Early in my freelance copywriting career, I suffered three serious episodes of writer’s block. I no longer have any memory of the assignments or why I was stuck, but I have an intense physical recollection of each attack.
At the time I was living in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, just below the reservoir. First time it happened, I decided I would pace around the park as a way to calm myself down. I remember a beautiful day, warm sun beating down, and me miserable because I got nothin’. I’d give myself a few minutes of strolling, then go home and sit down at the typewriter (yes, this was a while back), flail, repeat. I put on a lot of miles and probably got some sun damage that day.
During the second episode I got so agitated I could not eat. I was subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches at that time and I made one and cut it into bites and left them on the wraparound butcher block counter of the kitchen. Each time I passed I’d grab one of the bites and stick it in my mouth without looking. Some made it down, some didn’t.
The third must have been years later because I had a daisywheel printer (remember?) and my downstairs office. When writer’s block attacked, I decided I would just keep writing till I got it right. When I was finished, or maybe gave up, I pressed the print button on my Mac Plus (remember?) and page after page of virtual identical paragraphs spat out, a piece of evidence I still have posted on an office bulletin board.
I’m remembering this because I had a near-attack the other day, the first in many years. I was working on a large-scale, long term project (doing a new draft of my novel after it came back from an editor, to be specific) and I got to a part and realized it wasn’t very good. I started in, got stuck like a car with bald tires in snow, took a deep breath and backed off. Then, within a few hours, a number of short-turnaround paying projects came to life and I knew I would not return to the big project for a while. I also knew, from experience, that when I did return I would feel blocked.
So I gave myself an hour to return to the troublesome episode, and write through it. I actually came up with a solution that I think will work, but that was a bonus. The main thing was not to find myself greeted with failure and a problem when I next approached this project. I went through the black hole and came out the other side. The key to this technique was that I did not require the section to be any good. It simply needed to take my main character from point a to point b.
There’s another solution to writer’s block, which is to stop as soon as you feel it coming on. But this isn’t always possible when you’re on assignment. How about you? Am I the only one this happens to? If not, you might want to get my book. There are several ideas for curing writer’s block in there.