Category Archives: Writers’ Block

>A is for Anna or Airplanes or Awe. B is for Books or Buttons, or Birds… P is for Photos, or Palwaukee….

>Ever since I saw Courtney, and then Charlotte tackling the “Alphabet: A History” meme, I’ve thought about doing it myself.  I thought it might be a way to get back into blogging, a framework to help with the discipline of writing regularly.   But, even thinking about topics for the Alphabet meme, or any other blogging schemes  (for instance, actually writing about the books I’ve read for Emily’s TBR challenge) didn’t seem to provide the structure I needed.  I couldn’t find the right way to start.   What would I write about for “A”?  After all, starting at R, or B, or Q, may have been okay, it seemed to be more of a procrastination method that I could think of many other things to write about than something to write about for ‘A’.   So instead of writing, I pondered possible blog post topics. And dismissed them all. 

My maternal grandmother, Anna,  was a possibility, but it seemed a topic both too large for a single blog post and too much in the fog of childhood memories to be much of anything unless I worked on it for a very long time.  I wrote a short story about by grandparents 25 years ago.   Instead of writing the blog, I pondered how I could rework that story into something worthy of submitting for publication.  But I didn’t do anything but think about it.  The story isn’t of a quality that I would want someone else to read, but there was a lot of emotion surrounding the writing of it that I can’t bring myself to edit it. 

I thought about writing about airplanes:   My first time in an airplane.   Riding in a sailplane with my father.  Musings about my grandfather who trained to be a pilot during WWI.  My son studying astronomical engineering and deciding to pursue a career in the Air Force.  

My first trip in an airplane — at age 12 and without any family — was an adventure, but not all that spectacular.   Flying in a glider was one of the most peaceful, meditative experiences I’ve ever had, but I’d be terrified to try to pilot one.    I’ve learned recently that there used to be a photo of my grandfather on the wall of 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant. Maybe sometime in the future, when I’m in the Chicago area, I will venture out to the ‘burbs to see if it is still. I wonder if it is at all like the photo that my father kept on his dresser throughout his life, the one I would stare at and dream up what adventures the smiling pilot in what looked like a Red Baron outfit might have had. I should find the photo before I write about it, I thought; it could be P is Palwaukee.   I could write volumes about my conflicting feelings about B’s decision to join the USAF, but that decision is his, not mine and I know he wouldn’t be comfortable with me writing about it.    Airplanes as one blog post?   I don’t think so. 

I thought about changing the biographical theme of the meme to one of ideas… A is for Awe, A is for Achievement, A is for Advantages, A is for Anger…   I quickly moved away from that idea.   What would B be for?   M?  Z?  It sounds like it could easily be preachy, or cloying, or just plain boring. 

Thinking of Z, I thought I could start at the end of the alphabet and work to the front.  Maybe then I would think of something for a post titled A is for ….   But, what would I do for Z?  Z is for… Zero.  I came up empty.  Zero.  Zilch.  Zzzzzs.  

And so it is when one wants to write but can’t.   You come up with all sorts of reasons why you don’t want to tackle something, or why you want to write about something else first, or you get tangled up with thinking that someone else won’t like it, or you haven’t all of the information or knowledge, or experience to write about it yet.   I started a novel in November, participating in NaNoWriMo.   I laid out the sketchiest of all possible outlines, but it was, at least, a plan to guide me.   But I’ve gone months without working on it.   Sometimes, when I’m stuck in traffic, or my mind wanders from a task at work, or I’m out taking a walk, I listen to the voices of my characters.  They have told me some amazing stories, hinted at things about themselves that I have yet to learn.   But, they have yet to inspire me to sit down with the manuscript after several months.  I haven’t abandoned them, but I seem to find ten other things to do when I plan to write.   Perhaps I’m not disciplined enough.  Maybe I’m afraid that I’m not good enough to write anything others would want to read.  Maybe I just don’t want to take on such a challenging, difficult thing that might consume more time than what I want to give.   

The thing is when you want to write and can’t, the cure seems to be that you just have to do it.  Not quite ready to pick up the novel quite yet, but I want to write more often.   Even if it is painful to do so.  Even if I want to distract myself with a hundred other things.   I want to find some sort of writing mojo, to stop talking about, or thinking about writing and actually write. 

And so I will begin with A.   A is for ….   My next post.

>Things to do when not writing NaNoWriMo Novel

>* Play Scramble on Facebook on the premise that you are a) limbering up your fingers for typing, and b) it involves words so it’s a pre-write exercise.

* Take a nap and have a dream where one of your minor characters makes a case for importance in your plot and then proceeds to tell you how she dies. Get up and write that chapter.

* Get so enamored with one chapter that you just want to edit, edit, edit instead of write, write, write.

