Monday, February 22, 2021

Have You Ever Gotten READER’S BLOCK?


Writer’s Block is a famous phenomenon even those who never write fiction have heard about. It’s depicted in movies about writers and plenty of writing memories. Biographies and fictional writing characters speak of it. The irony that they write about not being able to write doesn’t escape me.


I haven’t had writer’s block, and my only explanation is just that I say NO to it. I’ve had days when in the midst of first drafting a novel I am seized with fear that I just can’t do it. At least not now. Maybe not ever.

But then, I make myself sit and do it. I write, and that’s that.


I tend to agree with another writer who concluded that the so-called writer’s block, if prolonged, isn’t a specific writing malady. It is clinical depression as manifested in people who write. For others, clinical depression robs the very zest for living. Everything feels flat and pointless. In a writer, this becomes a sense they have nothing to say and can’t write.

I’ve been blessed not to have had clinical depression to date.

But I have had Reader’s Block. Those are periods when I’m unable to focus on reading. I don’t mean reading articles or short blog posts or letters. I mean reading good literature. I pick up a book I normally would relish reading, and find that I. Just. Can’t.

I’ve observed that, for me, these periods are not ones of the doldrums, but rather periods when exciting things (either good or stressful) are taking place. Something happens to my ability to dig in and focus on more demanding reading.


This whole pandemic thing-a-ma-jig has been such a period. I managed to read one good novel, but it actually took the same sort of “just do it” I enlist for days when writing threatens to challenge. I also managed to write, because that “block” isn’t allowed by me. But reading continues to be a challenge.


I hope this reading block lifts, and soon. If you’ve ever had it and got through, let me know how to kick it to the curb.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Most Difficult Part

 Different folks struggle with different stretches. We’d be gingerperson-cookies if this weren’t so. But then, there are the life patches that we have in common and find challenging.

For many who write stories, the middle is the hardest part.

I used to feel alone in this until I began communicating with others. Some call it the muddling middle, which is just what writers would do for such— conjuring a nice alliteration.

But why should the middle of a story be so hard?

Part of it is the way we train ourselves to come up with roaring bang-up first line/paragraphs. This is essential to hook the reader/listener. Okay, Check. ✔

Then, there’s the matter of the ending. Pure pantsters (writing without any plan by the seat of their pants) may find endings daunting. Most storytellers know the beginning, the protagonist’s challenge, and (get ready for this---) the end. Check.✔

The end is a bookend to the beginning of the protagonist’s quest.

I heard John Grisham respond to a question about writer’s block by saying he always knows the ending before he even starts on a new novel, and so he must envision how to get there and avoid the blocking bumps. Along that bumpy part, you must do everything not to lose the passengers/ readers.

This brings up the most challenging part: all that middle. The meat of the tale. The how to get from the beginning to the end.

Beginnings and endings take care of themselves. Middles don’t. Middles are the hardest part.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021



I found this question on an internet post about questions that are not clichéd, which you might want to ask writers.

Unlike these questions below: 

Where do you get your ideas?” (Here, there and everywhere) “What is your writing process?” (Butt in chair no matter what) or “What advice do you have for writers?” (Write, period.) 

These three are nice questions, but they are not interesting because they've been sprinkled about all the way from Ho-humVille to SoozzzzBay. 😴

So on to the better questions list. The one about the first book that made me cry jumped at me.

Many books have made me cry. But the first? The very first?

Obviously, this isn’t a factual research question. The memory of a one or two year old can’t be reliable. A two year old may cry out of fear or shock, and I sense the question is about a different sort of crying, empathetic sadness.

Which brings me to the first storybook that gave me this experience, and the answer is as clear as it is easy for me. Hans Christian Andersen’s THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL made me cry at the age of four, and does to this day every time I re-read it.

When I read it to my kids, DD would stare into my eyes to see the waterworks begin, because they always did. I would tell myself that I know the story and I will not cry this time, but invariably and inevitably, I did.

This story breaks all the conventions taught today in kidlit workshops: It ends sadly, the main character dies, people left behind do not “change” and the narration is much more “tell” than “show.” Yet newly illustrated versions keep popping up. {It’s good to remember to let go of these conventions in the service of great literature.}

I’ve never been to Copenhagen, but in lieu of paying homage to a great storyteller there, I sat on the knee of the master when I last visited Central Park in New York.

Above all, a writer must know empathy. I owe Hans Christen Andersen the empathetic strain he awakened in me all the way back when, and to this day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Below the Surface


This morning, while steaming milk for coffee, I removed the sort of skin that formed on the surface before using a whipper to make a homemade variation of latte. The moment I did that, the memory of an old relative, long gone, popped into my mind.

I noted an oddity about myself that had been there for years, but I never filed before. I steam milk every morning, and remove this layer, Lactoderm, from its top every time. The memory of this relative comes before me every time I do this, but rarely at other times.

For the first time, I’m not only noting this, but also wondering why it is so. There is no connection between the surface of steamed milk and this person. Or is there? If there is, my conscious mind can’t access it.

In the midst of revising on my next novel, it occurs to me that such little details pointing to subconscious patterns are essential to writing rich characters. In fiction, we have to make these patterns rise to the surface. The reader will be unsatisfied if we just note them and leave them there without explanation.  

I may have to use my storytelling imagination to build the tiny bridge real life doesn’t.

Fiction is so much tidier than life. In fact, the act of writing is itself an effort to tie up loose ends.