WRITER’S BLOCK? NONSENSE. There is no such thing as writer’s block. Despite the fact that writing books are chock full of time-wasting exercises with all manners and ways to get you to emerge from that supposed thing, I say nonsense to all of it. Don’t agree? Keep reading.
I am firmly convinced that “writer’s block” is a phrase initially invented by someone who wanted to sell others cockamamie products disguised as tools to unblock the blocked. But in reality these items were merely designed to get you to buy other things, and keep on buying instead of writing; something invented by a devious writer, perhaps, who didn’t want the competition of your good work.
Then, immortalized as writer’s block has been by story, as well as no fewer than 33 film versions of blocked writers, the concept has become so accepted that some people actually take haven under the shelter of supposedly having no more to write.
Well, it’s nonsense. Because no friend in the world would let you get away with it if you were, in fact, blocked. I know. I have a sister, we are both writers, and neither one of us has ever let the other stay blocked for more than a few moments.
What do we do?
Are you ready?
It’s called research.
Writer’s block melts away when you recognize that you simply do not know what to say next. In memoir writing, this can be fixed by picking up the phone and doing a little research.
Me, I usually call my sister, and when I do, the call will go something like this.
“What was the name of the boy who rode the bus with me every day to school?”
“You mean your imaginary friend, or the real children, Marion?”
Ooooh. Nice. That got me going.
Other methods of research include using reference books. Along with fact-checking, these can explain how things work, when they were invented, who said what, and more. Along with being stuck, playing with the truth (otherwise known as lying) also happens when writers do not know what to say. So do some research. Writing what you know does not mean you don’t check your facts. Accuracy counts. Memoir demands fact-checking since memory, by definition, is subjective.
So have reference books nearby at all times, including:
- A good modern dictionary
- Roget’s Thesaurus. We will not even discuss using the one on your computer, except to say that it’s forbidden.
- Bartlett’s Quotations
- A rhyming dictionary
- The Bible
- A book of days, referencing famous things that happened on various dates
- The Complete Shakespeare
- Several standard texts of language usage, such as The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer, and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage
- A word and phrase origins book
- A dictionary of symbolism
- One up-to-date, and one hopelessly out-of-date atlas (country names change)
- Any other old damn thing you want. A full standard encyclopedia is nearby for me, as are horticultural encyclopedias; a complete set of field guides to bugs, birds, plants, and mammals; several books on how things work and how they were invented and the like; as well as my copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.
If you’re working in a library, you’re all set. They have all of these. If you’re at home, buy them used at any reputable online used book dealer, like alibris.com, or ABEbooks.com. Without them, you will make things up or get stuck, and there is never any reason to get stuck.
Got books? Great. No one to talk to right this moment? Talk to me. Send me your questions.
And write on.