Killing Me Blankly With Your Lines

It’s Saturday, and here I am again, facing the blankness. It feels scary every time.

My kids are upstairs, one playing guitar (12-year-old), one sleeping (16-year-old). My better half is moving furniture around in the next room. She does this periodically like other people bake or knit. It’s like that old Helen Keller joke. Good thing none of us are blind.

I am listening to music. Mumford and Sons for the accent and the swearing, Pink for the sense of murderous rebellion, Les Mis for the story, and Tracy Chapman to make me think about hanging out in Harvard Square bookstores and coffee shops in the late eighties.

I’ve stalled again in my novel writing. Life so gets in the way. Once I saw a Writer’s Digest in my dentist office wedged in-between the People and Shape magazines and stole it.  It landed in the basement and was just excavated in the furniture moving process. I don’t know why my dentist had this magazine, but I stole it because the cover boasted articles like How to Write Your Book in 15 Minutes a Day, and 21 Ways to Beat Writers Block. Plus there’s a cheery woman on the cover in a blue turtleneck with eyeglasses who could almost be me. Except I never wear turtlenecks and my glasses make me look old and frumpy, not smart and chic. She’s holding a big coffee cup listing the Plus articles like Be the Kind of Writers Editors Love and Red Flags You Need to Know.

Anyway, I will share the sound advice of Writer’s Digest with you. It hasn’t helped me a bit. I would have been better off ripping out the 5-ingredient, low-fat. delicious, immune-boosting crock pot recipe in the back of Real Simple but maybe you’ll get something out of it.

First, stop obsessing about writing a book and instead, spend 15 minutes writing one page, five times a week for a year.

Seriously, 15 minutes on a page? Dear god I better just shoot myself now because it can take me 15 minutes before I get a coherent sentence on the page. In this same article you are supposed to write out a detailed outline on index cards, including anecdotes, quotations, scenes, plot points, what characters are in each scene, where each scene takes place, etc. Then you bundle these index cards in a rubber band and carry them with you everywhere. What a nightmare this would be for me. They would weigh 15 pounds, get mixed up and so stained with food they’d be undecipherable, and I’d wind up using them to wrap up chewed gum.

The 21 tips for curing writer’s block include dusting, shooting squirrels with a BB gun, playing solitaire, and running headfirst into a glass wall. OK, those are new.

They do spend some time answering your biggest writing questions, like, “How do I get paid on time?” OK, so this one is not weighing heavy on my mind just yet. They also tackle a few big grammatical issues, which I have plenty of, mind you, but unfortunately I already know the difference between e.g. and i.e., even though you don’t really see them in a lot of fiction.

And finally, the article on publishing your first book after 50 was particularly disconcerting. Apparently if you’re writing a war story, you’re not supposed to mention that you served in the Korean War because you’ll date yourself. Advice seems to lean towards a don’t ask don’t tell approach when it comes to the “mature writer.” I can’t even believe there is such a category.

Still and all, this magazine was totally worth stealing. It made me think about writing. It made me realize I could use some new strategies, even if they aren’t the ones in the magazine. And I’m growing fond of the lady in the turtleneck. I think she likes me and wants to share her coffee.

Got any writing tips for me?



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8 responses to “Killing Me Blankly With Your Lines

  1. WSW

    Have you tried doing a big old brain dump? Your computer is your best friend in this. Just sit down and bang away — anything that comes into your mind about the book with no thought to spelling, word choice or craft. Sometimes, I think, people get so caught up in crafting the perfect sentence or sequencing events that they get stuck. (I hate the word “blocked.”)

    The other thing is, it can be paralyzing to worry that you’re going to lose a thought or some information while you’re working away on another thought. If you just kind of vomit up everything in your mind — purge if you will — it eliminates that fear. You’ve captured everything on the page, and it’s all “safe.”

    Maybe that’s not what’s got you stumped, but that’s what works for me. You’re good writer. Don’t stop.

    • Thanks for the idea and the encouragement. The brain dump could be a good strategy for me. I always think I have to know what I’m doing before I start. Talk about paralyzing!

  2. Wait, wait, wait. You look so fabulous in your glasses! I want a pair, even if I don’t need them, just because they are so fabulous and fun. My coping mechanisms include eating lots of cupcakes and crying. I wouldn’t recommend either of those strategies…

  3. Susan

    Write first, read later? And never, ever shoot squirrels unless they shoot first.

  4. smerk

    I told my dentist once that brushing my teeth made me gag (literally). He proceeded to tell me to stand on one leg and hop when I started to gag. (I’m really not making this up.) Doing that would take my mind off the gagging. So I don’t know if standing on one leg and hopping will cure your writer’s block, but hey, it’s worth a try, isn’t it? And if it works, then you could make millions marketing it to other writers.

    Or perhaps you could look up the day’s Non Sequitur comic strip and write about what’s there.

  5. I don’t know if it’ll help writer’s block, but I definitely plan to try the hopping on one leg approach in a few other areas where I could use distraction…

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