Keep Writing, Blockhead

With authors Jael McHenry and Sean Ferrell.

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?

8 Comments so far »

  1. Carolyn Arnold said,

    Wrote on September 28, 2011 @ 1:40 am

    Don’t really believe in writer’s block. I believe it’s possible to allow stresses in life to block out creativity. For instance, if you’re dealing with a loss, you might find it hard to focus. As for “writer’s block” and staring at a blinking cursor, I’ve never had that.

    The closest I came to any “writer’s block” was in the brainstorming phase for a novel I planned on writing. It turned out I had the MC pegged as someone he wasn’t. When I eased up (okay, I actually got mad at him and said, ‘why aren’t you talking to me?’) then he answered. (This would only make sense to writers or the crazy lol)


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Count me among the crazy, Carolyn. Totally get what you’re saying. Thanks for the comment!


  2. Rosie Cochran said,

    Wrote on September 28, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    Great article. Had me envisioning what it was like in your newsroom.

    What is writer’s block? Not having anything to write about? If we’re defining it as such, there are definitely times when life is wonderfully boring (can you see I’ve had too long a span of not boring?!) and I just don’t have anything to say. But have someone trigger a remembrance, a thought, an opinion, and the pen is in my hand and words start to flow. Okay, not the pen but the keyboard. The pen just sounds better!

    If writer’s block is lacking the creative juices to write even when we have something to write about, then I think Carolyn nailed it there when she said the stresses of life can block out creativity. Add to that your point that news stories and fiction are different animals.

    Right now I’m facing a bit of writer’s block that I’m very unaccustomed to. With my husband battling terminal pancreatic cancer,I get the stress part blocking creativity. I can blog through tears of what we’re going through. I can keep a blog of helps for writing through marketing going. Writing of the here and now, I can do it. But fiction? Creative juices that are not based in reality? My unexpected writer’s block showed up here. For the life of me I can’t get the next book I’m working on off the ground. It is like there is too much reality to get frivolous enough to daydream. My daydreaming, making up stories in my mind, it’s always the start to the next chapter. There is much thought before the actual writing. Right now, my mind just can’t go there, so my fiction writing suffers, but my writing continues. Life cycles. Fiction will one day return.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    So sorry to hear about your husband, Rosie. This isn’t writer’s block you’re dealing with, it’s life. All I can think to advise is take care of what you need to do for your husband and don’t give writing fiction a second thought. As you say, the creative juices will return when the time is right.


  3. Marsha Randolph said,

    Wrote on September 28, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    I have found when the words do not flow as I desire for one book it is easier to put the project aside and work on another. Currently I am editing one book, I have completed the first draft of another, started the outline for another and am planning in my head two more books.
    If I am having difficulty I find it is better to walk away revisiting the manuscript at another time. I do not accept writers block as a reason not to write.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    Very practical solution, Marsha. Mental toughness keeps the work flowing.


  4. Joe Rinaldo said,

    Wrote on September 28, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

    Never had writer’s block. Sometimes the characters in my head are all clamoring to be heard at once, and I have to quiet them down, but writer’s block? Nope.


    stevepiacente Reply:

    One thing or another, right Joe? Thanks for the comment!


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