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Blame it on Writerís Block

By Cheryl Bolen

The dog ate my homework.

My great grandmother died.

I was attacked by a 24-hour virus.

And, oh yeah, Iím suffering from writerís block.

The much-maligned writerís block is a lame excuse for lack of focus. Iím here to promulgate the formation of a Society for the Prevention of the Writerís Block Myth.

Count me as one of those 99 percent of working authors who donít believe in writerís block. The key word here is "working." While all members of RWA are authors, not all are working at it as one works at a paying job. Thereís nothing like a book contract to turn a hobby into a profession.

But just because one receives a book contract does not mean that authorís books suddenly write themselves. We pubs still face the same blank pages that stare all writers in the face.

How many of us have, at one time or another, said weíre "waiting for muse"? I used to lump muses in with writerís block as a mythical impediment to finishing a chapter or finishing a book. But no more.

That is because there really is a muse. Mine never fails to come to me when I sit hopelessly in front of a blank computer screen. The problem is, she never comes to me while Iím driving the car or loading the dishwasher or taking a shower. She only awakens when Iím sitting at the keyboard ready to transfer her sage ideas onto the printed page.

Even when Iím oppressively certain Iíll never get that chapter written, that I have no idea where itís going or how Iíll get from Point A to Point B, if I take the initiative to sit down at the computer, my muse will soon pay a visit.

My books average 30 chapters. The first three are always a sheer delight to write. Itís the other 27 that are problematic. Out of those 27, maybe two of them fall into place without much thought because of what has set them up in previous chapters. That leaves 25 chapters of blank pages. That translates to three or four months of sitting daily in front of those blank pages.

Because Iím sitting at the keyboard, my trusty muse never fails to turn up. But, as I said, she only honors me with her presence when Iím at the computer. No sense hoping sheíll pay a visit while Iím driving down the street. Never happens. Kernels might occur while driving, but never whole scenes. I think that might be because she has too much competition when Iím doing something other than writing.

Muses are like husbands. They donít want to share you.

Another myth is that writing gets easier with practice. Houstonís Pat Kay, whoís published around 40 books, says she still faces the blank-page syndrome every time she sits at her computer, and that even after all those books, writing is as hard as it ever was.

But published authors do have a secret, and it never changes. Here it is: Get thee to a keyboard.

This article first appeared in In Print,  March 2006.

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