Tuesday, June 2, 2009
A trick for beating writer's block
Sometimes it can be very tough to type the first word. Sooner or later "writer's block" affects most people who have to write -- professionals as well as school kids.
It can be caused by a complete lack of creative inspiration, or by fear of writing the wrong thing, by hatred of the subject matter, by depression, or even by an uncomfortable chair or a keyboard or monitor at the wrong height. The blockage can last for minutes, hours, days or even longer.
Perhaps the worst case of writer's block involved Henry Roth (photo). His Call It Sleep was published in 1934. After its publication his writing was blocked and he worked as a firefighter, metal grinder, mental nurse, poultry farmer and teacher. His next book was published in 1979 -- 45 years alter.
With a lapse of 44 years, J. D. Salinger is almost tied with Roth and may beat him. He apparently hasn't published anything new since 1965.
For a school kid, writer's block might mean an "F" on a term paper.
For a professional writer, the effects can be much worse. I was fired from my first job as assistant editor of a magazine when I had a two-week dry spell.
Since I don't want that to happen to anyone else, I'm glad to offer a simple and proven trick that should avoid the failure or the firing.
The opening word or phrase is undeniably important, but the importance can cause impotence. Fear of writing the wrong words can be like male sexual performance anxiety, or stage fright. The longer you stare at a blank sheet of paper or PC monitor, the more frightening and anxiety-inducing writing will become.
The need (real or imagined) to create something monumental like "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," or "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth," or even "It was a dark and stormy night" can immobilize a writer.
HERE'S A SIMPLE CURE: if you can't write the first word or first sentence, JUST SKIP IT.
Start with the second word, second phrase, second sentence or second paragraph, and just keep on writing.
Often the beginning of what you have to write is an introduction. So once you've finished writing everything else, it will be much easier to go back and write the introduction because now you'll know what you're introducing.