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Saturday, 25 July 2009

Writer's Block - and how to beat it.



A brick wall. Shutters slammed down in the mind.
Apathy. A white-out in a snow-storm.
Arranging dead geraniums on graves.
No ideas to play with. Metaphors. All
heard invoked describing writer's block. For
me its different: less like a block, much
more like boggy ground: it pulls and sucks to
drag the heels until all movement ceases.

Last time attempting a new poem... those
great paintings by Cezanne of Mont Sainte-Victoire -
long the object of a strong desire to
write its story, how he had constructed,
stone by stone from deep within, a wonder so
confectionary-soft and succulent, the
joy of architects and chefs alike, of
engineers, of milliners and florists.

Words oozing from a verbal quagmire shook
themselves like dogs to dry - and
in the course of doing so, arranged them-
selves in rough-and-ready matrices. But
for a dose of writer's block they would have
morphed into a warp, which would in turn have
spun a weft, with arrows linking word with
word and hitting new words off them. Fabric
for a poem taking shape. Alas, the
block ensured no magic drove them on; the
words remained just words and failed to morph; the
poem was still born. The lines seemed torn from
other and quite unrelated poems,

I have a strategy for such - I've several.
All variations on a Break the Pattern theme.
Something's out of kilter? So you push it further out,
make it more extreme, more experimental,
more avant garde: see what I mean?
See where it leads.

Forget about Write what you know. Do the reverse.
Write about whatever has escaped you totally.

Translate a poem from Old English - or from
Middle English, come to that. No matter that they're
not familiar. Let the words suggest what they
suggest, and write it down. Or simply play around with

style and lineation. Or choose a register not yours.
Try the vernacular if that seems strange, or
break lines short
                                and start some centre-page.

Choose a poet you find
                                difficult
to fathom
                                abstruse perhaps

and
let
                                him
(or
                                her)
become your model.
                                This often frees the pen
before it runs aground

(and
sanity
returns).

Then finally, when all else fails
(last throw of the dice), try this:
write a poem about writer's block - it
hardly ever fails!

.

32 comments:

Suzanne said...

Of milliners and Florists.

This should be the name of a novel!

Write what you don't know and you will discover it.
You always inspire me David.
Thanks... again. ~S

Poetikat said...

Excellent! (Also timely for me, right now.)
I tend to work against my grain as often as I can and will cast out (for viewing) crap pieces for the sake of having written at all.

There's always one or two germs of idea residing somewhere - in a journal, or lodged at the back of my mind, waiting their turn. Still waiting.

"Arranging dead geraniums on graves" is an image I won't soon forget.

Kat

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

If only it were as easy as you make it seem! But I have begun trying out the Read Write Poem weekly prompts in an effort to make my mind work differently!

http://readwritepoem.org/

Gary Keimig said...

very interesting blog. I will be back to read more.

PurestGreen said...

I think many writers (myself included) have difficulty setting down the premise "write what you know" and just leaping into the midst of Everything Else.

What a wonderful post. I especially love "Words oozing from a verbal quagmire shook
themselves like dogs to dry."

Totalfeckineejit said...

Lovely picture, Dave,It puts me in mind of 'The Sugarloaf Mountain' here in Wicklow.As for writers block I'm not convinced it exists,but then I am wrong about most things :)

gypsywoman said...

great post, david - beautifully written, as usual with you - my creative writing instructor used to tell me to just sit down and start writing whatever comes to mind - just start writing - and it - the words - the thoughts - the verse or story or whatever - will come - i have found it to be true [most of the time for me] - have a wonderful day - jenean

Conda V. Douglas said...

I love this poem! Fun! Inspiring--which is very helpful right about now as I'm struggling with a deadline, which tends to block me. I felt myself relax about my own writing as I read "Writer's Block."

Thank you Dave!

Phoenix said...

Very good advice.. at times when you don't know where you are going, it is good to just go out and discover.. a new adventure.. your writing always gives me so many thoughts! Thank you :)

Madame DeFarge said...

