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Writer’s BLOCK

May 13th, 2007 26 comments

by John B. Rosenman

On April 30, Dave Wilson wrote a great essay, “There are stories all around us . . . welcome to my world.” In it, he says, “I’m always a bit bemused when confronted by people who can’t figure out what to write.” He adds, “If I could just write down all of the ideas and inspirations that hit me in a single year, allotting them a single sentence apiece, I’d have a novel.” He concludes that “There are stories all around us . . . welcome to my world.”

In the Comments section afterward, I asked Dave, “If ideas are all around us, why do some writers have writer’s block?” He said that he thinks that writer’s block has “nothing to do with writing” and that “It is always external,” meaning some external problem or pursuit gets in the way of writing, like Dave’s successful quest of an AA degree. Other external problems might include excessive responsibilities at work, poor health, family issues, and the like.

With due respect to Dave, I don’t think this is always the case. I believe that sometimes writer’s block IS about writing. We are not, after all, machines. Sometimes our bodies, minds, and imaginations work better than at other times. Theodore Sturgeon, for example, a great SF writer, sometimes had writer’s block for years. Yet another great writer, Mike Resnick, not only told me in a 1995 interview that he always “writes quickly and easily,” but has trouble understanding why writer’s block should be a problem. Hey, just apply your backside to your chair and write!

Well, often he’s right. When my muse is silent and I’m faced with a literary drought, I’ve sometimes summoned creative rain (sorry about that metaphor!) just by sitting down and not getting up till I’ve produced five hundred or a thousand words of SOMETHING. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, but at least I have SOMETHING. And sometimes, to my surprise, it has turned out to be pretty good. So on occasion, hard work, sweat, and dogged determination can carry the day, or at least get you started again.

I think Beth Massey put her finger on one of the causes of writer’s block when she wrote, “writer’s block isn’t trouble with ideas, it comes when fleshing out some details of an idea. Suddenly it might not seem as lovely or scary or important as it did an idea, or I sometimes fear losing something in the translation.” In other words, you have the part but not the whole. You have the general concept but not the step-by-step details of the plot and narrative. In this situation, a writer can often start a story but struggles to take it anywhere meaningful because he or she doesn’t feel it fully.

Okay, that’s about all I have to say about the causes and origins of writer’s block. Hopefully, I haven’t misinterpreted what either Dave or Beth meant. I think that writer’s block is a serious problem that is both external and internal, rooted in the world of our personal lives, and in the failure of our imagination.

What I like best about Dave’s essay are the examples he gives of ideas that are all around us, sometimes in the news. For example, he writes, “A man in Germany, upon beginning divorce proceedings, drove to the country house he and his wife shared, cut it in half with a chain saw, and carted his half back to his brother’s yard on a forklift.” By golly, it does seem that you should be able to get a dandy tale out of that tidbit, doesn’t it? Reminds me of King Solomon’s tongue-in-cheek decision concerning two women claiming to be the mother of a child that the kid be cut in two by a sword in order to accommodate both of them.

I have one suggestion of my own when it comes to writer’s block. Pick up a newspaper and scan two different stories or items. That way you may get a true serendipity, disparate, unrelated parts that might unexpectedly fit together into an imaginative tale you couldn’t have reached by conventional means. For example, I just picked up today’s (May 6) Virginian-Pilot and see two news stories on page A3. The first refers to “Spider-Man 3″ and announces, “‘Spidey’ snares box-office record.” Just below it is a story on Don Imus, et. al, whose headline trumpets, “Even after the Imus incident, just about anything goes for radio’s biggest mouths.” Merely glancing at the articles, I had an idea for rude and obnoxious Spiders who invade Earth, insulting humans of every race, religion, you name it. Kind of like MARTIANS GO HOME, only with a contemporary flavor. Gay men and lesbians, women and Muslims . . . the politically incorrect Arachnids respect nobody. And let’s see . . . they refuse to go home until we put up an insult artist of our own to match them in a contest that is as grand as it is tasteless and demeaning. Perhaps Don Rickles or Howard Stern. Whoever it is, homo sapiens have to choose a champion who can play the dozens and engage masterfully in coarse, sexually explicit banter, particularly descriptions of anal and oral sex. Of course, if the Spiders are naturally incestuous, calling one a mother ****** might lack, uh, bite.

Too extreme or childish? Well, give it a try. If you’re a victim of writer’s block and inclined to be conservative, perhaps you’ll be more successful using the business or obituary section.

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