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Know what? Writer’s block doesn’t exist.
Wait. Way too haughty. Let me try again: Writer’s block doesn’t exist unless you experience it.
Okay, that’s a little better. Telling someone writer’s block simply doesn’t exist after they’ve experienced it (or at least believe they’ve experienced it) is kind of a worthless pursuit.
Still, though, I personally don’t believe writer’s block actually exists, even though I do believe I’ve experienced it myself a time or two (or twenty). Thing is, since writer’s block is a function of the mind, if you believe you experience it, then you do.
In my experience, it usually occurs when I want to find a way to avoid actually putting words on the page. After all, as much as I love to write, I love having written even more. (UPDATE: Nope. I love writing. I hate it when a good story ends. So I rush to the next one.)
So I go through the routine: I make coffee, wait for it to brew, pour a cup, check my email, then think about all the things that other people, like editing clients, need me to do that day. I settle in, adjust my computer, adjust my chair and— get up and feed the cats.
Then I settle in, adjust my chair and— oops, forgot to feed the dog. I settle in, adjust my chair, roll it back, go back to the kitchen to make and eat breakfast, then settle in, adjust my chair, put my fingers on the keyboard and— writer’s block hits. Well, not really.
Several years ago I was honored to meet speculative fiction author C. J. Cherryh.
When I explained to her my morning routine and complained that I often fell victim to writer’s block, she said, “Nope. Writer’s block doesn’t exist.” Then she turned away to respond to someone else who was trying to talk with her at the same time.
Later, I stalked her, tracked her down, and asked what she’d meant. Here’s what transpired:
She wagged one finger, indicating I should move closer. “Harvey, I’ll tell you a secret. Writer’s block exists only if you want it to exist.”
She paused for a moment, crossed her arms, a half-smile on her face, and regarded me closely.
Then her expression shifted from self-assured to semi-shock. “Wait— really? I mean, you actually want to avoid writer’s block?”
I grinned. “Fingers crossed.”
She looked around as if to make sure nobody was eavesdropping, then assumed a conspiratorial tone. “Okay, here’s what y’do. When you’re wrapping up your writing for the day, make your character take a shower.”
I frowned. “How’s that again? A shower?”
She waggled a limp hand. “Shower, bath, whatever.”
Why? So he’ll be clean and fresh and ready for tomorrow? A smirk crept across my face. “Why? So he’ll be clean and fresh and—”
She raised one finger and aimed it at my chest. “No, smart-aleck. Because when you start writing (thump) the next day (thump), you have to get him out of the shower (thump) before you can write anything else (thump). See? By the time you write him out of the shower, you’ll be back in the flow. Voila! No more writer’s block!”
“But what if I don’t want a shower scene? Or what if he’s homeless or something?”
She shook her head, a look of amazement on her face. “Then after you’re back in the flow of writing the story, you go back and delete the scene, there, Genius.”
Okay, it didn’t really happen exactly like that.
I mean, it sort’a did except me approaching her to ask about writer’s block and her turning away to talk with another guy and me sneaking up on her later and her getting all conspiratorial and whispering and thumping me on the chest to make her point and then getting chippy with me when I was slow on the uptake. (For those of you who keep track of such things, that was not a run-on sentence; it was just a really long sentence.)
Those parts didn’t actually happen. Actually, while she was still on stage during her presentation she said a great way to avoid getting writer’s block in the first place is to “leave a jagged edge” when you stop writing for the day. “For example, you might leave your protagonist in the shower. When you come back to write the next day, you’ll have to get him out of the shower before you can write anything else.”
Yeah, that’s how it actually happened.
A few minutes later, as she was leaving the Eastern New Mexico University auditorium to thunderous applause, I caught her attention and tossed her a rose in thanks for her excellent advice, whereupon she bowed deeply, thanked me profusely, and promised to stay in touch.
Okay, actually, I introduced myself as she was leaving, thanked her for coming, and told her I’d enjoyed reading her books, to which she responded, “And you are?”
That’s it for this time. ‘Til next time, happy writing!
I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.
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6 thoughts on “Yeah, About that Writer’s Block Thing…”
I loved how you created the fictional encounter based on something Ms. Cherryh said on stage.
Harvey, I think you have inspired me.
Thanks for your comment. Meeting CJ was one of the highlights of my life, and I met her while I was studying fiction under SF Grand Master Jack Williamson in Portales. 🙂 And thanks for the kudos, but trust me, you haven’t seen anything yet. I just wrote an introduction for the new Professional Writer blog post series. It will post later this week, and then the series will begin on May 20. Stick around! (grin)
To the Great Harvey Stanbrough! Hello.
I agree. I haven’t published in more than ? years but that does not mean I have not been writing. It just means I have been distracted, other interests have come and taken up a great deal of my time. I’ve decided to just enjoy myself in whatever I choose to do and not worry about things. I’m writing 3 novels at the present but concentrating on SH2. Art classes, K-dramas, eagle watching, etc. I should get serious about my website, however, and I shall.
I never try to dissuade anyone from their “other interests.” I applaud your decision to enjoy yourself in whatever you do. My greatest joy is writing now that I’ve rediscovered how much fun it is when we turn off that English-Teacher-Editor front brain. But I do understand. People have to set their own priorities. Watch for the Professional Writer series of posts, coming to an inbox very near you. The intro will hit on May 14 (Wednesday! The day before my next freshly minted short story is due at Harvey Stanbrough & Friends Writing in Public), and the first post in earnest of that series will arrive on May 20. After that, every ten days until I get tired. 🙂
Good Morning Harvey,
On the list of distractions, you left out one surprise: Just as I finally settle in my chair, my cat barfs. Well, he’s twenty years old and is entitled, I guess. I don’t think the barfing is a result of my writing, but…
You’re absolutely right, Sam! The upchucking cat is a major concern and it generally happens just when my fingers are about to touch the keyboard. We all have a b’jillion reasons and rationalizations, don’t we? Stay tuned. The upcoming exploration of professional writing will begin on Wednesday and run at least through the end of July. 🙂
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