On Writer’s Block

Bradley Sands.

I have an MFA in Writing and Poetics, which is a fancy way of saying, “Creative Writing.” My graduate program does a summer writing program every year, and MFA students are required to do it twice in order to receive their degrees. My first year, I think during “opening ceremonies,” someone (possibly Anne Waldman) said that some students would give up writing after graduation. I scoffed at this and thought that it was impossible. How could someone who liked writing so much that they enrolled in a graduate program that’s devoted to it give it up?

I’ve published seven books and written a bunch more. I may never write a book again. I never thought I would say that. And it’s such a dramatic proclamation, although it’s inconsequential to everyone except my readership, which seems rather small, and that’s mostly based on my books’ Amazon sales rank.

Writing is a laborious process for me. It’s hard work. And I’m very slow because I edit as I write. Because of this, my first drafts are almost identical to my final drafts. And if I wrote quickly and didn’t write so methodically in order to try to “get it right” the first time around by striving for near perfection then my first draft would be awful. With a typical writer, this wouldn’t be a problem. As Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” And then the typical writer turns shit into gold through revision. But I’m incapable of doing that. I’ve tried. I can turn a bad first draft into a better second draft that’s still shitty. And I can turn a good first draft into a great second draft. I feel that my books are better than those of most of my peers, but they’re better than me at writing because they’re capable of writing a good book at a quicker pace.

So since writing is so laborious for me, I need motivation to do it, and I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding that motivation. The most important thing to me right now is to know that a decent amount of people are actually reading my books. And although I care little about making money off them, a sale means that the person who bought it is probably going to read it. And my Amazon sales ranks are pretty dire, although perhaps I’m fortunate that they’re still better than a lot of authors’ rankings. And then there’s the occasional email or facebook message that I get that says good things about my books. But it seems like that’s never enough to properly motivate me to write. Although of course not many of the people who read my books are actually going to contact me. Those who do are a small minority. Another thing that tells me that people are reading my books are when reviews on Amazon and Goodreads pop up. I don’t even mind negative reviews. I actually like them because when it happens, it means my books have been reaching a wider audience: people who aren’t likely to love every one that I write.

So I wonder why I should write another book when I’ve already published seven of them and I haven’t achieved the amount of success that I want. Finding motivation was so much easier in the early days before I had a published novel out. I never had trouble motivating myself to write when I was working on my first book. And when it was published, it felt special. Now if I wrote another one, I feel like it would just be one of many and wouldn’t be that distinguishable from what came before it. And it would be competing for sales with my earlier books.

So I tried to make writing less difficult by reinventing the way that I do it and I tried to make it more fun. I started a novel that I’m really excited about writing and tried writing it as quickly as possible without caring how shitty it was. So that lasted for a few days, then I quit because I wasn’t having any fun and I couldn’t think of any good reasons for continuing to write like that. It would have made more sense to just go back to my usual writing process.

Some authors say things like, “If you don’t like doing it, why do it?” But I do like doing it, although not always. And unfortunately the effort that I have to put into writing outweighs my enjoyment of it in regards to the benefits vs. negatives aspects. More importantly, it gives me something to do with my free time and fulfills my need to create. But apparently inconvenience takes precedence over my desires at the moment.

There’s also that matter of feeling like I lost my voice in regards to my prose style. I worked on my last novel, Dodgeball High, for two years, and the reason why it took me that long was that I wrote it in first person, my protagonist’s voice was very stylistic, it was difficult for me to use, it never quite felt like it became my own voice, and I put a lot of effort into making sure it was consistent throughout the book. Now that the book is finished and has been published, I feel like I have no voice to return to considering I’m never going to use the Dodgeball High voice again unless I happen to write a sequel. But at least the book is really great. I feel like all authors say that about their new books every time and I’ve thought the same thing in the past, but now I feel like I truly mean it. It’s significantly better than the others that I’ve written. And I feel like it’s within my right to yell, “My book is fantastic!” the loudest over the horde of other authors who feel the same way about their own books simply because it’s their newest book and the more they write, the better they get. But that would be silly. So what I’m ultimately getting at is perhaps (possibly) sacrificing my voice was worth it, because otherwise Dodgeball High wouldn’t exist.

Now I’ve decided that I’m not going to work on a new book and reject any desire to do so because making an attempt just bums me out. So instead of utilizing my creativity in a work in progress, I’ll use it for promoting Dodgeball High. Because there’s only a general amount of time until I won’t be able to refer to it as “my new book” anymore. So I’m going to give that a shot. And if the book finds its audience, then I’ll also find my motivation to work on my next one.

About the Author:

Bradley Sands writes absurdist comedies that demolish the walls of reality. He experienced enlightenment after walking into a bookstore and being shocked to see his picture on the cover of Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful.

His favorite authors include Steve Erickson, Steve Aylett, Stephen Dixon, Richard Brautigan, Raymond Chandler, Kelly Link, Grant Morrison, Mark Leyner, Thomas Ligotti, Selah Saterstrom, Russell Edson, and Daniel Pinkwater.

An author of bizarro fiction, he wrote Dodgeball High, TV Snorted My Brain, Rico Slade Will F*cking Kill You, Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy, and other books. Visit him at www.bradleysands.com

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