Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"More About 'Writer's Block'"

“Writer’s Block”:  You have something you want to write but, for some reason, you are unable to get to it.

Yesterday, I chronicled my original experience with “Writer’s Block” (I will dispense with the superstition-driven strategy of uttering the words in a whisper and boldly accept the consequences, hoping they are not overwhelmingly severe.)  In that situation, I was contracted to write something, but felt paralytically incapable of breaking the ice, a classic example of “Writer’s Block.”

Over the length and breadth of my career, “Writer’s Block” was rarely a serious impediment, the problem lessening over time, and disappearing when I collaborated with others.  

(This is one reason why writers often choose to work in pairs; it is mathematically less likely for two people to be creatively incapacitated at the same time, a partner’s mere presence encouraging the other team member to jump in, because if they don’t, they will inevitably find themselves back working alone.  You do not split the money for nothing.) 

I did, however, experience “Writer’s Block” early in my career. 

Back in the seventies, when I wrote episodes for the Mary Tyler Moore Company (eight scripts per season for three years), fearing, as they say in baseball, a “quick hook” from my lifetime dream leading to an ignominious banishment to Canada’s wintery “Unknown”, I felt an immobilizing incapacitation before beginning every script.

I was generally allotted two weeks to write a First Draft.  After repetitively discovering I was unable to get started, I developed a routine – the routine itself helping greatly in overcoming, or at least mitigating, my debilitation.

The first week was assigned the descriptive “Panic Week.”  For five days, I would walk around my apartment moaning, “I can’t do this.” – “It’s too hard.” – “I’m not good enough.” – “They’re going to fire me.” – “I’m going to have to go home.” 

Over time, I determined that this self-lacerating procedure was inevitable.  Though this did not stop me from hearing myself and panicking even more.  

The second week began, and I would sit down at the typewriter and write the script. 

That was the routine.  That’s what I put myself through every time I started a new script.  It was suggested at one point that the “Panic Week” was not entirely about panic.  Having already written and been given notes on an outline, I had a relatively clear idea of where the script was expected to go.  As a result, though it appeared like no writing was taking place, inside I was already at it, rehearsing the possibilities before setting in on the actual work, making “Panic Week” less a question of “Writer’s Block” than, at least partially, “Writer’s Preproduction.”

In those early days, the reality of deadlines also helped get me in front of the typewriter.  Deadlines are like the “It” person in “Hide-And-Go-Seek” saying,  “Ready or not, here I come!”  With a deadline, it is, “Ready or not, out it goes!”

A deadline does not require a script to be perfect.  At a minimum, it requires a stack of pages starting with “Fade In” and ending with “The End.”

As asserted earlier, a writing routine, for me, is essential.  But that’s primarily because, on the “Rigid-Flexible” continuum, I am temperamentally situated substantially closer to “Rigid.”  But that’s just me.  I have to insistently sit there until it comes.

Despite this, some might call discipline and others something less flattering, I am aware of the indisputable benefits of interrupting that routine.  On innumerable occasions, after searching interminably for the “right word”, I have gotten up and gone to the bathroom, only to be struck by the precise word I’d been looking for, standing there, staring down at the toilet bowl.  It’s like that “right word” was just living there, floating around in the water. 

I was first made aware of how a strategic break in the action can be invaluable during High School when a classmate named Willy Grinstein reported that, the night before, at a time when his mind had become clouded and unproductive due to intense studying for exams, “I got up and I took a showah!”  Willy G. enthusiastically testified that he then returned to his studies, noticeably refreshed and invigoratingly replenished.  I myself have never followed in Mr. Grinstein’s watery footsteps, but I imagine it’s a pretty good idea.

I shall now expand the conversation.  Recently, in an interview with Albert Brooks, Mr. Brooks was quoted as saying, relative to his screenplay writing options, “I have tons on ideas.”  Let me publicly acknowledge that at no time in my career have I ever had “tons of ideas.”  The greatest number of ideas I have ever had at one time was four.  (I once pitched four series ideas to CBS at the same time.  They enthusiastically bought two of them.) 

In a way, this too is a form of “Writer’s Block” – a constriction of the number of ideas to the low single digits.  This is admittedly not, “I can’t write anything”, but it is a less than impressive number of available ideas.

Some days on this blog-writing adventure – though thankfully not many – I have no ideas whatsoever and must scrounge around for one that’s, at least minimally, worthy of your time.  This momentary “Writer’s Block” triggers identifiable rumblings of anxiety, which, on the “up” side, remind me that I’m still alive – “I worry; therefore I am.” 

I have come to analogize these creative ups-and-downs with a batter’s “long-run” performance – one day, you go “oh-for-four”; the next day, you hit everything that comes at you.  “Hot streaks” and “slumps” – it simply comes with the territory.  Hopefully, your overall batting average remains respectable.  Even so, however, every time I’m stuck, albeit temporarily, it feels exactly like “Writer’s Block.”

Proceeding even further – and finally – setting aside this arena in which “Writer’s Block” is, for me, substantially absent, consider for a moment a “Writer’s Block” characterized not by sitting frozen in front of your writing apparatus of choice, but, more expandedly, by the book you never wrote, the play you never started, or the screenplay idea you have given up trying to imagine.

You say this stretches the traditional parameters of “Writer’s Block.”  

But does it? 

“You have something you want to write but, for some reason, you are unable to get to it.”

Refusing to even try?  It may not be the classic “staring at the blank page”, but is it not, he proclaimed with wavering certainty, what might be categorized as “‘Writer’s Block’ by Omission”?

If this is, in fact, includable under a broader definition of the dysfunction, then I must humbly revise my earlier assertion.

With the exception of my blogging activities,

I have “Writer’s Block” all the time. 

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