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“A person will sometimes devote all his life to the development of one part of his body – the wishbone.”

– Robert Frost

I know of no writer who finds the work easy. The blank page or white screen is a yawning chasm ready to swallow me whole, never to be seen. On occasion, falling through this hole in life is like Alice passing through a rabbit hole to an unbelievable world of imagination. I just never know which world awaits me, the empty buzz of white noise, or a Tea Party.

The exhilaration of discovering a Tea Party, however challenged by logic, is intoxicating. There is nothing more disturbing than the unexpected interruption pulling mr back from this fantastical province. The look on my face when interrupted is not polite, I’m sure.

Writer’s Block

A friend of mine chastised my frustration with the dreaded ‘Writer’s Block’ by telling me ‘Writer’s block’ is the result of having nothing to say…” Naturally, my heart sank and all the old tapes of incompetence began replaying in my head. Then my friend added, “which is the result of insufficient research!” Salvation!

Research your way to Salvation!

It’s absolutely true that one can discover a story through research, uncovering hidden events and stories that fan the imagination with authentic conflict. I have found little nuggets that have inspired deeper stories. A novel I am working on currently suffered from a lack of personalization of the conflict. I discovered that my wife’s childhood friend was the daughter of a physician who pioneered the fight against pesticides. Seeking out the personal details of that situation was enormously helpful. The doctor discovered the connection from a family member who’s child became mysteriously ill and later died. He suspected the cause was DDT manufacturing near their home. His work led to one of the superfunds set aside to clean contaminated soils and water. 

Sometimes a great wishbone!

While research can expand a story it may not always create, and the gaping chasm opens its hungry mouth again. What we need and what we fear are a large part of why we write. No amount of research can or will overcome certain needs and fears. When this happens we find ourselves developing the wish-bone. “I wish I could find a solution or idea.” “I wish this idea would spring full blown on the page.”

Wishing will not work. Apparently that never stopped me!

The only thing that works is writing and more writing, slogging through the ideas, putting one word after another. Work is so mundane when not inspired. During periods of draught I try a different style of research. I look for analogous or tangental situations or events that might inspire. News stories, magazines, blogs(!), or writing articles to give me a ‘step-back perspective’ without leaving it entirely. I often thought a break for a day or two would recharge the batteries. Frequently, the day or two out of routine caused me to lose an over-arching grasp of what I was doing. Coming back was not refreshing.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I am the problem. My writing needs and fears get in the way and It’s no longer a matter of research or inspiration. It’s looking in the mirror and telling myself I have something worthwhile to say. Remembering what is worthwhile is often an inspiration, a handle or faucet to be turned on. Conversely, allowing the ‘I’m not smart enough to have anything worth saying.’ Or, worse: I am mechanically deficient! I can write a letter to somebody and it will be without error. But write creatively and I suffer all the grammatical errors that human flesh is err too!

Just because you like it doesn’t mean its not work. Like what you do and do what you like is not the whole story!

Please share personal stories regarding your strategy for coping with ‘Block.’