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Part 2

As you probably detected from my previous posting, I don’t truck much with the whiny, “blocked” writer’s complaints. “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write,” says William Goldman, who somehow managed to write the movies Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride, and Misery, to name a few. It’s not supposed to be easy, folks… Like anything worth doing – engineering, firefighting, piloting a single engine plane – it’s a matter that transcends fuzzy passion into hard-core discipline, training, and long-term commitment. But I have been there, feeling “blocked,” that is, and victimized by blockage. Along the way, I’ve chiseled some practical tools out of necessity (suicide-avoidance, deadlines, grades). So here’s more advice on how to sharpen your sword to slay the mythical monster of Writer’s Block:

Bondage and Discipline. Lock yourself into a routine. Like a slutty nun, get back in the goddamn habit. Every week you watch The Good Wife because of that one hot lawyer. Every other day, you masturbate like clockwork when your roommate goes to A Cappella practice. Every day you spend 45 minutes preening in the hopes of getting laid. Occasionally you even spend hours attending your classes because, on some level, you value them. So why are you not writing regularly? See above, re: weenies and pussies. Here’s what you need to do. Either:

Treat it like work (I have to go to work at my writing desk for 30 minutes every morning because it’s what I do, what I need to get better at, how I want to make a living, and where I want to make a difference in the world)


Work it like a treat (I get to spend 30 minutes every morning with my laptop at Starbucks, doing nothing but exploring my imagination and playing with words while eating decent brownies).

Either way, carve out the time for your writing, and do it consistently and regularly for long enough for it to become a routine, a habit. Time and motion experts estimate this will take only about 15–20 days, more or less in a row (others estimate it will happen far sooner). The good news here is that your subconscious mind will begin to anticipate the time it knows it will get to spend on writing, and it will deliver to you more and better stuff in short order via the cerebral learning curve. Repetition leads to automation. If you’re having trouble sticking to your routine, try exerting some external pressure. Join a writer’s workshop for which you must produce regularly. More informally, agree to meet a writer friend recurrently to go over a set number of pages you each must produce—and keep your word. Here’s my all-time favorite quote about Writer’s Block, from Nabokov’s “corncobby chronicle[r],” William Faulkner: “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.” That’s not the attitude of a pussy, notwithstanding Faulkner’s other effete features.

Break it Up! Sometimes Writer’s Block is the mere pouty manifestation of overwhelm. You’ve got a whole complex novel in mind. Where the hell are you supposed to start? So while you figure that out, you alphabetize your old CDs. You eat three sleeves of Pop-Tarts. You get high. You fall asleep. Try this instead: Break up the mega-job into much smaller, controllable, task-oriented “bytes.” “The secret of getting ahead is getting started,” writes Mark Twain. You have to divvy up the big job into manageable tasks, and then simply “start on the first one,” Twain advises. So here’s what you do: Give yourself a timed writing exercise with very specific goals. For example, you might say, “For the next 30 minutes, I’m going to write that scene where Roger and Simon first meet in the astronaut training pool and instantly fall in love.” For extra fun, give yourself some parameters that help the writing come out better, and whet some particular writing skill: “They will never use any words that indicate how they feel about each other, but it’ll be obvious anyway: Show, Don’t Tell.” Keep a list of such tasks handy – the scene where the beagle gets caught in the thresher, the scene where the ghosts of Linus and Diedre first appear to the Widow Harkness in the attic eaves – and whip them out regularly to complete, either as a way to get going each writing session, or a place to turn to when other avenues dead-end. Et voila, either way—no “block.” I suspect that pretty soon you will write well past the allotted time, but until then you’ll be sure to tackle some critical tasks, to get more pages under your belt, and to write through some old, hard, stinky poo to make way for the sweeter-smelling, smoother stuff. Don’t worry about quality at this point. Listen to Thurber: “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”

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