Liked this enormously, especially the words oozing from a quagmire. This is a place in which I find myself, even at work and this captures exactly how I feel. great stuff.

Friko said...

That's the sort of writer's block I'd love to have.

Rachel Fenton said...

I especially like how you have used the visual property of the words on the screen, and the spaces between them ( I like what isn't there, as much as what is). Thanks for visiting, too.

Ronda Laveen said...

Fertile soil here, Dave. Lots of ways you've given to shed a new light on one's self. The final advice the best, when plagued by a demon, expose it to the light:)

Carl said...

Will attempt to take your theme and apply it to latest spat of Painter's block.

CS

Mariana Soffer said...

Aristotle’s theory of syllogism is often cited as the origin of modern logic. He also had a theory of analogy (in Poetics), which he put to practical use in reasoning about ethics. It seems that he believed logic and analogy were both valid forms of reasoning. The majority view today is that logic is primary and analogy can be reduced to logic.
There are at least two kinds of similarity. Relational similarity is correspondence between relations, in contrast with attributional similarity, which is correspondence between attributes. When two words have a high degree of attributional similarity, we call them synonyms. When two pairs of words have a high degree of relational similarity, we say that their relations are analogous. For example, the word pair mason:stone is analogous to the pair carpenter:wood.

One should not think of analogy-making as a special variety of reasoning (as in the dull and uninspiring phrase “analogical reasoning and problem-solving,” a long-standing cliché in the cognitive-science world), for that is to do analogy a terrible disservice. After all, reasoning and problem-solving have (at least I dearly hope!) been at long last recognized as lying far indeed from the core of human thought. If analogy were merely a special variety of something that in itself lies way out on the peripheries, then it would be but an itty-bitty blip in the broad blue sky of cognition. To me, however, analogy is anything but a bitty blip — rather, it’s the very blue that fills the whole sky of cognition

Bye my new friend

Dave King said...

Suzanne
Two great suggestions there. Thanks.

Poetikat
The attitude expressed in your first paragraph is spot on, I think. And yes, there is always inspiration around. The trick is uncovering it.

Derrick
Ah, why do you want your mind to work differently? That's only to blow the cobwebs away, not for general consumption.

Gary
Welcome, thanks for commenting.

Purest Green
Welcome, good to have you aboard and thanks for the comments. Very useful.

Totalfeckineejit
Writers block seems to mean something different to everyone you ask. For me it is basically a drying-up of inspiration. I was reading an article a few days ago in which the writer claimed it was something that only professional writers earning their living at it could suffer from.

gypsywoman
Hi and many thanks for the kind comments. I do completely agree with your instructor. I think that often we are too critical at the early stages. We want something impressive from the start. Of course, when the first words are impressive that inspires the rest and we have the wind in our sails!

Conda
I was beginning to wonder whether I shoulld continue to blog. It's comments like yours that perk me up and keep me going. Your reference to a deadline kind of echoes the gist of my remarks to Totalfeckineejit. One thing I have found is that having a deadline (of sorts) as the result of blogging, I have far fewer blocks than I had previously - but of course, it is not quite the same thing, there's not the same pressure on me. I can't tell you how grateful I am for your comment.

Phoenix
Hi. Many thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

MadameDeFarge
Very many thanks. A most helpful comment.

Friko
Ah, well, um... er... thanks!

Rachel
Welcome. Have to say, I greatly en joyed my visit. Yes, what isn't there is vitally important, I think. (Subject for a poem?)

Ronda
Couldn't agree more. Much better than the wooden stake or garlic!

Mariana
I do like your last analogy. Very telling. I first began to wrestle seriously with these concepts (and I shall need to read your comment again) when I encountered concept art and installation art, which often use them. Many argue that such art has replaced philosophy. Before that, I am afraid my philosophy did not get past Plato - whom I adored as a teenager, probably because my introduction to him, my Penguin edition of The Republic, was in verse. Thanks for taking such pains to comment.

A Cuban In London said...

Ah, writers' block! The famous dilemma.

