I’m trying to write a novel. This is my third attempt at this. Some days I stare at the keyboard a long time before my imagination kicks in. This condition we call writer’s’ block has plagued writers for centuries, and many are the suggested cures. Writing in New Yorker last year, Maria Kommikova traced the establishment of the term in academic literature to the 1940s by a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler.
Kommikova wrote: “After conducting multiple interviews and spending years with writers suffering from creative problems, he discarded some of the theories that were popular at the time. Blocked writers didn’t ‘drain themselves dry’ by exhausting their supply of inspiration. Nor did they suffer from a lack of external motivation (the “landlord” theory, according to which writing stops the moment the rent is paid). They didn’t lack talent, they weren’t “plain lazy,” and they weren’t simply bored. So what were they?” Bergler theorized that a blocked writer is actually blocked psychologically — and the way to “unblock” that writer is through therapy.
Many of us are familiar with the quote attributed to Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” He was thinking or typewriters and paper. Remember them?
Often when writing I recall my old friend Jim, a fellow student actor at Hilltop Theatre School of Arts in Baltimore. Jim, a serious, disciplined guy, made himself sit at his typewriter for an hour every morning and write something — anything — to get his creative juices flowing, so to speak. Did it work for him? I don’t know, but I employ a version of Jim’s approach in my writing by trying to add something to my draft every day, even if only a few paragraphs.
The key to writing a good story, experts say, is to create fascinating, believable characters and, as Brian Klems advises in Writer’s Digest, to bear in mind that people read any novel to find out what is going to happen to a fascinating set of characters. I am trying to follow his sensible advice. My principal characters are interesting people — to me. I hope a reader would also find them so.
My greatest hurdle in attempting to write fiction is my journalism background. Several years as a news reporter, editor and columnist and teacher of news writing and editing have made writing fiction a challenge. It’s hard to make things up.
Yesterday, my two principal characters were just getting acquainted over coffee at a cozy diner two blocks from the beach. How will their mutual attraction develop? We shall see. I need to get writing.