Friday, January 14, 2011

"When Writers Can't Write"

Writers are a sensitive breed.

At the best of times, writing is not an easy thing to do.  A lot of people can’t do it at all.  Some care that they can’t write, and some don’t.  Like I don’t care that I can’t skateboard.

To those who would like to write but somehow can’t, (as distinguished from those who can write but don’t bother to), let it be proclaimed to the world that this absent ability is not an embarrassing blot on your escutcheon.  It’s just the way it is.  Like I can’t draw.  I would like to draw.  I have the intention and the interest.  Then I pick up a pencil, and I sketch out the same face I drew when I was eight.   

There is such a thing as a natural aptitude, though that’s not necessarily the end of the story.  I believe that, with motivation, time and the proper training, you can get better at anything.  However, if your starting place is deep in minus territory, the motivation, the time and the training can elevate you to a position that’s slightly above water, better than you used to be, but still not actually very good.  At that thing.  But, you know, you undoubtedly have other gifts.

My focus today is on writers who can write, but there are times when they can’t.  I do this, because I believe that people who are not writers, but more importantly people who aspire to be writers but can’t imagine being able to “write on demand”, ought to know that even for professional writers, it’s not always clear sailing.

Professional writers do not hale from the planet Scripto.  We are regular Earth People, just like you.   Especially if you’re kind of quirky Earth People. 

Let’s examine the difficulties writers regularly face.  (Aside from hearing the word “No” more often than is healthy for anyone.)

“Writer’s Block” is the most famous and severe version of writers not being able to write.  This syndrome generally emanates from fear.  Both beginners

“I can’t do it!”

and those experienced in the field

“I can’t do it again!”

are susceptible. 

Did I ever suffer “Writer’s Block”?  I did.  Early in my career.  When I was writing scripts for the Mary Tyler Moore company, I’d be given two weeks to deliver a first draft, and this would be my routine.  The first week, I would pull my knees up to my chest, and rock and moan.  The second week, I would write the script. 

That’s not exactly “Writer’s Block”, though it did block me from writing, so I guess it is, a little.  I called it my modus operand:

The first week, rocking and moaning.  The second week, doing the work. 

It’s not exactly “Writer’s Block”, because I never missed a deadline.  The producers gave me two weeks.  I just used them as I saw fit. 

Later in my career, I dispensed with the rocking and moaning week.  That might be because I didn’t need to do that anymore, or because there just wasn’t enough time.  No, it’s definitely the second one, because whenever I could squeeze it in, I’d search out a quiet spot for a truncated “rock and moan.”  I rocked and moaned a lot during The Cosby Show, as I recall. 

Though I no longer experience classic “Writer’s Block”, there are times when the work goes more flowingly than others.  Why?  I refer you back to Line One of the current post.

Writers are a sensitive breed.

“Sensitive” being defined as “readily or excessively (ouch!) affected by external influences.”  I can tell you from personal experience that this is the case.  The minutest alteration in our environment can easily throw us off, making us unable to write, or more commonly, making the act of writing more difficult to pull off, both physically – it takes longer to do – and creatively – the tiniest nudge in your circumstances, and the quality of the effort is “not quite there.”

Things that could cause this condition (other than losing confidence in your ability):

You don’t feel a hundred per cent physically.

You’re a little tired.

You had a spat with a loved one.

The dry cleaners lost your “funny pants.”

You are awaiting the results from some medical test.

A contemporary receives recognition, praise, piles of money and glowing reviews.

Your faith in the meaningfulness of putting things down on paper has been momentarily shaken.

You received feedback like, “I don’t often read your blog, but when I do, I can really hear your voice.”  All you can hear is, “I don’t often read your blog.”  Which could be because they are not fans of my “voice.”

You remembered a slight from thirty years ago.

Reason is taking a beating in the political conversation.

You’ve been pushing yourself too hard.

It’s raining for the fifth day in a row, in a place whose reputation is “sunny.”

Not all posts are equally successful.  I offer twelve reasons why.  I imagine there are other reasons.  But I couldn’t think of them today.

Oh, wait.  The sun’s coming out.


Anonymous said...

It was funny to see "0" comments till I posted this. Proof that others sometimes can't write. Thanks for reminding us how tenuous this ability of ours is. Okay, that's enough writing for today.

Ryo said...

hmmm after reading this, i came to remember what my professor had told me about writing.. that writers are not born but made...... Maybe its true isn't it?... Its just that I have this "writer's block syndrome, that's why I'm not innovated enough to write"... and it really annoyed me coz I wanted to write, I just don't have time... And when there's time , When I write a Single certain topic, my content is swayed to another topic making the single topic overloaded with a lot of random contents...