseverence is not always the answer?
I'm tired of this advice because it's trite. Just write doesn't begin to cover the problems that might contribute to a block.
Yes, this post is inspired by rage and resentment, which have been blunted by time, maybe, but are still simmering under the surface, just like the February-April writing slump that inspired it all.
It's impossible to cook up advice that will apply to everybody, to be fair. Artists share similar problems and conflicts, but the source of those problems (a creative block, for example) will differ from person to person. Attacking this particular piece of advice is unfair. On the other hand, how betrayed did I feel every time I read a motivational essay, tried to keep writing, and tried to maintain a positive attitude, only to see myself fail? Wanting to write wasn't the problem. I wanted to write so badly that I kept trying. The results were what finally discouraged me.
How funny, really, when advice to fight writer's block becomes the source of the problem.