Writer’s block

I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced writer’s block (and I hope I never do), but I don’t know the exact definition of the term, so maybe I am plagued with it and just keep writing because I don’t know any better. This Wikipedia article seems to do a good job of defining and describing the condition.

I say that I haven’t experienced writer’s block, but maybe I have. I can think of a couple of times in my writing efforts when the words didn’t come, and being “blocked” sounds a lot better than being “lazy.”

As part of a college program more than two decades ago, when I was a callow youth (is that redundant?), I undertook to write a whole novel in one semester. It was a young adult novel, and I still have fond memories of it (even if I no longer have a physical copy of it). But I do remember coming to a point where I didn’t know what to do next in the story telling. As I look back with my more experienced eyes I think it was a problem of not having “imagined” my story sufficiently at the time. I think I may have set my characters loose in a rough framework of a plot and then run into some problems filling out that plot. (I realize that some writers work this way — often work with even less structure and planning — but it sure doesn’t work for me!) I think it may also have been that I wasn’t sufficiently disciplined yet as a writer to muscle through the hard parts of writing. Perhaps, then, I truly was suffering from writer’s block, but I’ll leave that for you to diagnose.

In any case, I came up with a technique that helped me get over my block. I took all of my characters (from my young adult novel in progress) and wrote them as characters in a short story set in the American Old West; I made them cowboys and cowgirls. I didn’t magically transport modern characters to an “exotic” setting through some time travel device to watch them cope with a strange setting. I simply tried to write them as though they were characters of that time and place. Born, raised, and living there, as much a part of it as every other character inhabiting it. I’m not sure where this idea came from; I’d like to think I thought of it myself. (Let’s say I did, okay?) What it did for me, though, was to give me a fresh perspective about each character. I saw how they would react and behave in a different setting, and it seemed to energize my approach to them in the novel where I wanted them to be. That got me through the writer’s block and on my way again.

The second “incident” I suffered lasted many years. This is the one I attribute to laziness rather than creative failure. As I noted in an earlier post, about fifteen years had passed between the publication of my first short story and my second. I continued writing, though it was almost exclusively nonfiction. During that time I had more than sixty feature articles published in various newspapers and magazines, as a free lance. It was a heady time in my writing life, filled with the pride of accomplishment, and I was actually paid for some of it (!). What I wasn’t doing much of, however, was fiction writing. I think I may have poked around with some short stories that went nowhere (like the story that eventually became my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason), and I may have even submitted a few, but I can clearly remember thinking “when I write my novel” and “I should write a story about that” and such. I was thinking about writing a lot more than I was actually writing. Was I blocked or was I lazy? (Or was I also a husband and father with young children and a mortgage and other responsibilities? This may be a large part of it since I am writing fiction furiously fast and frequently now and the nest happens to be empty.)

As I said at the start of this rambling post, I don’t seem to suffer much from writer’s block. I have so many stories in my head and in my notes that I’ll never lack for subject matter. And I think I have developed sufficient discipline to keep myself before the keyboard to do the sometimes tedious work of actually writing. And I think further, in some undefinable sense, my creative self has matured sufficiently to allow me to see my way through my fiction to get it done.

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3 Comments on “Writer’s block”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. It’s so honest and so real.

  2. paullamb Says:

    Brian – Thanks for the comment. (I hope it doesn’t mean my other posts seem insincere.)

  3. Ashley Says:

    Great post, I think my writer’s block comes in the form of two ramapging toddlers – gotta love them! However they do give me lots of material, and I too love to ‘imagine’ my characters and their worlds, so when I actually sit down to write the words just keep coming.

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