A post on … what was I saying? … hmmm … writer’s block?

Recap from yesterday’s post: Writer’s block is an excuse to leave the page.

This your brain on writer's block.

This your brain on writer’s block.

Author Philip Pullman describes why writer’s block is an excuse:  “Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?”

And I wholeheartedly agreed – until I got writer’s block. It didn’t feel like howling nonsense. It felt like a condition.

For more than a decade, my job duties were primarily writing. First I had a tour of duty in a newsroom. Then came public relations. I wrote press releases, commentaries, web copy, brochures, speeches, reports, white papers, talking points, marketing materials, and signs. Yes, I wrote signs.

After work, I went home and wrote some more. My husband joked that I “wrote books while stirring soup while talking on the phone while folding laundry.”

I wrote two young adult novels and found an agent. We had close calls but no sale. So I wrote more. Short stories, the beginnings of new novels, essays, flash fiction, and memoir. I landed a ghostwriting gig and some nonfiction work.

Busy, busy! My keyboard was on fire. Then one day I just stopped.

I’d blame a personal crisis, but I actually stopped writing pre-crisis. I’d blame office overload, but I’d left my job. I’d blame my husband, except he was urging me to saddle up and hit the paper trail.

I’d open my computer files and tell myself, jump in. Pick up where you left off. Or start new. Just type. Just close your eyes and start pushing random keys. But every story idea was ridiculous. Dialogue was stiff. Descriptions were cliché. Characters were flat.

I froze in front of the screen. I was done. For ten months, my laptop served as nothing but an email and Internet tool.

I didn’t understand how I went from writing stories to staring at walls. I still don’t. I’d like to analyze the cause, or causes, and I’d love to offer a step-by-step guide to recovering your muse. (That guide would sell.)

Was my writer’s block “howling nonsense?” Was it fear of failure? Was it an excuse to quit? Was I tired, or just lazy? Or was it something quite real but invisible, a flood of stifling chemicals in the creative part of my brain?

Author Barbara Kingsolver says a writer must chain her muse to her desk and get it done. Maybe my muse had chained me to the desk. I wasn’t so much quitting as escaping. Snowbirds flee northern winters for sunny beaches, right? It’d been a long time since I’d had sand between my toes.

One day, my new boyfriend gave me a present. A new laptop. I’d told him I was a writer. He probably found it odd that I never actually wrote.

I played with the laptop for a while. So light and small and shiny. Pretty colors! Icons! Programs galore! I felt a ping of creativity, then a creative flare, like the Grinch’s tiny heart growing three sizes in one day.

I wasn’t cured with a new laptop. (It didn’t hurt.) But it made me think about whether I was a writer or someone who dreamed about being a writer. Not a newspaper writer or a brochure writer, but a writer who invents. A writer whose material comes from within.

Characters started talking to me again. Places turned into setting, and conversations revealed voice. Stories spun in my head. I had dreams of plot points.

I created my first document and named it TheGrahamCrackerPlot. Page one begins like this:

Dear Judge Henry,

I will tell you three things right now.

Number One. I am only eleven years old. I do not want to go to prison, even if it’s a prison for kids.


The Graham Cracker Plot sold in a whirl of emails and phone calls. It’ll be released in the fall of 2014.

If this happens to you, this big, bad writer’s block, try to reframe it as writer’s hurdle. That’s my only real advice. You can jump the hurdle. You can. It’s not as high as it looks.

And forget about your muse. You don’t need it. You never did.

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