Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hello, I'm Writers Block. Been So Nice to Screw With You This Year!

So either you’ve just ripped open the envelope this list came in or I handed it to you at my office or a bar in Brooklyn and you’re thinking to yourself, “December 20th? (or 22nd, 23rd, etc.) Isn’t this kind of late for you to be sending this out?” If I was there in person (or perhaps I am there now as you’re reading this) I would say to you, “Yes, you are correct. Ideally I have this list in the mail by about December 8th each year so I can spend the rest of the month letting my usual anti-Christmas rage build up until I finally run over a family a four outside my office like I was doing an impression of Tim Tebow. But it was late this year. You’re lucky to even be holding a copy, as I had the two words no author wants to say out loud—writer’s block.”

Now I’ve had various degrees of this affliction over the past two decades. In 2002 writer’s block delayed the list by a month because in addition to that case, I caught some wicked flu-like malady. That experience didn’t prepare me at all for how bad this bout ended up being. I shit you not; I spent one afternoon at my office rewriting two sentences over and over again for about two hours. It was maddening. Every time I looked at the lines I had written, it looked very, very wrong. Yet I couldn’t come up with the right phrasing that worked. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t break out of for about six weeks. I wrote plenty of things for my day job, but boiling down news into easily digestible form comes from some other part of my brain, a part that’s nowhere near the RT20 section.

I must admit that on the Saturday after Thanksgiving I thought I might just skip doing it. I’d just send out an email with the names of the albums and singles and be done with it. Before I got to that point, I asked fellow writer folks on Facebook to chime in with their tips for breaking through particularly bad writer’s block. And what a wide range of answers I received:

—“Think about the never-ending disappointment, guilt, and self-loathing you'll experience if you don't get it done.”
Heck, I don’t need to not write my list to experience those emotions! (It shouldn’t be any surprise that that suggestion came from a former co-worker.)

Alas, I’m probably too old to know anyone that could get me LSD. And I know that my writing ain’t so hot…ah, let’s just move forward.

—“Read a screenplay."
This one is from my friend Bob, who had the misfortune of sending me his screenplay while I was in the throes of this block. Looking at someone’s productive writing seemed to make it worse. (I did read it, and it’s a fine script that I’d love to see produced.)

—“Bring a waterproof notebook into the shower.”
Well, I can barely fit in the shower as my bathroom is so tiny. I can’t imagine fitting a notebook in there.

—“Take a shower. Tell a friend a story—any story. Allow yourself to not write—don't torture yourself. I should probably take this advice myself.”
Do you people think I’m not clean? Does my typing smell like a homeless subway guy? Do you think each line is done using a laser dirt printer?

—“Concentrate on something totally unrelated, like cooking a new recipe in order to ‘reset’ your brain.”
I did cook every night for a week in hopes of letting my brain settle after writing at work all day. Alas, one time my brain reset so well that I forgot I was cooking and burned a steak into a hunk of meaty ash. (I believe Meaty Ash was also a prog rock band I saw once.)

—“Go someplace else public—a park, a Starbucks, whatever—and just write dialogue that you hear.”
I didn’t do this, but I did decide to write while on a bus, using the following tip…

—“Great exercise from a writing teacher named Natalie Goldberg: start a sentence with ‘I remember...’ and see what happens.”
I took this tip from my friend John Ross Bowie, who happens to have written a couple of things for those Hollywood types, and it actually worked. I wrote three paragraphs on a bus ride and at a bar waiting to meet folks for dinner. They weren’t great paragraphs, but at least I didn’t want to delete them immediately. So thank you John for your invaluable assistance in getting me over the hump. (So to speak.)

Slowly this monstrosity came into shape. I can’t say I’m proud of the content of these 26 pages. I’m just pleased that it’s finally over. And if I have writers block like this in 2012, be on the look out for a brief email with the list. (And perhaps a link to a news story about how I drove my head through the monitor at my desk and caused a 12 state blackout.)

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