Tag Archives: writers block

Writing & the Freedom to Fail

A client once said to me,

“Writing this story feels like I’ve set out on the ocean with a lot of heart and grit and a general sense of direction, but I don’t want to spend months rowing hard to get to France only to learn that I’ve landed in Texas.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

  • Was she feeling insecure about her writing overall and needing me to reassure her that if she had planned for France, and worked hard to get there, she would definitely see the Eiffel Tower?
  • Or was she expressing some subconscious uneasiness that she was actually on the wrong plotting track?

There was no right or wrong answer here. The first speaks to the general anxiety writers all feel from time to time. We’re sitting alone creating worlds out of thin air; how could we not feel insecure from time to time?

The second speaks to a more complicated issue: where does our writing come from? Whose ideas are these, if not mine? So why do they sometimes turn on me and take me to a place I never thought of–or wanted–to go?

When that happens to me, I’ve learned to listen to my silent self and, at least for a while, give it rein to move at will. Eventually, I either write myself out of that place–or I find that it actually is where I wanted to go. It means, of course, that I have to allow myself the hardest freedom of all–the freedom to fail.

Quotable Writers: Roger Angell

Oh yes, is it ever! When I first saw this quote from New Yorker writer and editor, Roger Angell, it said perfectly what I had been thinking just that morning.  Which was: I don’t want to have to think before I write something. I wanted it to come burbling out of my unconscious, preferably via an app that creates a conduit between my brain and my fingers on the keyboard. Is there an app for that–ya think?  

While Roger Angell, who has spent a lifetime writing award winning essays and as the fiction editor for the New Yorker, uttered these words of advice, I’m sure he has never felt the angst of sitting down to write and–blank, there’s nothing there. Of course not. Real writers, of which Angell is certainly one, never face a blank page without a veritable fountain of words–superb, multi-syllabled, emotionally evocative words pouring forth.

I, on the other hand, am obviously am not a real writer since I face the blank page syndrome on many occasions. Usually when I’m poised at my desk full of grit and determination to write something. I’m not sure what, but something articulate, meaningful, and, yes, wonderful. Then I remember Angell’s words and realize that my problem is one of form and not content. That is, I can picture the printed page, but have no idea what the words on it actually say. And that, I’ve learned over the years, means I’m not done thinking about this particular piece of writing. It’s back to the drawing board–the notes, the research, the talking it out in my head, and so on–that I must go.

It gets down to what is the bottom line of writing: that it is essentially a tool of communication. So if you haven’t put in the thinking time, then you really have little to communicate.

How do you handle the blank page syndrome? Do you ever sit down primed and prepped To Write and–nothing happens? So what do you do?