Writer's Block

Writer's Block

This is an article I had published a while ago in the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, but I am still finding excuses to close the door, sit down and write so am reposting it!


For a long period in my life (I hate to admit it but it lasted some years) I had Writer’s Block.

In the back of my mind was a constant hankering to write. If I did manage to put pen to paper I’d give up after a few minutes, find other things to do. Gardening, talking on the phone, Oprah, shopping. Anything but writing.

My biggest excuse was I had Writer’s Block as if it was some kind of illness: something that can’t be overcome except when the time is right. I secretly hoped my muse would transmit words into my brain and I’d be compelled to write them down.

I attended a workshop on Writer’s Block. We did a visualisation: we had to imagine gazing through a window and seeing a stream. There a wise old man sat on the bank and so on. When we emerged from our trance-like states we were told to scribble the first things that came to mind. Thankfully there was no compulsion to read out what we had written. Mine went into the rubbish bin on the way out.

What I really needed was a much stronger form of ‘kick-start’ than manifesting or waiting for my muse. Or maybe I was kidding myself. Maybe I didn’t have Writer’s Block at all? Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer!

Then my son, fed up with hearing me whinge about my ‘illness’ and my self-doubts, gave me a present: Stephen King’s On Writing. Stephen King. Right. As if I want to write horror stories. I was in for a big surprise. Reading King’s book was like being cornered, and forced to have a mental enema. (The ensuing shit being all my excuses.) The simple theme of this remarkable book is if you really want to write, then go into a room, close the door and WRITE. If you don’t want to write, do something else. As simple as that.

I deleted all my computer games and pulled the phone out of the wall. I even stuck a notice on my door ‘Writing in progress, do NOT disturb’.

For the next few weeks I spent hours staring at my computer screen, or getting up and having yet another cup of coffee or tea. My daughter suggested I do a university course. "You’ve got to be trained Mum," she said. "You just can’t sit down, write an article and expect it to be published." So as another diversion (to replace computer games!) I spent days trawling the Internet checking out courses on journalism and non-fiction writing. There was so much to choose from.

Did I really want to go back to university after thirty years? Wasn’t there an easier way? What did Stephen King say again? "You don’t need writing classes or seminars… writing-class discussions can often be intellectually stimulating and great fun, but they also often stray far afield from the actual nuts-and-bolts business of writing."

At that time I was living in an alternative community (or eco-village) and something that had irked me for years about places like this was their ban on keeping dogs and cats as pets. That’s what I’d write about. I began slowly, collecting bits and pieces of information and did a few interviews.

Then a neighbour said something that really pissed me off. She said that even though my children may seem okay, deep down they must have been ‘damaged’ by my divorce. I had already been disturbed by comments in the press on the harm and dangers of divorce. What was the impact of such sweeping generalisations on the children of divorce themselves? What about toxic marriages? I decided to put my article on eco-villages on hold and write about the myths of divorce.

I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just wrote and wrote, did lots of research and when I had this big pile of words began to chip away. Gradually a form emerged. My heart leapt with joy for it was like creating a sculpture. This is the magic Stephen King talks about. A part of me knew it wasn’t going to be all hard work! Mind you, the polishing took some time and The Australian Style Manual for Authors and Editors came in very handy.

When I felt my 3000 word ‘masterpiece’ was finished, I sent it by e-mail to scores of magazines and newspapers without even considering its suitability or reading the submission guidelines – word length etc. (I know now this is a waste of time, not to mention inconsiderate). For weeks no response except the editor of Sydney’s The Age newspaper who said it was well written but they’d just run a piece on divorce and good luck with placing it. That quietened my inner critic who had begun piping up about how hopeless I was and didn’t know to write.

A month later (by which time I was reconsidering doing a university course) an e-mail of acceptance arrived from The Australian Financial Review. I danced around the floor and ran out onto the veranda shrieking: ‘Yes, I’ve done it! Yippee!’ It took me days to come down to earth. The morning of its publication (after I had collected 25 copies of the paper from the local newsagency) I put on a big champagne breakfast and invited the entire community.

Within a few months, I wrote six different articles on the dog and cat issue for various magazines (including overseas publications) and two more on divorce.

So now I was on my way, extremely happy, and very grateful to Mr King. Also grateful for my anger, a wonderful emotion to get things moving when one is stuck. It was anger more than anything else that had set me off, roused me into productivity and creativity.

So if you really want to write, write. Write about things you know and feel passionate (even angry) about. But be on the lookout for the inner critic. Mine used to harp on: "you’re wasting your time", "you can’t write". Inner critics try to protect us from being shamed or humiliated so in the beginning (before your hard efforts pay off and you see your name in print) they need reassuring more than anything else. These days I just tell mine to buzz off!

Mary GardenJuly 12, 2018Comment

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Mary Garden