I know a lot of writers; in fact, almost all of my friends write (or used to, back when free-time was a part of their lives). One of the things I’ve heard the most about when it comes to writing problems is the issue of writer’s block. I’ve had writer’s block before, although not as seriously as some have, but writer’s block does have the potential to put an untimely end to a lot of good stories. Now, my friends – hereafter known as the Ladies of Letters, for that is what they are – are very talented writers and very good at helping others with writing issues. So what makes good writers get writer’s block?
I don’t pretend to know the answer; there are, I think, a lot reasons it happens. Some are pretty obvious – not enough time to write, a story is shelved too long, confidence gets lost, etc. But ‘why’ isn’t so important (to me, at least) as figuring out ‘how’ to stop it. For me, though, something I read a long time ago has really helped to keep writer’s block at bay.
Kenneth Atchity in his book A Writer’s Time (I highly recommend this book; it’s old, yes, but Atchity offers a lot of good advice) talks about writer’s block as being something that we can control. It might sound really high-handed at first, but then he explains that if we sit down to write without knowing what we’re going to write about, then we’re not going to accomplish anything (this is all on page 40, if you want to know). Figure out what you’ll write, he says, “in the shower, while you’re putting out the trash, or when you take your early morning walk,” but don’t do it in your writing time (Atchity 40).
It’s an interesting idea and makes some sense. My best ideas always come in the shower – when I’m not trying so hard. The harder you try, the worse it gets, I think, because then you start to despair, especially if you’re staring at a blank page versus taking a shower and quietly mulling over ideas.
I think something Atchity is missing, though, is finding someone to hash out ideas with. For me, it’s always been sessions with my sister (in which I bore her to death with this stuff). The Ladies of Letters recently started meeting to discuss things, so we’ll see if my theory works and they’ll see fewer issues with writer’s block…
Here’s the book, if you’re interested: Atchity, Kenneth. A Writer’s Time. W. W. Norton and Company, 1986.
The image is Leonid Pasternak’s The Passion of Creation.