During the formative stages of a 25-year career in daily newspaper writing, I had a city editor named Joe whose diplomatic skills were second to everyone. Once in awhile he liked what you turned in, and said, “Kid, you’re firing on all cylinders.”
Usually it was more like, “Don’t you want anyone to read this story?” Or, “You think your aunt would understand this sentence?” Or, when I was late, “Piacente, you know we work for a daily newspaper?”
These remarks were not whispered in confidence. They were shouted across the newsroom, a workplace that nurtured aggressiveness and productivity, and discouraged sensitivity, unless it was steered into a front-page tragedy splashed across the front page.
These memories came flooding back during a recent authors’ panel at a charming bookstore in Montclair, N.J., where the talk was all about writing. (The rest of the photos are here.) When do you write? Why do you write? How do you pick what you write? Do you like noise or quiet to write? What do you do when you can’t write?
Can’t write? There was no such thing in the newsroom. Granted, news stories and fiction are different animals, but Joe and others I worked for looked at writer’s block as an indulgence we couldn’t afford. At the time, it seemed unfair and unfeeling. These days, I remember reporting boot camp with fondness.
Sure, there are days when inspiration is low. I’ll allow time to browse thoughtful quotes, read some terrific passage, or play around on YouTube. I might go outside and shoot a few baskets. Somewhere during playtime, I sense the approach of a deadline, even though I’m the only one demanding copy. As I sit back down, I imagine Joe shaking his head and glancing at his watch, trying to hide a wry smile.
Have you ever been stricken with writer’s block? How did you break through?