FAQ 18dec12: An Angle Of Attack On Writer’s Block

From: Warren Ellis

Sir, let me start by saying you are awesome. Thank you very much for giving Transmetropolitan to the masses. My question to you is this: How best do you deal with writer’s/artistic block and what tips would you give anyone going through such annoyances?



I don’t believe there is such a thing.  There is only being unable or unwilling to write the thing that’s in front of you, and, consciously or unconsciously, looking for ways to not write it.  Some people on the internet argue with me about this sometimes, or denounce me from the cheap seats.  All the fucks I give: see if you can detect them.

The trick — and it’s imperfect and can take a while, but — is simply to write something else.  Don’t let your hands go cold.  Don’t let yourself stop thinking.  Shift to something different.  I think it was Robert Silverberg who used to do his (type)written correspondence on bad days, and then “trick” himself into writing by slipping manuscript paper into the machine once his fingers were flying.

It’s about letting your backbrain chew on the problems while your frontbrain is amused by the new and shiny things.  Find an essay to write.  Do some flash fiction, or a short story, or a novelette about dancing gravediggers written in the style of Cormac McCarthy.  An audiobook about dirigible vampires who shit sexy babies down chimneys.  Whatever.  I’ve read of several writers from eras past who would type out passages from their favourite writers, to get a feeling of what it’s like to make sentences like that.

Write something else.  Anything else.  Either you’ll solve the problem in the background, or get the taste back for what you’re stuck on — or, guess what, maybe that whole thing was dead and you were just shoving electrodes up it to make it twitch in an awful semblance of life the whole time.  I mean, that happens.  It doesn’t mean you were blocked, it means that you were zapping a big stinky corpse with all your electricity and wondering why it wasn’t sitting up and calling you Mummy.  It was dead.  Bury it and never speak of what you did to it again.

You’re a writer — or an artist — or you’re not.  It sounds harsh, but, seriously, not everyone’s wired for this stupid life.  If you think you are, then you have to write around the block.  Anything that takes your fancy.  Just get words happening.  The rest will follow.  Best of luck.