* Use Find/replace to change all contractions to two words, thereby increasing word count by 50 words.

* Think of ways to color code your characters to aide in building a mind map of the plot lines. Spend too much time on which color is just right for each character. Be glad that you have a set of 64 colored pencils.

* Recalculate every hour how many more words you have to write to ‘catchup’, then whine about your swine flu setback.

* Check FB again in case something important has happened. Be amused by swiney cartoon son has posted on your wall. Decide that one of your characters liked Winnie the Pooh as a child. Consider this research.

* Peruse the NaNoWriMo Forums and wonder if everybody is writing either FanFic or Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Have an episode of self-doubt that you shouldn’t be doing this.

* Remind yourself that it’s just a goal to get a first draft completed.

* Realize at 11:17 that due to the time change the perfect sunbeam for napping is almost in place. Move laptop to bed. Realize 45 minutes later that the sun doesn’t move as quickly as you thought.

* Think some more about your characters. Maybe even write a character sketch.

* Write a blog post to tell your 5 readers that your word count is now 6828, which isn’t bad considering that you didn’t write for 4 days.

* Wonder if bullet pointed blogs posts count towards word count if you can attribute them to a character? After all, 392 words would increase your count to 7220, leaving you with exactly 1860 more words per day to write to meet 50,000 by Nov 30th. Consider that would be 380 words if you removed the contractions.

* Take another nap. The sunbeam is now perfectly aligned with bedroom window.

>Writer’s Block?

>I was speaking with an acquaintance yesterday, who called me from BVI where she lives in the winter. We were speaking about some events that have impacted both of us and many friends, trying to come to terms with our feelings. I had written an email to her earlier in the day.

“You write so well”, she said, “you should do so more often”.

I found myself saying “I used to write a blog…” I startled as I realized I had used the past tense.

“You should do so more often,” she said.

Yes, I should, but I just haven’t been able to sit down, clear my thoughts and write for so long. Funny how the longer one goes avoiding something, the more daunting it becomes. Even when I have drafted something in my head, I have been unable to get it down with pen and paper or keyboard and screen. Posts about books and movies and plays, about daffodils and bleeding hearts starting to poke through the leaves in the woods or pictures the old dead stump of a tree that is about to fall, about the small joys of family, or how I’ve struggled to recognize the good in a difficult employee and suddenly we are able to laugh even when we disagree; about how writing status updates in 160 characters is too confining to me and that I think Facebook for finding high school friends is stupid, but that it has been a wonderful tool for communicating with a specific circle of friends, even in times of crisis: all of these and more would have been great posts; perhaps some will appear in the future.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m not worried about not being able to write again –it is temporary — but I wonder how much of this is a general malaise that I see in many of my friends right now. I don’t know if it’s being at mid-life, if it’s the economy, if it’s only because it is still winter, despite the recent warmer days, but it seems that everyone I am friends with is going through some sort of major life stress — stress at work, fear of losing their jobs and the fear of not being able to find another one, sickness, death of elderly relatives, struggling relationships, pain from one kind of loss or another.

It is all very real, painful; psyches bobbing in rough wakes. Not quite gale force winds in open seas, but stormy. It can wear you down and make it seem like there isn’t time, or strength, or determination to do things like write.

As I read through this, I can predict that some people might conclude that I’m depressed. Let me assure you that it isn’t something as drastic as that. It isn’t as if I can’t laugh, can’t enjoy family and friends, or am ready to jump off cliffs real or metaphoric. It is only that writing is the activity that is getting squeezed shut right now.

Thanks to those of you who periodically stop by here. I don’t intend to let the past tense to describe permanently this blog. But I don’t know if I’ll be back here tomorrow, or next week, or in a few months.


>3/4 an ear of corn, the size of 1/2 a toenail, a portion of a meme

>Charlotte did a Forty Things Surprise on her blog today. I don’t have the energy to think creatively right now. So here are a few of my responses that I could give. The missing ones might have been more clever, more surprising, if my motivation for writing right now wasn’t so large that it could take up about 1/2 as much space as my small toenail.

1. My uncle once: told me about liberating Buchenwald in April, 1945. He cried telling me about this. His daughter thinks that it was the only time he had ever talked about that experience. I wish I hadn’t been so young and immature at the time and had made better notes, even if they were only mental notes.

7. There’s this girl woman I know: who is a cancer survivor. I admire the courage disguised beneath her everyday life.

And just so you don’t think all of my answers would be so serious:

8. Once, at a bar: someone threw a punch. The man in front of me ducked. I was hit. I threw my beer at the puncher and slapped him across the face. The entire bar broke into a fist fight. I kicked off my heels and ran. It was a dive bar; I was overdressed having just previously attended a charity fundraising event for the zoo. Only black eye I ever got in a bar. It was 20 years before I went to another zoo fundraiser. There is no correlation there. I’ve never been back to that bar. My husband goes there all the time. It’s really a mellow laid-back place — allegedly.

