Friday, July 15, 2022

Living with Writer's Block

 I've been trying for months to finish a 4,000-5,000 word essay for a special journal issue on Edgar Allan Poe and his impact on mystery writers. I have done my research.  But somehow every time I sit down to finish, something else comes up. Something I have to take care of right now. 

The essay is due. The co-editors are waiting for the draft so that they can provide feedback. I finally know what I want to say. I intend to finish today. But for some reason I decided -- after pausing to listen to a discussion about CDC's current recommendations -- that I should schedule my second Covid booster for this afternoon. Then I'm having dinner with a friend (because it would take time to cook and we need to catch up). After that I will come home and finish my essay and send it along. Tonight. . . or tomorrow morning.

Writng this essay should have taken no more than a day or two. But it has been like pushing a boulder up a mountain. 

I've had this experience occasionally in the past -- sometimes when I'm trying to start a book. It is hard to explain unless one believes there is such a thing as "writer's block." 

My own experience is that it is related to either uncertainty about what I am about to do and/or the direction that I intend to take. This is the difference between being a pantser or a plotter. Unlike the pantser, who can jump in and enjoy the process, I plod. In my moments of existential self-doubt when I begin a new project, I wonder if I can even do what I have said I will do. So, I am show I can write another Lizzie Stuart novel in a couple of months. But I have struggled to finish the Poe essay until I finally found the quote that brought it all together. 

In the case of the historical thriller I am trying to write, I can imagine what it will be. But I can't get there. I am so concerned with getting it right, that I can't get it down at all. I think I am on the verge of breaking out of my box, but maybe not.

At least with the essay, having editors who are waiting for me to stop holding them up has forced me to move on. As for the historical thriller. I have the first 50 pages for my agent and the synopsis in progress. I've got to finish this weekend and send it to him. 

The psychology of my "writer's block" requires that I be completely fed up with myself for not getting the work done. Then I need to either have a deadline or be able to apply my own pressure to finish the first draft. 

And -- this is the payoff -- once the draft is done, I am ready to revise. I love revisioning. That is the best part of writing. I have never had writer's block when I am revising. I wish I coulc say that about the first draft. 

Maybe a hot fudge sundae would help. 

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