I came back from summer vacation revving with ideas about writing projects. My mind bubbled with book proposals, blog posts, novel revisions, pitches for magazine articles.  Words and ideas tumbled around in my head like socks in the spin cycle. I was on fire, people, on fire.

A Russian composer – Shostakovich, maybe – said you should write everything down because the brain is a fragile vessel (especially if you live in Stalinist Russia), and that’s what I did with all those ideas. I jotted notes and lists and phrases into my new favorite notebook and figured once the fall semester was underway, my jottings would jolt me back into action.

Insert sound of brakes screeching to a halt and maybe add the sound of breaking glass for good measure.

I got nuthin. Oh, I’ve got lists and notes and little phrases; I’ve got pages of those. I’ve got some good photos, some funny photos, some hipsta-insta retro-photos.

But more than that, I ain’t got.

I tease my writing students about the fact that you can’t wait to be “in the mood” to write. Usain Bolt doesn’t wait until he’s “in the mood” to go for a run; baseball players don’t wait until they’re “in the mood” to stroll onto the field. Writing, I say to my students, is a muscle like any other; it needs regular exercise to work fluidly, and that only comes with practice.

You can’t wait for the inspiration fairy to come whack you on the head with an idea, I say, and they laugh, and I laugh, because we all know that ideas don’t come from fairies.

Except right now I am wishing, hope upon hope, that the idea fairy wafts into my apartment on a sandy breeze and whacks me in the head, or at least whacks the thin-lipped, long-nosed, pissyass editor who has taken up residence in my mind.  With each of my attempts to start anew, the editor sneers; she scoffs; she shakes her head in dismay at my frivolity, my lack of insight, the complete absence of intellectual heft. She throws up her hands and asks what the hell any of this blogging stuff is good for, anyway?

I have no answer for that last question other than to hang my head and mutter  “mumble mumble writing practice….mumble mumble creative outlet…mumble mumble connections with home mumble mumble…”  Pissy editor lady is unimpressed. And the longer she reigns, and the longer I go without producing some solid pages of writing, the worse it gets.

To make matters even worse, I teach writing. I spend hours and hours a week talking about writing strategies, about tools and tricks and techniques, about evidence, story, detail; revision and argument and authorial control.  You’d think I could cure myself of writer’s block – physician heal thyself, right?

This physician, however, can’t heal herself, but I think I know who can. One of the staples in my writing-teacher bag of tricks is Anne Lamott’s brilliant, hysterical Bird by Bird. I always give students at least a few chapters to read (a frisson of excitement always runs through the classroom when the students notice that one chapter is called “Shitty First Drafts.” You can see them thinking “shitty…oh boy…this is college!).  If you’ve not read Lamott’s book, you should, even if you never plan to write anything other than a grocery list.


Lamott would call my Pissy Editor Lady an anti-writing voice–we all have them, whether it’s the impossible teacher you had in eighth grade, an overbearing father who red-lined your every word, or the teacher’s pet in 11th grade who cheated on her essays and always got away with it.  Wherever those voices come from, Lamott says, imagine picking them up and dropping them, one by one, into a glass jar. Then clamp on the lid.  Then put the jar high on a shelf somewhere, preferably in your next-door-neighbor’s back closet.

Then go to work.

This post, then, is my equivalent of a glass jar and my neighbor’s back closet.

Take that, Pissy Editor Lady. I’m hitting publish right now.


 prune picture







Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

, , , ,

15 Responses to blocked

  1. Alexandra September 10, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

    Oh, I wish I could remember where I saw this, where I saw this. It was a writing website, essentially that when we have SO MUCH to write, we freeze from the AMOUNT OF words/thoughts/images coming at us.

    Where was it?


    I believe that.

    They suggest just writing everything out, banging away, longhand, computer, whatever.

    dump ideas on to a blank paper. Snippets. GET IT DOWN so your brain gets quiet.

    Write it down, have it there, so your brain trusts you won’t lose it and is assured that you’ll get back to it.

