I know some might argue with me, and rightly so, but when it comes to the issue of “Writer’s Block,” I’m not sure it isn’t more myth than reality. That being said, I will admit to having been blocked, backed-up and to have suffered from the lack of a literary movement from time to time, compositionally constipated as it were. But blocked, as in NO MORE WORDS, IDEAS, COMPOSITION? No…no, I don’t believe I have. In this “Summer of Writing Furiously,” I have come to a few conclusions about my present-writing-self, particularly in the area of the phenomenon of writer’s block or as I prefer in relation to myself: a writer blocked.
There are times when I am slow to start. I sit in front of my computer, my preferred writing mode, and sigh deeply wishing the coffee would kick in, secretly wondering if it ever really does, loath to begin. I watch my Widows Sidebar gadget that monitors computer activity as the squiggly little lines jump up or dig deep, an apt brain activity metaphor.
There are times when I don’t feel like writing. I’m contemplating the next scene on the plot hit-parade, a problematic one I’ve yet to work the logic out for, and I feel like my energy levels completely inadequate to deal with it. I feel my machine is an energy vampire sucking the life and creativity from my finger tips and eyeballs.
There are times when thinking or talking about writing is so much more fun than actually doing it. I go over plot points I like or talk to myself (a viable strategy by the way, which I use constantly to the bemusement of all who know me and wariness from those who don’t) about this protagonist’s motivation or antagonist’s inspiration, convinced I’m refining, but actually only reminding myself of what I already know. I’ll talk about my [trivial] insights and [not-so-momentous] literary discoveries to my indulgent wife ad nauseam until she drifts off to her study to play solitaire (a sure sign she’s done listening).
There are times when I allow myself to be distracted. “Calgon! Take me away!” (Damn if I didn’t just date myself). I check my email or visit various forum’s where I’ve posted and end up writing “important” letters or responses. I review my blog updates and visit author sites getting mentally involved with what’s happening in other writers’ and would-be writers’ lives purposefully ignoring my own.
There are times I’m desperate for an idea—an idea needed to further the plot along, provide motivation for a character’s action, a way to get the story from point A to point B—and I feel completely clueless how to find one. I don’t know what to do and desperately turn to a likely reference book or inspiring novel for guidance, or make myself something to eat, or play a tune on my practice chanter, or hangout with my dogs. (Indent)There are times when I feel I simply cannot approach my main plot again until I have more deeply explored some aspect of background material. I stall the plot and my characters while I establish the naming practices of a certain culture, or decide how bricks were actually made in ancient “X” before allowing my protagonists to enter the “great and grand City of Trumpeting Towers.” I mean how the hell am I supposed to describe it if I don’t bloody know what a “Trumpeting Tower” is?
There are times when I’m just flat depressed, completely without hope that I’ll ever establish a writing life up to snuff. Every other writer is cooler than me. Every other writer is smarter, more intuitive than me. I’ll never be like my “Writing godfathers and mothers.” I’m too old, too set in my ways, too put upon, too financially dependent, too ingrained with bad habits, too slow to even day-dream of being a writer let alone waste all this time and energy on what is essentially a pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow or a lottery crap-shoot.
All this has as a source, I suspect, not so much an all encompassing writing affliction as it does my choices and my reactions to the choices of others. What was I doing the night before my blocked writing session? Let me see…
- Was I waxing nostalgic with my brothers, drinking scotch (Slainte!) and am now hung over, tired and depressed about being 50?
- Did I stay up with a late night “block buster” movie and could not fall asleep because I was upset with the ending and the shit-poor story-telling Joe-public so blithely accepts and perpetuates?
- Are my bagpipe passions inflamed after an amazing lesson with Aaron and all I want to do is make music for awhile and pursue that artistic endeavor?
- Has BoA collections called again demanding repayment, threatening eminent foreclosure and financial ruination and I’m feeling a little distracted about the future?
- Has the district office sent their end-of-the-summer letter signaling an oncoming tide of bullshit or has Michelle Malkin once again disparaged my chosen profession making me feel like the state of American young people is all my fault?
- Can I hear my wife trimming a hedge in the yard and am I feel guilty for neglecting what “normal” people do not?
- Am I in Perfection-Man mode after having read an accomplished author’s work that blew me away and am now convinced that nothing I do is good enough?
- Did my brothers just email me with a, “we never get together now that you write all the time” missive and as a result, I’ve plunged into research mode, donning my pseudo anthropologist-archeologist explorer’s hat preparing for a weekend game and grill session?
All these circumstances, and probably hundreds more I have yet to identify, and responses are at their roots self-perceived and self-imposed. They reminds me of a time when sitting at the local pub, I watched two of my companions throw “blocks” at each other as they vied for the attentions of a certain lady. Attack and parry, counter-strike and riposte, it was an amazing fencing match between masters of different styles.
(Indent)“Oh, hey, isn’t it about time you called your girlfriend?”
(Indent)“Dude, that was insensitive of you, and I might add, a rather childish; you know she left me a year ago.”
(Indent)“Well, then who were you talking to earlier by the name of “Baby”?
(Indent)“Dude, I was talking to my sister about her baby, hello; do you got somethin’ against me checkin’ up on my niece?”
(Indent)“Oh, baby, don’t be that way… you talk to your sister like that? Man, that’s just sick…”
The blocks come and I respond…usually in a way that precludes actually writing. And therein lies both the problem and the answer I have found to these Writing Blocks and that is simply more writing. Amazing and as paradoxical as it is, yes, more writing. (Indent)In each and every case cited above, the best answer I found, the best response was butt-in-chair, eyes-on-monitor, fingers-on-keys, now write! Write! Write!
Oh, the agony! I write drivel and I groan. I write out complaints and I whine. I write poorly and I cry. I write of nothing and I sink lower. I write of something totally unrelated and feel guilty. I rail at my characters and they rage back. I write out lack luster dialogue, stupid descriptions that make no sense, add details that are needless and inconsequential and then delete or strikethrough it all and begin again. Eventually, by some amazing unexplainable means, I slowly emerge, gradually materializing like a soldier from the flash and smoke of my verbal battle bearing the colors of true composition—if not necessarily inspiration but true writing nonetheless.
It is painful and no fun, but I know if I do not sit and start despite the discomfort, then one hour becomes two; two hours becomes a day; a day so, so easily and slyly becomes three and then I am truly screwed. For as Heather Sellers paraphrases the famous quote it in Page After Page, “If you take one day off writing, your muse will take the next three.”
Thus, for the present “me” at least, there is no writer’s block so much as self-imposed writing blocks that must be powered through, ironically, only with more writing.
Originally posted in The Salamander’s Quill 1.0 now deleted.