One of my least favorite things about today’s world is the prevalence of people who say, “It is what it is.”
Forget about the threat of global financial meltdown, skyrocketing teen pregnancy, and the pervasive appeal of the Kardashians—whenever I hear someone say, “It is what it is,” it makes me want to weep and run for the hills.
After punching the person who said it.
I mean, really, what the heck does that even mean? “It is what it is.” Huh? You ever walk up to someone and say out of the blue, “That water sure is wet,” or “I find almost all ice to be cold.” Those make about as much self-defining sense as “It is what it is.”
That being said, there is one area where sometimes you can legitimately say “It is what it is” and actually have it mean something. And that area is writing.
I’ve gotten many emails and personal queries about how to keep writing when the ideas aren’t flowing. As a novelist, I try to get out at least 5,000 words a day. 10,000 is not unusual. I write anywhere from three to eight books a year, along with numerous screenplays, blog entries, short stories, etc. etc. blah blah blah. And they don’t suck, either: my last book, The Haunted, spent almost two months on Amazon’s Horror Bestsellers list (and is still selling quite well), and (I was recently informed) is an official Whitney Awards nominee. So I must be doing something right to get that many people willing to shell out a couple bucks for my work. And when other authors and aspiring authors hear about how fast I work, they want to know my secret.
My secret is simple, and not very secret at all: sometimes you just gotta say, “It is what it is.” By that I mean: most people who suffer from “writer’s block” don’t really suffer from any kind of block. Rather, they suffer from what one of my old writing teachers called the “Poop Bird.” (He didn’t actually call it that, but the word he did use was a naughty one, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure out.)
The Poop Bird is an imaginary creature that sits on many writers’ shoulders and whispers, “That’s no good,” as they type. If it’s your typical PB, he (or she, the Poop Bird comes in many shapes, sizes, and genders) will even try to get a jump on his work by telling you, “That idea is no good,” before you even start typing. This is what most “writer’s block” really is: a self-editing function that insists on a perfect first draft.
This is bupkis. First drafts are supposed to be messy. They’re supposed to need work. That’s why God invented White Out and “delete” keys.
So what’s my secret? What’s the method I use to make sure I get out hundreds of pages when others are still working on an opening paragraph? I’ve killed the PB. I have learned to say, “This isn’t perfect. It’s a first draft. Mistakes are okay.”
In other words, I can look at a word or a sentence or a page and know it needs work and still be okay with it.
Sometimes it’s the time that you put in that matters as much as the quality. Sometimes being a “good writer” means being able to just get mediocre words on the page. Sometimes…
… sometimes, it is what it is.
LDSP: Readers, have you killed your Poop Bird? How did you do it? Tell us in the comments.
Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist and produced screenwriter who writes primarily horror but also dabbles in YA fantasy and hopes to develop superpowers someday. His next novel, Apparition, will be available soon, and all his books are available at amazon or via his website at http://michaelbrentcollings.com. You can follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MichaelbrentCollings or on Twitter @mbcollings. Failing that, you can buy a few of his books and help put his kids through college.
3 thoughts on “IT IS WHAT IT IS: The Fallacy of Writer’s Block by Michaelbrent Collings”
I love your articles. They always seem to be just what I need. Please keep writing them.
I don’t suffer from writer’s block, either. Since I’m also a jazz musician, I never have a time when I can’t play a note. The notes I play aren’t always the best, but I can always play them. Same with writing. I can always put words to the page, even if they aren’t the greatest. In fact, with writing, you can do something you can’t do with music. Once the note is out, you can’t do anything to change it. When writing, if you don’t like what you wrote, you can edit it later.
In other words, dare to be bad. It can be liberating.
Thanks, Michael. I needed this. I’ve written four novels this year and they keep on coming. I am not published – still hopeful. The only writer’s block I’ve experienced was after the Storymaker’s Conference in May. Of course nothing I had written up to that point was perfect. Everything needed editing, fixing – quite discouraging. That day is behind me. I’ve killed my own personal PB and just met an all time high of 30,679 words in one weekend. And I had a great time doing it – and THAT’s what it’s all about.
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