    Write all the thoughts/ideas/visuals down.
    Alexandra recently posted..ICYMIMy Profile

    • Bahareh September 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

      Dear Neighbor,
      I knew you were contemplating moving, but had no idea you had already come to our building.
      And that empty jar I found this morning while looking for my walking shoes, so that was from you!!!
      You are truly fantastic, you say it so beautifully, and wisely and without any fluff.
      Thank you, I needed to hear this as I had been spoiled for a while with the inspiration fairy that was coming to visit.
      So time to get the jar out, fill it with my stuff and pass it on, hopefully to the home of the accountant next door who will not mind.
      And those walking shoes, I have them and look forward to a walk and talk and then run home and write soon with you.
      Bahareh recently posted..Paralympics 2012, Stephen Hawking and the Big Bang And the Essence of LifeMy Profile

      • Deborah Quinn September 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

        I love this! I will from now on bring all my jars of anti-writing voices to your next-door accountant. Poor fellow, he will soon wonder what all that squawking is! And yes to a walk – walking lets all the words out, doesn’t it? Sort of amubulatory magic, actually.

    • Deborah Quinn September 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      yep, it’s the gotta get it down thing. I thought I’d taken care of that with my notes & lists, but alas, no. Husband laughs at me, but when I’m not writing blog posts, all writing commences with yellow legal pads and the perfect pen – which is not always the same pen, but the right pen for whatever i want to say. Silly, but there you go. Whatever gets you through, right?

  2. Lady Jennie September 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I love Anne Lamott. I’m suffering from much the same thing. The first draft is down and now I think it’s all rubbish and I can’t move forward. I’m blocked too.

    Bird by bird. 🙂
    Lady Jennie recently posted..A Burning BushMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn September 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

      Hmm…maybe we could help each other. Hint hint hint. But a first draft is a draft, and Anne says GOOD FOR YOU. Because now it’s the fun part: carving out, paring away, judiciously adding. Can’t wait to see what you’re percolating!

  3. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms September 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    I feel like I just got to peek into your cupboards. I know one thing. I would have loved to have had you as a writing instructor. Ellen
    Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms recently posted..10 Songs to Power You Thru Your CleaningMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn September 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Aw, shucks, thanks. It’s funny – at least a handful of students every semester say to me, in tones of great embarrassment & shame, that writing is really really hard for them. To which I say “duh.” Writing IS really hard but that’s one of the reasons why, when we hit that great groove of words working on the page, we feel such elation.
      Would that elation were the constant, instead of the banging-head-against-table feeling…
      thanks for the comment–

  4. Farrukh Naeem September 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Dear Manhattan Mama,

    You’ve nailed it – and very honestly so.

    As a copywriter for more than a decade, and also a business journalist – never had the luxury of writers block really.

    However, as a blogger – this is my nemesis ALL the time.

    Now I need to shoot bird by bird.

    I wish I could attend one of your classes. This one is a trailer – I wonder how good the movie would be 😉

    More power to the pen. And jars!
    Farrukh Naeem recently posted..Freelance Copywriting Tip – How to spot a bad client in 60 secondsMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn September 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by, Farrukh! That’s exactly what I am trying to teach my students – that writer’s block *is* in a sense a luxury but a working writer…writes. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that. Someone once said that writing is easy: just bang your head on the keyboard until your forehead bleeds. Then you’re just getting started!

  5. Lisa Rae @ smacksy September 12, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    Oh, that nasty editor. I will put her in a jar today, thanks to you and Anne.
    Terrific post.
    Thank you for this.
    Lisa Rae @ smacksy recently posted..Nailed ItMy Profile

    • Deborah Quinn September 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      Anne always works. I love her book; I’ve gone through two copies all ready. Thanks for stopping by (I loved your “still in rotation” post, btw).

  6. brand December 26, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    […] dating today. Learn why you should get started, and the benefits of doing so. More information: more info This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Getting My Boyfriend […]

  7. yahoo December 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    csmxNw Xanax

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes