July 8, 2010

John Dufresne Talks About Writers Block

I’ve started reading The Lie that Tells the Truth by the wonderful John Dufresne. I don’t know why I haven’t picked up this book before. It’s so funny and witty and honest and great. One of the many things John does exceedingly well in this book is makes you feel that you have so many ideas for writing, how could you possibly be blocked. Writing exercises can sometimes seem boring (though that’s a failure of imagination), but John couches them in such a way you want to sit right there and write what he’s talking about. He gives personal stories without being self-indulgent. He lets you behind the wrinkled brow.

I wanted to quote a little of what he has to say about writers block.

Understand that if you didn’t write today it’s because you didn’t want to. You didn’t have the perserverance or the courage to sit there. You lacked the will and the passion. Maybe you don’t enjoy it enough ~ we always find time to do the things we love. Your choice not to write ~ and it is a choice ~ had nothing to do with what has been called writer’s block. Writer’s block is a fabrication, an excuse that allows you to ignore the problem you’re having with your story, which means, of course, that you cannot solve the problem. But it lets you off the hook, doesn’t it? You can tell your friends, I have this strange and debilitating neurological paralysis that affects only writers, and it’s untreatable. I just need to let it run its course. Saying you’ve come down with block gives something else the control over your behavior and conveniently absolves you from responsibility.

I love this! The willful child within us wants to argue, “But what about my tender feelings?” No. We chose whether we wrote today, whether we believe that or not. I like his distinction between there being this thing out of our control and it just being dang hard. Yes, there are all kinds of things pushing and pulling us away from writing ~ the emotional challenge of it, the intellectual, the world pulling us away, and so on. It’s hard to fight yourself and the world at the same time. It takes iron will. Calling it writers block, as he said, is like a kid saying he has a stomache ache on the day of a test. It shirking, cheating, trying to get out of the hard work we have to do. So, no, we aren’t BLOCKED; it’s within our control if we just keep at it.

I’ve always said that the reasons I get blocked are: I haven’t yet got myself to sit down in the chair or I haven’t screwed up the courage or I don’t know enough yet and haven’t done the work to figure out the story or it’s emotionally challenging material that I don’t want to confront or the world pulls me away. But I don’t think I’m going to call it “blocked” any more. I’m going to take responsibility for my own actions. Maybe I’ll call it jabberwocky, defined as my own evil self getting in the way of my art.

Another quote.

Or maybe you’ve lost faith in your material or confidence in yourself. Well, here’s an open secret. You will experience that same uncertainty and uneasiness in the writing of every story.

We knew this in the back of our minds, didn’t we? We keep thinking it’ll get easier, but it doesn’t. Yes, we get better at one thing, figure it out, but then there’s always something else to learn. Like exercise, it doesn’t really get easier. It’s not a craft you can “master,” only keep after.

What I’m Reading Today: John Dufresne’s The Lie that Tells the Truth, of course. Wonderful. Coaxing me and goading me in the best possible way.

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