Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Writer's block

In writer’s circles, the term “writer’s block” is a dreaded phrase. Occasionally, in an interview, you’ll hear a well-known writer make reference to a time in his/her career when the words dried up, like a hand dug well in the middle of an August drought.

For new writers, or even those writers who have been at their craft for a number of years and haven’t gone through their first dry spell, the phrase has an enigmatic quality to it. I’m sure there are writers who assume that even though it happens to others, even best-selling writers who turn out a new title every year, the fountain will never run dry for them.

For me, the term “writer’s block” always conjured up the idea of a cessation of words, or the lack of new ideas that lead to stories, articles and even book-length works. As I’ve grown in experience, I’ve come to understand that this phenomenon can take on a variety of manifestations, all of which diminish productivity and leave you in writer’s “limbo.”

After having turned out my first book, which was released last September, I have been experiencing my own writing “black out” period, which isn’t necessarily that I’ve stopped writing, or been unable to write, but I’ve been experiencing a disruption of routine that has prevented me from moving on to my next major project of my own.

Granted, I’m currently in the process of compiling non-fiction essays, vignettes and other works by Maine authors for the next RiverVision project, which will have the tentative title of Pine Trees, Potato Fields and Lobster Traps: Writer’s Views of Maine. This is scheduled for a late summer/early fall release. Additionally, I’ve tried to capitalize on baseball’s summer run of popularity to continue a marketing push for When Towns Had Teams. On top of all of this writing busyness, I have also seen an increase in responsibilities in my part-time job, which I use to pay some of my bills. Did I mention that I’m also president of the Portland Twilight League?

This disruption of routine and never-ending list of things to do, all important and most being necessary, has robbed me of the time, as well as focus that I need to begin preliminary work for my next major project that I hope will lead to book number two.

For me, the problem hasn’t been lack of solid ideas for a book that has a kind of unique focus that I look for in choosing a project. I’ve even gone as far as sitting down and outlining two fairly detailed mockups of ideas that with time, research and patience, would undoubtedly lead to a 300+ page book that I might be able to sell to a national company, or at least start getting out some proposals to agents.

Based on my own personal experience of the past few months, I think another form of writer’s block is being paralyzed by fear of failing to be able to follow through with a viable second book. Rather than choosing an idea and running with it, I’m currently struggling with having an idea and then, two weeks later, deciding that the idea wasn’t as good as it sounded and going off on another scouting expedition for a new idea to work with.

They say that everyone (at least every writer) has one book in them. Maybe, rather than the problem being a lack of ideas, writers (at least the non-fiction variety) get bogged down by not being able to “pull the trigger” and choosing one idea from several good ones and getting at the real work of writing, which is ultimately, research, more research and then, assembling it into a coherent format and order that readers want to buy and read.

I guess sometimes a writer needs to trust their instincts and fish, or cut bait. I’m in that place right now. Whether I succeed, or not, will be determined if I have enough faith in my abilities to pick a subject and do the hard work of pulling the ideas and stories together for a readable book. I think that based on my first foray, I need to trust my own skills and abilities and kick doubt to the curb.

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