12. Next time I go to church: will be tomorrow so I can leave 11 3/4 ears of sweet corn in the refrigerator for someone to pick up. (I couldn’t make this up). Some day I’ll write about my grandfather teaching me how check corn for ripeness — it would explain the missing 1/4 cob.

21. I have a hard time understanding: how people can go through life without being compassionate.

22. Take my advice: always remember to never say never — or always.

32. The world could do without: poverty, famine, hunger. And celebrity magazines. Not that those things are anywhere near equal.

35. Paper clips are more useful than: staples. I can never find my stapler. There are always paper clips on my desk.

36. If I do anything well it’s: sleep, according to my son. When he was 6, he completed a questionnaire about his family. He said my hobby was sleeping. My mother, who had supervised his homework that evening, made him erase it. I told her it was better than if he had written sleeping around. Mother didn’t like my comment. Child didn’t like being told to fix his homework. (He didn’t).

37. And by the way: I wish I knew what the last 3 items on this meme were, but I doubt that I would have completed them. You can find the other 27 items at Charlotte’s Web.

>40 Words

>What to do when you have writers’ block? Why, a meme, of course. But not one that I’ve been tagged with (because that one is thwarting my writing efforts too).

Here is one I found at BookieWookie.

Questions to be answered with one word only – and no word can be used twice.

1. Where is your cell phone? Purse
2. Your significant other? Smart
3. Your hair? Graying
4. Your mother? Octogenarian
5. Your father? Deceased
6. Your favorite time of day? Late-night
7. Your dream last night? Voyage
8. Your favorite drink? Coffee
9. Your dream goal? Published
10. The room you’re in? Messy
11. Your ex? Unsettled
12. Your fear? Sickness
13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Retired
14. What you are not? Neat-nick
15. Your Favorite meal? Chicken
16. One of your wish list items? Peace
17. The last thing you did? Email
18. Where you grew up? Midwest
19. What are you wearing? Shorts
20. Your TV is? Hi-def
21. Your pets? Fish
22. Your computer? Company-owned
23. Your life? Work-in-progress
24. Your mood? Relaxed
25. Missing someone? Nope
26. Your car? Volkswagen
27. Something you’re not wearing? Shoes
28. Favorite store? None
29. Your summer? Rainy
30. Your favorite colour? Blue
31. When is the last time you laughed? 10 minutes ago
32. When is the last time you cried? Forgotten
33. Your health? Good
34. Your children? Joy
35. Your future? Unknown
36. Your beliefs? Spiritually-based
37. Young or old? Middle-aged
38. Your image? Intelligent
39. Your appearance? Average
40. Would you live your life over again knowing what you know? Absolutely!

>Errant Blogger Returns

>Hi everybody, if there’s anybody still out there reading this. Been absent for a few weeks due to an underwhelming enthusiasm for writing anything.

Been so unenthusiastic about even logging in, that I never posted who won the little give-away that I did on 5/28. How’s that for being a really bad blogger? Three of you answered — Emily, Bloglily, and the blogger formerly known as Chief Biscuit now using her IRL name, Kay. (BTW, Kay has changed the name of her blog to Made for Weather, which is also the title of her most recently published book of poetry.)

None of you guessed the right answer, though Lily was closest: I thought Jonathan Strange would be cool for those reasons and gifted it to my son who thought 800 pages!. And so it sits unread. Since you each responded, you each win. Send me your postal address and I’ll send you a little bookish surprise. Emily — I have your address and will send with the book I promised (Rosalind Franklin and DNA) to you soon.

The answer? Stevenson’s Treasure Island was a holiday gift meant to be read with my husband’s grandson, but he was more interested in my son’s Harry Potter book. That was when he was just learning to read, and longer ago than I’d like to admit. Not only has he now read for years, last year’s gift was Michael Chabon’s book Summerland. Sigh! I think he is too old now to think that Treasure Island is a cool book, even though it has pirates in it.

I don’t think that there is any one reason why people have books they haven’t read. I think most bibliophiles have so many unread books because we always are reading at least one and always on the look out for something to read in the future. As if we were squirrels storing up nuts for the winter, we stock books on our shelves lest we not run out of something to read.

While I haven’t been posting here, I have been reading and have finished 4 books in the last 2 weeks. Escape by Carolyn Jessop, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, and Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon.

