On Writer’s Block and Cannibalism

by Bentley Clark

Out of Ones Head1On a few occasions, I have joked in this column that I suffer from creative constipation. I now admit that I jinxed myself. Writing this month’s article has been like pulling teeth from a sloth—sure, they don’t move very fast, but have you seen those claws? I had intended to write about flash fiction this month and what I came up with was actually shorter than your average flash fiction story. So, the day before November’s article was due, I changed course.

It took some introspection, but what I realized was that the unfortunate, craptastic flash fiction article was a symptom of that mysterious and often incurable affliction: writer’s block. My determination to write something decent in spite of said block just led to more and more tsk-worthy writing. I kid you not, the article actually contained the following sentence: Clearly my cat had invited some burglars around for sandwiches and let the dog finish off the peanut butter. While terribly humorous and worth saving for another occasion, I was grasping at straws. Five hundred sixty-seven words and every last one of them crap.

At that point, I did what any self-respecting writer would do—I knit some gloves, hot-washed some towels, and took a nap. When I woke up, I reread what I had written, researched flash fiction on the Internet and then decided that I was inept, uncreative, and unworthy of love. Because, let’s face it, we all feel less than loveable when we put pen to paper and it goes nowhere. After wallowing in a bit of self-pity and throwing the hot-washed towels in the drier, I went back to the Internet and read some articles about the “myth” of writer’s block.

Oh yes, my friends, there are indeed those who believe that writer’s block does not exist. “What?!” I hear you chorus with a well-placed interrobang. Yep. These writerly myth busters insist that writer’s block is all in your head. To which I reply with a belly laugh and a hearty, “Well, duh!” According to these myth busters: (1) my emotions are getting the better of me, (2) I’m afraid of what I want to write, (3) I’m afraid of success, (4) I’m second-guessing myself, and (5) I’ve exhausted all the good and original ideas.

Apparently, these are the real culprits of my clogged creative juices, not writer’s block. Myself, I’m more partial to: I know a whole bunch of words and punctuation marks, but I’m just not real sure how to arrange them all. There. See? I’m not blocked, I’m just overwhelmed.

It seems there are as many cures for writer’s block as there are reasons. Some of my favorites suggest that I should:

■ Eat snacks very slowly so that I can contemplate my writing. However, I’m on Weight Watchers, so there is no such thing as “snacks” in my house. At least not writing-worthy ones—Red Vines, Piroulines, or chocolate Hob Nobs.

■ Retool a fairy tale to get the creative juices flowing. All I came up with was, “Once upon a time, there was a writer who worked for hours and produced crap.”

■ Spend 30 minutes cleaning house to get my mind off of goal-directed think. (I think my husband may have written this one.) Sorry, husband, this “hint” simply isn’t going to work on me, I’d rather write crap than clean crap.

■ Write about someone I hate and send it to a confession magazine. First of all, what is a confession magazine? Second of all, with my luck, I’d accidentally send the piece to my mom who would lecture me about how it isn’t nice to hate people. You can dislike them all you want, but don’t hate them.

The most commonly espoused cure for writer’s block seems to be: write. Great. Except, I already spent hours writing my article. Then, I spent hours attempting to edit my article. Seems to me that sometimes “just write” isn’t the answer to the question, “Why can’t I write anything worth editing?” So, I decided instead to go with the cure used most often by computer scientists and Dads the world over—reboot the thing. I came to terms with the fact that the flash fiction article was crap and cannibalized the experience to write this one. I guess that means my answer to writer’s block is this: cannibalism. Do with that what you will.

Anyway, since I managed to write an article for the column this month, I suppose my writer’s block on the flash fiction article is a moot point—sorry to spend 800 words on a moot point. However, in preparation for next month’s article, I intend to eat some carrots slowly while vacuuming and re-working “Twelve Dancing Princesses” to include people I hate. Shoot, next month’s article will write itself!

BentleyClark125Bentley Clark watched “Gosford Park” four times while writing the failed article and this one. Feel free to opine about watching movies while writing in the comments below.

This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Image “Out Of One’s Head, Relax The Brain” courtesy of thaikrit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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