I was an English major in undergrad. I briefly wrote for my college newspaper. After graduation I wrote an essay for an anthology and a few articles for local publications. I also landed an editorial internship / reporter gig. I wrote essays for a few internet magazines. It was all leading up to something: my journey as a writer. But it’s been many years since. I’ve taught students. Performed poetry. Been a featured author or poet at venues. Had poetry featured in journals and magazines. Lived. Laughed. Traveled a lot.
One thing I have continued to hear over the years from various writers is that there are periods where they have “writer’s block.” I always listened attentively about it. There was usually some stressful circumstance surrounding. A bad job. An even worse relationship. Falling out of love with the genre one is writing in. Running out of ideas.
It makes me think about the scene in the Stephen King movie “The Shining” where the main character “Jack” played by Jack Nicholson was feverishly writing his supposed masterpiece everyday on a typewriter, stacking up pages of what his wife believed to be his novel. But when the camera zooms in on his long suffering wife’s view of the pages in the typewriter, all she saw were the words “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The words were repeated on thousands of pages. You felt a mixture of horror and pity for the wife and the vexed writer. Jack obviously had writing block (and insanity but that’s another topic) and he didn’t know what to do about it.
Using Jack’s troubling writing method of typing the same sentence over and over rather than taking a break to fill his mind with new ideas, is a lesson we can learn from. Hey take a break to smell the roses and when you came back, prepare to write something new.
Going back to the issue of writer’s block — how can an artist literally run out of ideas? Life is rich with beauty, wonder, curiosity, richness, and absurdity. With so much to draw from, both real and imagined — how can you actually run out of ideas?
Without sounding arrogant or even braggadocios I am qualified to address this topic. I am the author of seven books and the editor of one. Through the years I authored my published works while working and attending graduate school. I wrote at night. I wrote in the morning (#amwriting). I wrote on the subway and on flights. Sometimes I would read something that made me want to write. Other times I would hear something. Attending a play or music concert made me want to write. There is inspiration everywhere. That is my belief.
If you have writer’s block as they say, don’t claim it as a block. Look at it as an invitation to get out and participate in life. Yes LIFE! Life may be a bit strange now with quarantining and social distancing but you are free to sing, dance, and read about in your own living room. There is also the chance that the local theater, music, bookstore, or poetry venue may open up soon. Just open your mind.
You’re an organism. Much like a plant, you need water, food, sunlight, oxygen, and even a little bit of love. If you’re not getting your daily value of what is necessary to even thrive, you won’t have much in your writing tank.
You might try reading Stephen King’s memoir On Writing or even Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Each book offers gems on what it takes to get to your masterpiece even when you struggle. Many drafts. Critique. Self pity. Cursing. Sleepless nights. Exhaustion. You name it. The writing life isn’t always pretty.
Is it realistic to think you may be the next Stephen King? Maybe. Maybe not. The good thing is writers like Stephen King and many others can be studied for their successes as well as their mistakes.
Our regular obligations might keep us from staying on top of our writing, but that’s not writer’s block, that’s just adult responsibilities.
But wherever you put your attention grows.
So consider writing to not only be an art, but your job if you intend for it to give something back to you. Avoid claiming writer’s block. Instead think of ways to make writing pleasurable, a daily need that you use to stay expressive and connected.
If you get one more sentence on the page than what Jack had, you’re doing pretty good. Problem solved.