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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Writer's Block

There's never a Q&A where someone doesn't ask where the author gets her ideas. Most of us have some semi-snotty, semi-true pat reply like, The idea store up on Sunset, the newspaper, my dreams, whatever...
Or we answer the question with a question: How does anyone get any idea? How do you get the idea to walk across the room? Have some pie? Beat the kids? -- You just think of it. 
I used to say my books initially came like any other ideas, but those that evolved into words on a page were the ones that stuck around, buzzing relentlessly -- like mosquitoes in the night. 

Truth is, I found it a puzzling question. 
What did the asker mean? Isn’t it the nature of the brain to have ideas? Was it possible not to? What about when the askers vacuum the rugs or are forced to endure banquets or jail time or religious ceremonies? Don’t they get the What Ifs? Such as, What if that droning officious twit burst into flames? 
Perhaps the askers just didn't understand the jump between having fantasies and being driven to nail those fantasies (bam! bam! bam!) to the page in an obsessive frenzy?  
BUT (and now we’re spiraling closer to the point of today's blog) what about when those ideas which the author has been taking as her due, suddenly... stop?
Many non-afflicted writers will tell you there’s no such thing as Writer's Block
  • There is fallow time when one might need to refill the blah, blah blah... 
  • There's the reactive flinch caused by encroaching reality and the numbing touch of the outside world; Discouraging words from agents, editors, reviewers, book buyers, an ungrateful public or the bank that holds the mortgage. 
  • There is cowardice.
  • And there is laziness. 
But Writer's Block (according to those who have never felt its sting) isn't like a cramping intestinal blockage threatening peritonitis, nor a road block in Rwanda manned by jumpy, trigger-fingered teenage rebels armed to the teeth. It is simply the self-doubt any grown up feels when attempting anything new, mixed with an indulgent dose of woe-is-me.
“If I were a miner,” the pre-Writer's Blocked author might say, “would I need inspiration to go daily into the mine?” (smirk) “And does the checker at Ralph's get to tell his boss he doesn't feel the bagging today?" (derisive snort) "Or that his sweeping-up muse had forsaken him? Can a teacher shun the classroom to sulk and wallow in self pity when she doesn’t hear the call to teaching?”
Writing is work. A grown up goes to work. That is all.
Nonetheless roughly nine-zillion books have been written on overcoming this non-existent malady. Written I suspect, by people attempting to explain the unexplainable and make a couple of bucks killing time till their own blockage clears.  (see bloggers)
Their advice reels from forcing yourself to sit down and stare at the screen, to writing gibberish, to whistling past the computer as if you haven’t a care in the world, to changing your diet, schedule and surroundings, to adding vitamin supplements sold here at special discount for YOU!  
... Follow these six, nine, sixteen simple steps! Eat all you want without gaining weight! Bring the pa-zazzle back into the bedroom! Stop acid-reflux, acne, incontinence and hair-loss once and for all! And write the award winning, best seller, blockbuster you know you have inside you! Or your money back!
While in the grip of WB, ideas still waft but they don't resonate or persist or buzz. There is no chemistry, no lust, no urge to obsess. They are merely passing thoughts. Which is to say once we become Writer's Block sufferers, we gain an intimate understanding of the once baffling  question, Where do you get your ideas?
In fact -- we have no clue where they come from. None. 
Suddenly, the askers are not an alien life form devoid of imagination. They are us. A less smug us. Us minus that unknowable thing that makes writers write. 


Anonymous said...

Writing, as painting, is more than work. It needs inspiration, unlike bagging groceries. This is why auditing is easier than painting, even though painting, in theory, is more fun.

Ellen Wittlinger said...

Hilarious, Amy, and oh, so true. The Idea Store had apparently gone out of business on this coast too, and smugness has crawled into the bushes to sulk.

Carol Snow said...

Well said (as always), Amy. I hate the ideas question ... it's right up there with "Did you always want to be a writer?" and, yes, "How do you handle writer's block?"

The Pen and Ink Blogspot said...

Whenever I'm asked where I get my ideas from, I respond, "I regularly attend Writer's Block parties."
Lupe "Blockhead" F.