By New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Levin
I hope that comes as a pleasant surprise to writers reading these words. It might also trigger strenuous argument from those who have experienced what they thought was writer’s block.
Writer’s block is a myth. Allow me to explain.
My only formal writing training came in a class on legal writing during the first semester of law school. The text we read, Moynihan on Legal Writing, made a point that has served me well throughout my writing career. It’s one that I’ve shared with writers in my classes in the UCLA and NYU writing programs and in seminars around the country.
We’re all familiar with the concept that the brain has two hemispheres—a left hemisphere, which is dedicated primarily to organizing and structuring, and the right hemisphere, which is all about creativity.
Obviously, organizing is a creative activity, and there’s no such thing as being creative without some sense of organization and flow. But by and large, these are two separate ways in which our brain performs tasks.
The one thing the brain does not like to do is shunt back and forth between the hemispheres. Organizing one’s work is a left-brain task. Actually writing it is a right-brain task. When we ask the brain to go from left to right to left to right, like some sort of mental ping pong game, we’re begging for trouble.
Any time we misuse any part of our bodies, we get a pain message. Pain is the body’s way of telling us to stop doing whatever we’re doing. So by and large, when people think they have writer’s block, they’re actually misinterpreting a pain message from the brain that’s saying, “Stop shunting back from left to right to left to right! That’s not how I do my best work!”
For whatever reason, many writers believe that creative genius consists of sitting down with your laptop—or manual typewriter, for that matter—and going through enough false starts until finally what you are writing becomes so magical and breathtaking that everyone will acknowledge you for the creative genius you truly are.
I’m not quite sure where that image arises. Maybe it’s Jack Kerouac. Or Fitzgerald. Or some other writer loosely associated with the concept of consuming large amounts of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine while working.
In reality, most of the successful writers—those who are able to sustain a writing career across decades—are much more prosaic in their lifestyles. They organize first, and then they write. They treat creativity as an outgrowth of hard work instead of chasing it with a case of booze or a carton of Marlboros. They treat their writing as a job—albeit a very special job—and day after day, they go to their writing space and get it done.
So if you never want to experience so-called writer’s block again, make a commitment to plan your work before you begin to write the first word of it. Let your left brain do its job in solemn splendor. Then let your right brain take the plan your left brain created and execute on it.
Your productivity will shoot up, your enjoyment of writing will increase radically, and you’ll never sit there staring at a blank page or empty Word document for the rest of your career.
The other sure cure for writer’s block, in case you didn’t buy into what I learned in law school, is this: Instead of focusing on writer’s block, focus on writer’s mortgage. There’s nothing like owing money to focus the writing mind and get the fingers typing.
Michael Levin runs www.BusinessGhost.com, which offers coaching and ghostwriting services. He has published with most of the major New York houses and blogs for HuffPost about publishing. View his videos about writing at www.BooksAreMyBabies.com.
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau
Your book is as long as: “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle