Monday, April 23, 2012

To Be Blocked or Not to Be Blocked?

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Regarding the title of today's post? That is the question. And it's a good day to ask a question like that since April 23 is the date of William Shakespeare's death and quite possibly his birth.

One of the topics we're discussing this cycle at GBC is writer's block.

I'll confess something right up front and can only hope no one will hate me for it: I've never had writer's block. I've felt sluggish about projects from time to time. I've become bored (rarely) or otherwise disenchanted (occasionally) and I've wondered what the point of it all is (once in a blue moon). But I've never been blocked, which for our purposes here we'll define as an inability to put words on the page for an extended period of time.

I'm a writer. It's who I am. It's how I make my living, meager as that may be some years. For me, not to write is the same as if, when I was an independent bookseller, I said: "I can't sell books today"; or when I was a window washer, "Nope, I'm afraid those windows must remain spotty today because I just can't do it." When it's your job, you may not always feel like doing it, but still you show up and do the job.

Those times when I do feel sluggish or go stale on a project, I have two - for me - sure-fire ways of dealing with it: 1) spend the day working on some other writing entirely - a nonfiction essay, a blog post, even a really well-crafted email - so I maintain confidence in my ability to put words, good and well-chosen words, on the page in an effective manner; or 2) jump ahead in the story and write a scene I am excited about writing, one I've been dying to write, while vowing to come back later to the problem scene. Whichever way I choose, I always feel refreshed the next day. The trick is to always be moving forward, in some way and however small the step, toward your goal.

Over at Grub Street Daily, there's a terrific interview with Alexander Chee, which you can find here. One of the things I love about it is what Alexander has to say about needing stamina to go along with talent, because without the stamina, your talent won't get you where you want to go. After being led to the interview by a link on Twitter, I tweeted to GSD and Alexander that I would add to that the need for a writer to have resilience (of course, I managed to do it using typos galore, compromising the otherwise brilliance of my obvious resilience).

Resilience is a big deal to me. It's the ability to show up as a writer, sometimes under spectacularly adverse circumstances, and do the work.

One last thing before I go: Over the years I've been doing this, I've come across the occasional person - OK, more than occasional, but I know none of you are Those People! - who has bought into the idea and convinced themselves that writers are artists (which is true) and if a writer is a true artist, that writer must be tortured, a tortured artiste (which is false). Those People work themselves into states about all manner of things and before you know it, they've got a block to go along with it.

Well, the truth is, no one has to be a tortured artist. You can choose to be a happy one - or at least a resilient one! - and you can choose to reject and push aside that block.

And that's all I've got!

Now it's your turn: Have you ever been blocked? How do you deal with writing stumbles or blocks? And finally, am I getting on your nerves yet with my disgusting happy-pappy-sappy resilient talk?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 24 books for adults, teens and childrens. Her most recent novels for adults are The Bro-Magnet and Z: A Novel   and she'd be estatic if you bought one, or both even ($2.99 each; a steal!), but she'll never know if you don't and thus won't be able to hold it against you.


  1. Lauren
    I like this post and I have to agree. The writers I know who actually make a living as writers (however meager or grand that may be) treat it like a job. And just because I don't feel like working today doesn't mean I don't work. I've often found that the days that are the toughest--writing wise--are also the days that when I go back and reread my words, I've produced some solid prose. Granted to get that prose was like walking over hot coals while a tiny gremlin with razor claws sat on my shoulder and shoved toothpicks in my eyelids.
    Buut--the gremlin and I still did our tricky dance across the coals that day and got down some words.

  2. One of my journalism professors told us: There's no such thing as writer's block -- only laziness. I think that quote is credited to someone famous ... but I truly, truly believe it.

    Journalists and content mill writers and paid bloggers don't have the luxury of "writer's block." They MUST write.

    And so, I don't believe in writer's block. Writers write. :)

  3. Ha! Lauren, I love this post!! I, too, am an untortured artist!!

    I've definitely hit stumbling blocks from time to time. And I've definitely had periods where I just couldn't write a thing. But I tend to do what you do-- recognize that I'm not going anywhere and picking something else up to get me going.

    Resilience? I'm still working on that one.

  4. Great post and I agree. I do have times when I have trouble moving forward with a piece and sometimes that means some of my earlier choices have been wrong.

  5. I agree. For me, sometimes it means looking back at my earlier choices and sometimes just plowing forward to the next plot point.

  6. Love happy pappy sappy! BORROWING. ha. I have more of a problem with writer's ROADblock - there are too many things I need to hurdle to get to the part where I get to write. Which is why I need to stick to writing first thing in the morning before I work on any client projects or OTHER people's books. :)

  7. What's funny is that I do think writers are tortured, but in random (often mundane) ways that no one would think about. "Like how am I get my main character from emotional point A to emotional point B in a way that's believable?" tortured. And "how rude would it be for me stop this conversation cold to get a glass of wine (aka social lubrication -- seriously, I hate when someone I don't know pulls me into a conversation before I'm able to make it to the bar) ?" tortured. "Is this royalty statement correct?" tortured. And "will these writing gremlins ever shut up?" tortured. The story itself, having imagination -- that's not the torturous bit.

    As for how I get around not want to write. Lately, I've been really paying attention to this. If there's something on the outline that just feels way too tedious, if possible, I skip over it all together to get to the next "good part." If I can't skip over it, I speed up the story to get there. This is basically how I've begun deciding when to tell and don't show.