“Writer’s block,” he groaned. “I just can’t finish that article. The words won’t come.”
I say baloney. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s just a myth invented by some writer who didn’t bother to organize his thoughts before he picked up his pen.
“Poor man,” they sympathized. And he was granted another week, month, year to finish what had started out as a good idea that then got lost while he stumbled around trying to figure out where the good idea had been heading, and how he was going to get some isolated flashes organized into cohesive form.
This worked so well that it was soon adopted by other writers as a valid excuse to run off and play and forget about the whole thing. College students, young journalists, columnists, even poets heard about the malady and decided that, any time the words didn’t come easily, they must be suffering from writer’s block and would be forgiven for failing to write something worth reading.
I suppose that every writer must have, at one time or another, had one of those experiences when something practically writes itself. A deliciously funny incident that needed only to be put down in black and white. A poignant moment that had everything in place except a couple well-chosen synonyms and an ear for cadence becomes a charming bit of poetry with practically no effort. It’s so easy that the writer must feel that he has captured the knack of writing and can expect things to proceed as easily in the immediate future and beyond into his old age.
He may go on for months, even years, believing that he has been magically endowed with the secrets of being a writer in every sense of the term, that he had been born with this wonderful gift, and he would forever be able to dash off more or less perfect copy with a minimum of effort. He could write anything. He was infallible. Until... dawns the day when his casual attitude toward the very real work involved in the demanding craft of writing lands him in the soup. He starts out with a lame idea, fails to define what he expects to do with it, refuses to organize his thoughts and gather information, sits down at his keyboard anticipating the usual miracle and discovers... disaster.
Devastated and certainly resistant to the notion that the failing might be his, he drags out the old whipping boy– writer’s block. What a terrible disease. He moans. He whines. He beats his chest and tears his hair and runs to his editor, teacher, boss, or whoever he must answer to, bleating about writer’s block and the unfairness of it all. He fears his computer with its idle keyboard and blank screen. Maybe tomorrow, or next week, he’ll be back to his old confident, capable, inspired self again, and will write up a storm of brilliant prose, redeeming himself of this unfortunate lapse. It becomes so fearsome that he’s afraid to write anything at all, not even a grocery list, or a note to his best friend. He recoils at the sight of a ball point pen and even feels uneasy when his young daughter opens her little box of crayons. It will go away, this cursed writer’s block. After all, it’s not his fault. He didn’t do anything to bring it on.
He’s right about one point. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything when he should have been gluing his butt to the chair and staying there until he’d written something. That, I’m pretty sure, is the cure for the problem.
Deciding what to write about is hardly ever the reason writers have trouble getting started on a new project. It’s as simple as sitting down with a friend and a cup of coffee, or a cold beer. There are always things to talk about, and if you would track most conversations, you’d realize that one topic generally leads you off on a side trip to another topic, and if that one doesn’t hold your interest, something else always seems to pop up and the conversation continues until you’re late for supper and have to hurry away. When people ask where I get my ideas for things to write about, I am tempted to tell them that I get my ideas from the Sears Catalog. It’s really that simple. Open the catalog to any page, close your eyes, and point at something. It doesn’t matter what you point at–a Monopoly® game, children’s sweaters, stereo equipment, chicken feeders, garden seeds, toaster ovens. Whatever it is, if you think about it and follow the trail of related subjects that sneak into your mind along the way, you’ll probably end up with a list of half a dozen topics that you can write about for the duration of around eight hundred words, about the length of this column.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s that old stand-by that nearly every writer takes on at least once in his career. You can always write about writer’s block.