The last two were books I read for book groups I’m in. I’ve been intending to write about book groups for some time, so maybe there will be such a post here soon. Escape was a book I couldn’t put down and stayed up until 5am one Saturday night/Sunday morning to finish. I’ve thought much about the Texas CPS/YFZ issue since April and, while I in no way support the cult’s treatment of women and children or their bizarre beliefs, I was uneasy with how the State Government of Texas went into the YFZ Ranch and placed all of the children in protective custody. It seemed to me that it was more about the state not sanctioning the cult’s polygamist beliefs. But, after reading Jessop’s book about life in the FLDS, I’ve had to rethink my positions.

Currently, I’m trying to plow through Earth Community, Earth Ethics as part of the EcoJustice Challenge. I’ll write about that when I finish, either here or at the challenge site. And, I found Gilgamesh stuck under the seat of my car and started to read it while waiting for a store to open during a heavy downpour. I’m completely taken by the first lines.

So, it’s not like I don’t have anything to write about. I intend to be here more regularly. Hope you’ll stop by again.

In the meantime, here is a picture I took last night during a sudden 10-minute hail storm. I’m lucky that I haven’t been flooded out, but I am so tired with all this rain!

>Flow and Non-flow (writers’ block)

>It’s been nearly a month since I posted. I hadn’t realized it had been quite so long, although I know I have thought for days that I should post something. Yet, I couldn’t find the motivation to write, even when I had topics I knew I could post.

I recently read Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Published in 1998, but building on years of his work, Csikszentmihalyi’s book is about finding “flow experiences” in one’s life, those ecstatic, exciting moments when one feels an energized sense of accomplishment and mastery. Csikszentmihalyi describes it as this:

The metaphor of “flow” is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out as the best in their lives. Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone”, religious mystics as being in “ecstasy”, artists and musicians as aesthetic rapture. Athletes, mystics, and artists do very different things when they reach flow yet their descriptions of the experience are remarkably similar.

I think that ecstasy and rapture are apt words to describe this feeling. There is an energizing –almost electrifying — feeling when one finishes a creative work. I might struggle with writing a poem or a blog post, but when I’m ready to call it done, the emotion is one of not just accomplishment, but also one of pleasure and satisfaction. Similarly, I can perform a task such as cooking that might bring me a similar experience in some situations. At the end of a long day, it is just a chore, a necessity to provide myself and my family with a suitable meal. Some days it’s even a difficult task just to order the pizza and drive 3 more miles in rush hour traffic! Flow doesn’t occur for me in this instance. But, on a weekend, when I am not rushed, when I can actually plan to cook, rather than simply to prepare, I love being in the “zone”. I can get lost in the activity as it becomes something more than just a task.

I think about the so-called “runners’ high”, a sense of euphoria produced by the release of brain chemicals. As our knowledge of the brain grows, I wonder if scientist won’t find biochemical changes in our brain when we experience “flow”? Helen Fisher (who I wrote about here) has done research into brain activity when one is “in love”. If discernible differences are identifiable in medical tests (MRIs) when one has “fallen in love”,why wouldn’t our brains do something similar when we are engaged in an activity that makes us feel good?

There is a lot in this short book to ponder; having read this following reading a few books and articles about culture and arts, and thinking about the “culture wars”, feminism, post-modernism and spirituality (yes — my head starts to hurt sometimes!), I’m sure that there is much I might say about “flow” in both creative and quotidian endeavors, certainly more than what I will write about this evening. But, as I sat down to write a post this evening — fully intending to write about beginning Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — I was struck by one thing in Csikszentmihalyi’s book and how it applies to not writing.

Csikszentmihalyi defines as a requirement for a being able to produce a flow experience that the activity have a degree of challenge and mental engagement. I think this can be applied to writing and writers’ block. I don’t think that someone would write if they didn’t experience immense satisfaction in the end product. I think that all writers must experience “flow”, though not necessarily every time they write. (Csikszentmihalyi has done research regarding flow & creativity and, although he does touch upon it in this book, he does a deep dive into it in other works.)

The problem is, though, that to get to that level of “flow”, one needs to work very hard. Especially when your inner critics are telling you that what you are writing is a piece of junk, it can be extremely difficult to find the motivation to write. Frequently, it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Avoidance sinks in, followed by thoughts like “Why do I even bother?“, or sometimes impulsive behaviors to abandon or destroy the work in progress. How many times have I thought in the last month “If I don’t write something today, I might as well just sign in to Blogger and say ‘goodbye’“? (Obviously, I didn’t.)

The more one procrastinates in beginning to write, the more difficult it becomes to write. The anxiety produced can be strong enough to deter one from continuing onward. The mental engagement can be daunting. Yet, if you work through the anxiety (or despite it), you are likely to eventually experience “flow”. Then, the hard work seems worth it. I wonder if there isn’t a negating experience that can happen, something within our brain that stops us from pursuing an activity that might bring us happiness?

Maybe writers’ block is the antithesis of flow.