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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

FAQ: Writer’s block

Over the course of my whirlwind day at Mount Calvary, several questions popped up again and again, so that I’d have to pause (wait a second, didn’t somebody already ask me this?) before I remembered that I was talking to a new group of students (duh, that was last period!) So I figured I’d answer some of those frequently asked questions again here on the blog.

QUESTION: How do you deal with writer’s block?

I’ve observed that much of the agitation surrounding the unfortunate phenomenon of “writer’s block” comes from comparing oneself to other writers. Maybe your friend is excitedly scribbling away in his notebook beside you; maybe you’ve heard of some other writer who begins a new story the day he puts the final polish on the previous one. Why can’t I be that productive? Every idea I come up with is garbage, just one cliché after another. Will I ever feel that thrill of writing a nice piece of description or dialogue again? Hah. I DOUBT IT.

You’re putting so much energy into fretting about having no ideas, it’s no wonder you can’t come up with any!

So A, stop looking over at what your neighbor is doing, and B, don’t try so hard. I know that’s easy to say. You might end up trying too hard not to try too hard. So stop trying. Read a good novel, or go to an art museum, or follow the thread on a fascinating line of research. (What did people do for entertainment in the 18th century?…puppet shows, Punch and Judy…magic lanterns…Fantasmagorie…“A Trip to the Moon”...etc., etc.) You’ll have so much fun falling down a rabbit hole that you’ll forget your frustration entirely.

I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. Yes, I’ve gone for a year or two between novel projects, struggling through a few false starts along the way, but I choose to see this stepping in the dark as part of the process, not a hindrance to it. Of course it can be very aggravating when the pieces are taking what feels like ages to assemble themselves, but during those periods I’ve never thought of myself as “blocked.” I prefer to think of those “fallow” periods as “filling up,” which is what you’re doing when you’re enjoying somebody else’s book or painting or film, or working on a story that is preparing you for the real magnum opus. You’re discovering, again, all that’s important to you, and in the meantime all those marvelous little pieces in the back of your head are going to assemble themselves into the outlines of a story.

It will happen, I promise—but only when you’re not worrying over it.

And if you don’t quite believe me, consider this. I told you in this post that the story attached to that “brain dump” would probably never amount to anything. Guess what? I was wrong. It just needed a couple of years to sort itself out!

(This may be my last post for awhile. My sister and I are leaving for Colombia tomorrow!)

1 Comment to FAQ: Writer’s block

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    January 31, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    It can be incredibly frustrating before you get on a role writing anything (whether it be creatively or otherwise), but I’ll try to remember the idea that there is no such thing as a block!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.