Category: News

Writer's Block or Writer's Rebellion

Yesterday, in a fit of writer’s rebellion, I refused to write. Instead, I turned to a nearly foot-high pile of long neglected, fluff magazines. I started by reading the cover headlines:

“99 Ways to Look Super,” “Be Prettier,” “Get Gorgeous,” “Lose Weight Without Dieting,” “A Food Lover’s Guide to Weight Loss,” “Sweat Free Ways to Lose Weight,” “How to Turn Him On,”  “Sexy Sex,” “Sexy Exercise,” “Get in a Better Mood,” “Get Happy,” “Get Ecstatic,” and “Diseases You’re Likely to Get.”

These came from the covers of four magazines geared toward women. Do you notice any pattern? That’s right. I need to subscribe to a wider variety of periodicals. And if I write an article about looking good, losing weight, better sex, altering attitudes, up and coming diseases, or any reasonable combination of the foregoing, it’ll likely get published.

Then I picked up a few magazines geared toward writers. Each covered the topic of  “Writer’s Block.”

I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. Perhaps it’s part of a conspiracy to keep novice or jittery writers off the bookshelves.

Before I graduated law school, I was told by one and all: “There are too many lawyers already.” “You’ll never get a job in the entertainment business.” And, “You must work for a law firm first.”

I was fortunate in my legal career. Thanks to an exceptional, saintly attorney (not an oxymoron in this case) who took me under her wing, I went straight to a studio job. Why am I telling you this? So that you don’t believe everything you hear or read. Just because a magazine or other seemingly reliable news source tells you that you may be unhappy, overweight, or that something cannot be done or may be done only in a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily so.

Back to Writer’s Block. Does it exist? I think it occurs only because, sometimes, we writers don’t feel like writing. After all, if we were motivated, we wouldn’t be blocked.

Each magazine provided the same basic formula for overcoming blockage:

  • Use a journal to jot down ideas;
  • Break down the task into tiny pieces;
  • Try writing exercises;
  • Set deadlines and keep them; or
  • Start in the middle.

Perhaps these tips do help writers get motivated, and if so, that’s simply grand. However, I’ve found the strategies listed below to be personally more useful. I’d like to humbly share my means of kick-starting my writing when I’m not in the mood or suffering from a bit of rebellion:

  • Take a shower – I believe I could write the Great American Novel if only I could do all of my dictation and writing from within my shower walls. Water shooting over one’s person is a great source of mental stimulation.
  • Switch gears – Instead of trying to write, make friends with your vacuum, do the dishes, take a drive, exercise or work in the garden; sometimes these simple tasks elicit a flurry of creativity.)
  • Read – someone else’s book or a magazine may generate a new idea. I wrote an article about my sociopathic Australian Shepherd after reading a chapter of The Scarlet Letter. Sounds improbable, but true, and the article was published.
  • Do something you’ve never done before. (I tried weed whacking my back field; I managed to eradicate all errant weeds in a square foot strip, ripping only one pant leg in the process and requiring just a few stitches above one knee, before becoming sufficiently motivated to return to my literary pursuits.)
  • Keep the vision in your mind of how marvelous you’ll feel when it’s done.
  • Go out among the masses (for heaven’s sake, if this doesn’t give you stuff to write about, nothing will).

Be patient with yourself and realize everything starts with a little thought and desire, both of which are easily within our reach.

Jumping to Conclusions In Life and in Writing

One spring, several years ago, I discovered that my chickens were smarter than I was. That did not bode well with me. I have college and graduate school degrees. I speak 2.75 languages (meaning besides the two languages in which I’m somewhat fluent, I speak enough French and Spanish to order a glass of mineral water in a small, uncrowded European cafe). I even know how to color coordinate clothes.  And I’m capable of realizing that I should feel full after eating three slices of lemon meringue pie. But still, my chickens were smarter.

I feed them every morning. I give them water. All I expect in return, are a few eggs now and then. They’ve been fairly cooperative. But one hen, Coco, feeling rather broody, gathered sixteen eggs beneath her bottom when I turned away for a few moments. Then another hen, Ethel, climbed into an adjacent nesting box in a concerted attempt to monopolize all eggs.

Although their nesting boxes are separated by a two inch high wall, these hens managed to drive me crazy with their silly chicken games. One morning, I’d arrive to find Coco with ten eggs beneath her and Ethel with six; the next day, Coco sat on two with fourteen under Ethel and so on. When I dared reprimand them, they gave me the evil eye, throwing me looks that said,

“Don’t even think of touching these eggs or you’ll be at the bottom of our pecking order.

After two weeks of this nonsense (or hensense, in this case), I announced to my family that I planned on collecting all coop eggs and tossing them. These hens’ behavior was not conducive to hatching chicks.

“Doesn’t it take three weeks to hatch a chicken egg?” I asked. Son #2 reminded me. “Can’t you just give them another week?”

I caved in, knowing full well that there’d be no chicks. The same thing had happened last year.

Early one chilly morning, I stumbled out to the chicken area for the feeding. As usual, I peeked inside the coop to exchange dirty looks with the hens, but they ignored me. Instead a tiny gray head, no bigger than my thumbnail, stared back, covering me with a thin film of guilt.  A beautiful little chick.

I always periodically jump to conclusions about people and situations. It’s a habit that’s hard  to break.  You’d think I’d know by now that thoughts should be weighed carefully before being expressed, and only then with wisdom and understanding. Giving careful consideration to our thoughts, and our writing, gives time for ideas to fully develop and hatch into something that could end up quite beautiful. When I don’t give the written word the time and attention it deserves, I end up wasting energy and words. Pondering even just a bit, can make all the difference.

Philanthropy and Writer's Block or Escaping the Mental Funk Zone

An article in a magazine catering to upscale readers advised its audience “to be philanthropic in these times.”  It suggested recruiting friends to join in giving, and meeting with financial advisers to see how and where to best make a gift (e.g.., $30,000,000 to build build a new residential college at Yale or $1.2 billion to the first scientist who can find a cure for stupidity). I’d like to add that there’s another vital reason to be philanthropic and this mode of philanthropy won’t cost a penny.

Last week, our postal service sent postcards requesting the donation of cans which workers would pick up and distribute to the needy. My neighbor stated that, regrettably, she could only afford to donate six cans this year because of the times we live in. I explained to her that philanthropy means, literally, “the love of humankind.” Throwing money around is certainly a delightful, helpful way to show some love, but there are other, pro bono ways to demonstrate charity that provides the additional boost of making one feel instantly uplifted.

There are organizations (animal shelters, hospitals, schools, to name a few) that could use volunteer help. And, if you don’t have the time to volunteer, there are even simpler ways.

I waited in a long line at a grocery store when I noticed the sullen cashier. He barely looked up at customers, nor did they acknowledge him when he muttered some sort of unintelligible greeting (at least I think it was a greeting).

I was self-absorbed in a killer mood, as I’d spent the day on writing my second book and managed to pound out a whole paragraph. And it wasn’t even a good paragraph. However, watching the cashier snapped me out of my funk.

I greeted the cashier like a long lost friend, and the next thing I knew he told me about two barbecues he was invited to that weekend and invited me to join his family at either one or both. He also made sure I had assistance with carrying my goods to the car. I noticed that he greeted the next customer in a more friendly, happy fashion.

My point is that kindness is a powerful form of philanthropy, one that can be easily and readily practiced with little effort, and could be mind and mood altering, which is a particularly good thing when one is experiencing a writing funk. It’s a wonderful experience to help others and to help oneself at the same time.