I see it in a similar way to you, Dave. Only that to me it is rather the accumulation and/or overflooding of words. They all pile up against the writer's pysche, pushing here and pulling there, to burst out. The writer does not know how to arrange these phrases and tropes coherently and therefore the 'block' appears. But it's seldom because there's nothing to write about but because there is too much.

Good post. And I thoroughly enjoyed the updates from the Grun, the Indy and the TLS. The New Statesman or Prospect Magazine (to be honest with you, I can't remember which one) carries a fantastic short story in its latest issue this week. I fully recommend it.

Greetings from London.

Titus said...

Love the part from "Forget about ... to ...before it runs aground" Very impressive, and useful for not just those suffering from writer's block!

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

Sound advice for a painting also. I have taken much advice from your blog and used it for myself. Thanks.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

Even though I know you keep these things tucked away, there is an award waiting for you at my place!

Stephen Tremp said...

Free the Pen ..... I like that. This will be my motto, at least for a while. Free the Pen! Free the Pen!

Stephen Tremp
www.stephentremp.blogspot.com

Karen said...

Dave - We all seem to wrestle the same fellow (and often use him as our inspiration whe as you say). I love the analogies in this one and the playfulness of the ending.

I read above that you considered ending your blogging. I hope you won't do that. I enjoy my visits here very much.

Conda V. Douglas said...

You're welcome, Dave. I find that a deadline often/usually gets me writing--unless I panic, which I've been doing a little of.

And I always read your blog and enjoy it, but this summer my commenting has fallen off because of NO TIME!

This will continue through August, when hopefully it'll settle down a bit...

John Hayes said...

What a wonderful poem--love the appearance of "confectionary" & all the "f" sounds in the next stanza. The ending is both witty & sound.

We all have strategies for this. I'm fortunate to have music (& blog writing) to fall back on, because at this point I just let the "blocks" happen; & don't think of them as blocks, but perhaps like a rabbit disappearing down a hole--the rabbit is sure to appear again.

Dave King said...

A Cuban in London
Indeed, the one and only!
Interesting take on it, I must confess that I had not looked at it quite in that light. Thanks for the info'. I'll do my best to track it down.

Titus
True, it kinda comes in everywhere when you think about it.

Stephen
Yes, absolutely it applies to painting - and most arts, I should imagine.

Derrick
Thanks for that. As I have said before, it is not that they don't mean anything, they do. I shall be along!

Stephen T
A mantra even! Thanks and welcome.

Karen
Thanks for that. The thought had occurred, yes, but it hasn't stuck yet. Maybe it will not.

Conda
I understand that very well. I have struggled at times to keep up with the visiting, never min the commenting. It's a tug between time for writing posts and time for visiting and commenting.

John
Good thinking that! I can quite see that music would be a great help. I find blog writing useful, not just as an alternative form of writing, but asa self-imposed deadline.

Aniket said...

"write a poem about writer's block - it
hardly ever fails!"

How true a statement is that! :D :D

Thankfully I've been able to dodge the block till now. When the time comes, I shall return to this post and do as directed. :)

ELAINE ERIG said...

You always inspire, its so good!I like this two----
-Arranging dead geraniums on graves-
and
_ Words oozing from a verbal quagmire shook
themselves like dogs to dry.-

Jeanne said...

This was timely -- I'll try some of these!

Tara said...

Awesome. I always say when writer's block strikes draw a picture. Maybe now I'll go with write a poem. :]

the watercats said...

works for me too! If you have a pulse, there is always inspiration!
:-)

Dave King said...

Aniket
It's true enough to be a truism!
Hope it works - hope, hope you never needit!

Elaine
Thanks Elaine. Much appreciated.

Jeanne
I'm sure you don't need them...

Tara
Actually, drawing a pictire's not a bad idea.

the watercats
That's what they mean when they say inspiration comes in pulses, then!

julie70 said...

great!

personally I use your first advice

"see where it leads' going with the flow - but I do not have to put it in a poem form - and also use often an image that inspires the flow to begin