Thursday, March 11, 2010

Writer’s Block: Myth or Reality?

On Sunday, guest blogger Stephen D. Rogers (SHOT TO DEATH) wrote about overcoming “writer’s block.” I quote the term here because I’m not sure it really exists. Maybe that’s the cynical teacher in me—“Mr. Corrigan, I just can’t start this paper,” or “Mr. Corrigan, I just ran out of time. It would’ve been better; I just didn’t know what to say”—but I’ve never been defeated by a blank page, and my secret is far from earth shattering.

I’ve yet to find a concrete definition for “writer’s block,” but in the contexts in which I’ve heard the term used, it always indicates a prolonged writing stoppage due to a lack of ideas. The road to the end of each of my novels has been lined with many speed bumps, pot holes, and even multiple-car pileups. I’ve hit points in each book where I had no idea where to go next or how to extract my protagonist from a seemingly insurmountable conflict. However, I’ve never run out of ideas.

While writing my second book, I effectively wrote myself into a corner (which happens a lot). It was mid-June, I was only 100 pages into the novel, and the December 31 deadline seemed like next week. My wife, bless her soul, apparently sensed something was wrong and asked how the book was coming along. Upon hearing my dilemma, she said something to the effect of, “Trust the story.”

This advice probably sounds vague, or worse, psychobabble. Yet, for me, at that point in time, it was more than enough. It was perfect advice, and I believe it still is. I backed up, reread the entire manuscript, found a thread I’d missed, and finished the novel. I have come to realize that, as Raymond Chandler said in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” “There are no dull subjects, only dull minds.” Similarly, Stephen King’s theory writing is like archeology—the story is intact, and it only gets broken if the writer screws it up—also holds up, for me. And so, in short, I don’t believe in “writing’s block.”

The story is always smarter than its writer, and it will always reveal itself, if you keep after it, a word at a time, a page at a time, draft after draft.

After all, there is no psychobabble in a revisionist’s mantra.


Dana King said...

Another Stephen King quote applies here, as well:

"Writer's block is what happens when you try to be a better writer than you are."

To me, it's an excuse to act the tormented artiste. Journalists don't get writer's block. As you mentioned, students don't have the luxury of writer's block.

When someone tells me he's blocked, I nod sympathetically (at least I hope it looks sympathetic) and think, "Get your ass in the chair and write."

ajcap said...

What would I do without these blogs? Wordy little lifesavers, they are.

I agree with everything Dana said so I won't bore everyone with re-writing it. I think a true writer's block is a very rare episode and the problem is probably much deeper than their writing.

But that writing myself into corners thing...I've got that real bad.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

I'm with you, John. Well said. And I've written myself into corners, too!

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