Kristyn Kusek Lewis’ debut novel, How Lucky You Are, the story of three women struggling to keep their longstanding friendship alive, has received praise from some of the most respected authors of women’s fiction. From Meg Mitchell Moore to Sarah Jio, these writers have applauded the book for being charming, achingly real and heartfelt.
Kusek Lewis is our guest today to explain why she thinks writer’s block is a myth and to share her tips on how to avoid “getting stuck” while writing.
The Writer’s Block Myth
Okay, here’s the thing: I know about getting stuck. I know what it feels like to despair over the state of a work-in-progress. I am an expert at staring at that godforsaken blinking cursor on a blank page. I have laid my head on my desk, deleted entire documents. Things have been thrown.
But I categorically do not believe in writer’s block. The very phrase makes me roll my eyes like the thirteen-year-old I once was. This is due, in part, to my background as a magazine writer, where, for well over fifteen years, I’ve worked on deadline—and never once whined to an editor that I wouldn’t make one because I was blocked. To paraphrase Jennifer Weiner, who has some excellent thoughts on this very topic on her website, “writer’s block is a luxury no working [writer] can afford.”
Writer’s block, to me, is helplessness. It’s giving yourself an excuse to get out of the job. And part of the job is getting stuck, because (newsflash!) writing is hard, and as much as you may hate those difficult moments, admit it: You wouldn’t do it if it were easy. A graduate school professor of mine once described writing as throwing darts at a dartboard. You miss, and you miss, and you miss, but when you finally hit that bullseye, when you finally get the damn thing—no other feeling, right?
When you hit a rough patch with your work, there’s really no other option but to write yourself out of it. Here are some ways that I do just that:
- Keep in mind that a draft is a draft. You are, presumably, not etching your novel into a piece of slate, “Flintstones” style, where every word is permanent. You are writing a draft, you have a delete key, an eraser. Just write, knowing that you will have the luxury of as many do-over’s as it takes.
- Don’t start at the beginning. When I sit down to write an essay or a magazine article, this is the first thing I actually, literally type: “INTRO…blah, blah, blah.” Then I dive in to the main part of the story. There is something incredibly freeing about not worrying about the first impression first, and it’s much easier to write the beginning at the end, once you know what the rest is about.
- Write with spontaneity. In other words, abandon logic and write the first weird, crazy thing that pops into your head. I did this constantly when I was writing my novel. You don’t have to know where it’s going to go in the story, you don’t even have to know why you’re writing it, just write something. Remember the “barbaric yawp, sweaty-toothed madman” scene from Dead Poets’ Society? (YouTube it—seeing a young, adorable Ethan Hawke is worth it.) Go for that.
- Write by hand. When I am officially stumped, I stop working at my computer and sit on my bed with a notebook and a pen, just like I did when I was a teenager. Writing on paper feels less like work and, in my experience, the result is often much more imaginative, playful, and interesting than whatever I most recently typed into a Word doc.
- Stop taking yourself so seriously. The following is my absolute favorite quote about writing, ever, by the genius Ray Bradbury:
I want your loves to be multiple. I don’t want you to be a snob about anything. Anything you love, you do it. It’s got to be with a great sense of fun. Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say, ‘Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…’, you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.
I know that it feels horrible when you’re stuck, I do. But then I read this quote and I remember that nobody is going to die if I write a flabby sentence. Nobody is going to force me to work at the Hollister store at the mall if I don’t hit my page goal by the end of the day. My husband isn’t going to leave me. My kids will be fine. This is writing, people, not a five-alarm fire, and while it’s hard, yes, it’s also fun, and if for no other reason than because you’re trying, you deserve to let it be a good time.