Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Real Sources of Writer's Block,
According to One Veteran Scribbler

'The fear of writing badly, of revealing something you would rather keep hidden, of losing the good opinion of the world, of violating your own high standards, or of discovering something about yourself that you would just as soon not know--those are just a few of the phantoms scary enough to make the writer wonder if there might be a job available washing skyscraper windows.'
--From Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer--A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them. Not long ago, we featured Ms. Prose here. To review earlier explorations of writer's block, go here, here, here, here, here and here.

26 Comments:

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Pat said...

Yes, YES...so true. I just sent you an email, John, before I popped over here for a quick visit. I nearly memtioned (but didn't, for lack of time...and now, look what I'm doing!) that what keeps me away from writing, at least writing to be published, is the fear of revealing too much, particulary on the internet. I have a fear that something I say will come back to haunt me and keep me from getting the job that I want. Even though I enjoy the practice of finding and presenting my own voice, I'd much rather make someone ELSE'S words flow...much safer. :-)

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for reminding us of yet another dimension of writer's block, Pat, and one that's too often left unsaid. I think most people struggle with that, especially when it comes to the web, because of its permanence. But that can be tremendously paralyzing, I know. I think males tend to worry less about that than females, for a host of reasons, and I can't help but admit that when you get to a certain age (as I have) you just don't care much about things such as that. So look on the bright side: your relative youth is a positive thing.

Does this subject resonate for anyone else? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

 
At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writers should come with a warning label: I'm a writer. I'm an artist. I come with no filter. You either like it, or you don't. I offer no apologies.

Neve

 
At 10:09 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Well said, and I mostly share those sentiments. Though practically speaking, my role as a parent of two college-age men does act as a filter on what I write. It doesn't come up often, but occasionally makes me think twice about taking on a subject that I might otherwise pursue. But that's not such a bad thing, actually.

 
At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, can I interest you in a semi-anonymous pen name?

Big smile, Neve -

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Touche, Neve. I figured that was coming. Sorry for the inside joke here, everyone. Ordinarily I'd illuminate you, but not in this case.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger Connie Schultz said...

John, aging brings a special kind of freedom for many women, too. At least that is my joyful experience. I certainly understand Pat's concerns regarding the internet, but I worry that this fear tends to silence too many women, particularly on the Web, and at a time when we need more, not fewer, women's voices. I often quote Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn in speeches: Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. Maybe we should add, "even if your fingers tremble at the keyboard."

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

A taste of endarkenment to go with the dark matter in the universe.

Anyway, Francine Prose is correct: it is ALL about fear. Personally, I don't really ever get writer's block, although I do go through fallow periods. I also practice what Joni Mitchell once called crop rotation; she was saying that after finishing an album she always goes through a period of painting instead of music. It recharges her, and it also keeps any one artform from getting stale. For me, crop rotation means that I'm always making something, but I'm not always writing, or making art, or whatever. They all go in cycles.

I've found that doing something completely different is a great way to get unstuck. It addresses the fears, too, in that a little self-esteem developed over there can sometimes be transferred back over here. That's the positive angle of self-discovery, I suppose.

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, I love the crop rotation metaphor so much that I think I'll probably use that myself sometime, trying to remember to credit you. Great addition to the conversation, as always.

Connie, you've said it well. At a certain age, you're beyond worrying about what everyone will think or say, and you figure it's just time to say what needs to be said and let the chips fall where they may. Obviously you've been practicing that for the last several years, and you've been especially inspiring to women writers in helping them find their voice. I hope you noticed or heard at some point about the tip of the hat Deanna Adams directed your way in the 25th anniversary Lakeland writers conference opening address she gave a month ago, and which I published verbatim here on October 7th, a few items scroll below. Anyway, thank you both for adding wonderfully to the conversation.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

"I have a fear that something I say will come back to haunt me and keep me from getting the job that I want."

What if Pat throws fear to the wind, and something she says actually gets her the job she wants?

 
At 4:16 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Great point, Michelle. Did you hear that, Pat? Any response?

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger Pat said...

Hmmmm... Yes, that is a thought.

Thing is, I don't know if I'm in the right venue. I enjoy tech writing, if it's not too technical (heh, heh), but I also like creative nonfiction. I am good enough at both. But I'm also finding out how much I love photography.

A former reporter and freelancer, I dropped writing for quite a while in order to focus on my kids. Now I'm trying to find out where I fit in again.

 
At 8:54 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I know a lot of women can relate to that process of getting back into the stream of things after taking time out to focus on young children. You're certainly not alone there. And perhaps Vince the stay-at-home writing dad might also weigh in here, as well. Just try not to expect to figure it all out instantly. It'll take a little time.

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Pat, this seems particularly germane to your initial comment:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/fashion/16work.html?_r=1&sq=Lisa%20Belkin&st=cse&oref=slogin&scp=4&pagewanted=print

 
At 10:33 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

Neve's right. Pen names are cool. I just unintentionally picked one up over the weekend, though I have yet to use it...

 
At 10:37 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Are you going to keep us in the dark, Miles? Love to hear the story of how you acquired it, even if you'd prefer not to share the pen name.

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger Pat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8:45 PM, Blogger Pat said...

Thanks, John. I read it. Then I kept clicking on links... Which reminds me of this story.
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

Fascinating article. I skimmed it, of course. :-)

(Post rewritten to correct typos.)

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

Let's just say somebody misread my name. Of course, I can't divulge it, otherwise it wouldn't really be a good nom de plume, would it?

 
At 9:13 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Following links is a good practice, Pat. Glad you read that first piece. And no, Miles, I wasn't expecting you to divulge your secret. But now I am really curious. Anyway, I suppose a nom de plume is better than a nom de guerre.

 
At 10:35 PM, Anonymous MilesB said...

I think I'd have to either be a real swashbuckler or a mercenary to have a nom de guerre, neither of which I see in my future...

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I think the Che Guevara look would suit you well, Miles. Probably wouldn't hurt with the chicks, either.

 
At 7:40 AM, Anonymous MilesB said...

Good point, John. Maybe I won't shave this morning and see how it goes today...

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Miles, I predict you'll have the same kind of response from women that we used to see in those classic old hai karate after-shave commercials. For you non Baby Boomers, here's what we're talking about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr3ftmvO7Oc

 
At 7:43 AM, Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom John,

I think I first equated block with fear sometime in the early '90s. But recently I've been taken with how different the way American writers view block is as compared to European (and possibly other) writers.

We use the term block but in Europe the inability to write is seen as trying to draw water from a dry well. The response is not to hammer down the wall, but rather to replenish the mind through experience.

I've tried to shift my thinking in that direction and have found that discovering the missing piece and dropping it in place makes my muse a very happy girl.

B'shalom,

Jeff

 
At 9:14 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're right on, Jeff. Without filling the well, you can't draw from it. Without reading (and other sources of inspiration) there is no writing. May your muse remain a happy camper for many years to come. Actually, that goes for all of you.

 

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