Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Writer's Block

I’m dealing with an intense case of writer’s block. I am so fearful of putting pen to paper that I have started and stopped writing this week’s blog about fifty times. (Wait until I finish the first one I started on television shows…that will surely put you to sleep and make you hope that my writers’ block continues for a long, long time.) I have been reading Evelyn’s daily recaps of Mayhem and wondering how in the heck she’s going to seminars all day long and then coming back to write. (And actually making sense, to boot.) So instead of wallowing in my writer’s block haze, I’ll describe some of the things that I do to counteract writer’s block and see if any of them speak to you fellow writers out there.

1. I perform the “one-woman show.” It is performed by one woman—me—and viewed by one being—my dog. (Except for the time I didn’t realize the contractor had come back to sand the spackle that he had put on the walls. He is still talking about how much he enjoyed my rendition of “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”) It consists of dancing, some singing, and the occasional monologue, the general subject being “Why Can’t I Write Today?” Interpretative dance with lip-syncing usually opens the show—seen bi-weekly in my attic, or more frequently depending on when a manuscript is due—with Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” being a personal favorite to get things rolling. The end of the show usually consists of a slightly out-of-breath blocked writer falling into her desk chair and turning off her computer with the one finger that she can still use after all of the gyrations that went on during the one-woman show.

2. I read every cookbook I have, cover to cover, searching for that perfect coq au vin recipe. I haven’t actually made coq au vin yet because I usually get so hungry reading the cookbooks that I end up walking into town for a chicken salad on rye.

3. I call every friend I have who I know will either be at their desk at work or at home. Most of them have caller ID now and don’t answer the phone when they see my number come up.

4. I read. But not anything that is similar to what I write because I fear that I will start sounding like someone else. So, I read the manuals that came with my stove, dishwasher, and dryer; the tags on my pillows (some of which I have ripped off, despite their warnings); the back of shampoo bottles (there’s a lot more on there besides ‘lather, rinse, and repeat,’ you know); and papers that I’ve already read. I know a lot about what happened last week, but sadly, not enough about what’s going on right now.

5. I shop online. And yes, I do realize that if my writer’s block continues, I won’t be able to shop online because I won’t have an income. Interesting conundrum, yes?

6. I watch television. Interestingly, I just took a break from writing this blog and turned on the Food Network where, much to my surprise and delight, Anthony Bourdain (who I love about as much as anyone can love a chef who eats gross things for a living) was talking about writer’s block. He was sitting in front of his computer typing the words “chicken and ribs…chicken and ribs…chicken and ribs…” over and over again while attempting to write an article on his trip to St. Martin. God bless you, Anthony Bourdain for letting me know that I am not alone.

So, what do you do? I know what Evelyn does and I know what the writers in my writers’ group do, but I’m interested to hear your coping mechanisms. And if anyone writes back with the advice to just “shut up and write,” I promise you will receive an unflattering characterization in my next book. It might be just the thing to end my writer’s block, though.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Hmm..there's the practical, somewhat useful answer and then there's what happens most of the time. Sometimes I'll sit down and write a biographical sketch of one of my characters - not just the one paragraph basics - what do they have in their refrigerator, medicine cabinet or handbag, where did they go to school,etc. That usually gets me going. (Does this win me the unflattering characterization?)
    More often than not though, I'll pop in a DVD of The Sopranos and see what Tony's doing.

  2. No, Rosemary--no unflattering characterization at all! This is extremely helpful. Maybe I could have Alison search around for that elusive coq au vin recipe? Maybe that'll get my juices flowing.

    Today's procrastination technique involved going to a local coffee shop and spending way too much time talking to two men about cars. I know nothing about cars, didn't know these gentlemen at all, and certainly didn't need an extra cup of coffee. (I'm off to regrout my tub.) Maggie

  3. This is a trick I was once suspicious would be a flop, but I tried it and it works for me, even if I'm not so much blocked as I am apathetic or sluggish:

    I take a book off of the shelf, maybe a favorite one, maybe just luck of the draw, and I find a passage, just a paragraph or two, and I re-type it. I re-type it again. And, again. I do this until it's pretty much memorized. Then I start to verbally cannibalize it and revise and change and morph. And, by then, I seem to be in a groove and can move on to my OWN notes, prior day's work, etc.

    I have put one spin on this of which I am proud: I sometimes watch or just remember a favorite movie scene or story passage and I do essentially the same thing, but start with more of a transcription first, then keep rewriting that until I reach a good warmed up spot in which to really work out.

    Not too crazy, right?

  4. I never have writers block. But what I do is never finish up with what I'm writing. I always end in the middle of a scene so I know right where I'm going to start when I begin again.

    When I first started writing, I had so little time to write, I couldn't bare to misuse any of it.