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Words are Hard to Find

Updated on August 15, 2011

On Writer's Block

Novelist Carlos Fuentes says that writing is a “struggle against silence.” If that is true then things have been very quiet for me lately. It’s been almost too quiet.

Writer’s block, at its core, is a multifaceted anxiety disorder of sorts that inhibits productivity. It stems in part for a desire to produce words so good that they blister reader’s brains with brilliance. The other part of writer’s block is when the scribe stares down the blank page and loses, intimidated by the unknown.

Further inherent in writer’s block is an abject fear of failure. The writer fears that their investment of energy might not be accepted in an appropriate manner.

Actor–writer Steven Fry considers that an inability to concentrate is also at the core of writer’s block. He makes a very salient point. Still, it is nice to jump around a bit and let the brain air itself out, don’t you think?

Wait: What did Fry say? Just kidding. I just wanted to see if you were concentrating.

Screenwriter-novelist (sometimes the other way around), and all-around regular guy William Goldman believes that the easiest thing in the world is to “not write.” Playing devil’s advocate, I guess he thinks the hardest thing in the world is to write.

If so, then I am highly inclined to agree.

Where I seem to confuse myself is that I engage in two kinds of writing. First is the writing to put food on the table. The other type is predominantly fiction writing that resulted short fiction, literary journalism style pieces, a couple of plays and screenplays that occasionally puts food on the table. Both processes are for me quite different even though the end result is the same-to get words.

The first kind of writing actually comes easy for me. I was trained as a journalist and somehow learned to write, stream of consciousness style, as I was putting the story together. What my notes would look like were disconnected pieces of a puzzle that I would later come back and reconnect. I always made sure a good story was chock full of facts.

The other style involved fiction writing. It has been rather challenging but quite rewarding. It also has its drawbacks. Somehow in my mind I have an unusually high sensitivity to rejection. This sensitivity inhibits me subconsciously in that I don’t write because I don’t want to deal with rejection. What this rejection could be varies.

It is clearly something I must get over because if I can somehow merge the two styles of writing, there might be any stopping me. I don’t mean in becoming successful, I mean becoming highly-productive. I need words and I need them now.

When I started as a reporter post-graduate school, it was in the newsroom of a news-talk formatted radio station. There were deadlines every quarter hour.

The pace was brutal and unrelenting. I learned how to deal with it by becoming a machine. In fact, some people called me a machine. Words at will: you want a political story? Boom. Here you go. You want a murder story? Take this.

For some reason, I have trouble approaching my more creative endeavors the same way.

Wallace Stevens, in his poem The Emperor of Ice-Cream, wrote “let be be the finale of seem.” It is a sentiment that I like because I often “seem” but I am never in a state of “be.”

It’s far better to be a writer than to seem to be a writer.

Enough with the lip service, I am off to do something about it. It is difficult to pay lip service to results.

What do you do to break through writer’s block?

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