Writing can be a bicycle made of lead. It’s much easier to stop than to start.
I’ve got two quotes that help propel me forward again after I stall out.
One is by the scientist and activist Linus Pauling, who won two Nobel prizes (chemistry; peace):
The way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
The other is by musician, song-writer, and record producer Nick Lowe, who had this motto in the recording studio at Stiff Records:
Bash it out now, tart it up later.
Finally, this comment by jazz great Thelonious Monk to a newer musician gives me courage to try something different:
You are making the wrong mistakes.
I’ve been reading what a great variety of writers have said about how they approach writer’s block, everyone from Norman Mailer to Maya Angelou. The sentiment seems pretty evenly divided between chain your butt to the chair and get the damn job done and when I can’t write it is my subconscious sending me a message.
Many writers have a hybrid perspective and that is the one that resonates with me. I need discipline to get beyond rote results: chain your butt to the chair so that your subconscious can soar free.
It was comforting to read Tennessee Williams’ essay on writer’s block and its sibling, procrastination. (And how wonderful to discover any similarities with his writing!) He talks about stalling daily, about his collection of “the shortest, sharpest pencils” imaginable. Apparently he had the Block throughout his life.
Unfortunately, he didn’t share his techniques for getting around it. Over the years, I have employed several. I’ve self-parented: not allowed myself to do X, Y, or Z until the day’s writing was done. I’ve reduced self-delusion by setting a daily page quota and keeping an “anti-cheat sheet” where I daily recorded how many pages I had completed. I’ve forbidden myself to change – or even re-read! – the previous day’s writing, and thus eliminated my tendency to rewrite incessantly in order to avoid facing a blank
My most successful technique was neither controlled nor intentional, however. I developed an overbooked life with only shards of time available in which to write. While I still squander plenty of time, write right now or write not has proved more persuasive than any of my other methods to get the words flowing.
“If you want something done, always ask the busy man.”*
I’m interested to hear how others have dealt with Block — and whether there are any writers out there who never have the problem? It’s a big world so I assume there must be at least a few writers who never experience writer’s block – but I’m guessing they are very much in the minority.
* an observation from Preston Sturges’ master comedy “The Palm Beach Story”.