April 28, 2023

When the Words Stop

When the Words Stop






Golfers avoid saying “shank”. During a no-hitter, the team whose pitcher is flirting with history refuses to acknowledge what is happening. And among writers, people who will often talk about anything under the sun, many refuse to talk about that time when the words stop.

Call it “writer’s block,” a term coined because the occurrence is so widespread as to become its own meme. It is dreaded by many writers, and used by too many as an excuse to not put words on paper. It has a whiff of creative angst, a sort of rarified air that mere mortals have no awareness of, but the bottom line is, writers write. But sometimes, the words stop.

--------------- A few quotes will point you in the direction I am headed:

“Writer’s block is only a failure of the ego.” — Norman Mailer

“I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent.” ― Malcolm Gladwell

“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on.” ― Orson Scott Card

“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” ― John Rogers


Actually, I solved my “wait, words stopped coming” dilemma for this essay by going back to the quotes I gathered years ago. No, the solution to words stopping is not copy/paste: it is to accept that the current approach isn’t working and seeking a new one. What happens when words stop is that the writer feels a disconnect between thoughts and content. It might be that perfectionism is rearing its perfectly ugly head and making the writer feel that truly great writing requires a titanic effort and so the better option is to bake cookies, or just eating them. It might be that the writer’s ego will only accept a magnum opus idea rendered in best-seller fashion, so anything deemed less is a waste of time better served by baking/eating cookies. Or it might be that the writer is waiting for that smack-in-the-face supernova idea that will carry the writing on the thunderous wave of Inspiration from Day One to the New York Times Top 10.

Note: that’s all ego. It’s about ignoring the hard work that writing is in favor of the shortcuts that do not exist and never will. It is about being vaguely unsatisfied with what is in mind and on paper because the writer has not taken the time to explore and craft the concepts that will make it interesting. And it’s about avoiding the one act that makes us writers.

The words don’t stop. We do. We make the words flow, whenever we want to.