Writer's block, an owner's guide: How the heck do you become a writer
This from one of my favorite bloggers, Petite Anglaise, who has been writing for years, writes steadily for a substantial audience, admits being a little bit famous, and has a six-figure book deal ladies and gentlemen: “I’m going to be a writer, one day, when I’m published, I don’t feel like I own that title yet.”
See? See? And you know what I’m going to say. Yes, it’s
Published on November 21, 2006 at 12:02 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/how-to-become-a-writer.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Writer’s block is caused by print
Walter Ong wrote about the differences between (primitive) oral culture and (our) print culture. He said print encourages a sense of closure, a sense that what is found in a text is complete and final. Print “suggest[s] self-containment. Print encloses thought in thousands of copies of a work of exactly the same visual and physical consistency”. Print culture, because of the self-contained nature of the printed text, “gave birth to the romantic notions of ‘originality’ and ‘creativity’, which set apart an individual work from other works even more, seeing its origins and meaning as independent of outside influence, at least ideally.”
The print culture described by Ong, it seems to me, poses three new challenges to the writer. Here’s what they are.
First, print demands that everything we write is worthy of widespread distribution and eternal preservation. This alone is enough to cause a disabling humility.
Second, print culture enlarges the author’s and the reader’s knowledge of earlier works and makes it harder to be original. I mean, harder to feel original. As Ong puts it, “modern writers, agonizingly aware of literary history and of the de facto intertextuality of their own works, are concerned that they may be producing nothing new or fresh at all, that they may be totally under the ‘influence’ of other’s texts.”
But the third challenge to the writer is the one that interest me most. The work becomes crystallized. The writer becomes helpless to correct or improve it. By publishing it he claims that it is as close to perfect as it can be. In making that claim he also admits that he has reached the limit of his skill and talent.
A writer could be understandably doubtful about making that claim and that admission.
Making the claim means exposing himself for judgment in a definitive form. He can be studied in detail and at leisure. The work’s inevitable imperfections become an unchangeable part of how strangers and future generations know him. The potential for diffidence and shame is obvious. The further risk is that the writer will never decide the work is absolutely complete and will never allow it to be set in type. And then the readers are deprived of his work completely. You could call that writer’s block, couldn’t you.
To end with, a cheery thought about block. I believe today’s mass distribution media are making writing easier again, by removing the permanence of published words. Why else are there so many blogs?
Published on November 12, 2006 at 6:07 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/writers-block-is-caused-by-print.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Improv writing
I’ve referred you to a few Canadian sites recently for some reason, so now let’s go to the Philippines. (does that sentence make any sense to anyone?)
In her blog Noelle de Guzman writes “what would you like me to write about? I’m setting this up as a sort of challenge where you give me the writing assignment. I’m very good at implementation; I just suck at coming up with ideas.”
I think that is such a good idea. I almost stole it (what a good way to get through NaBloPoMo!) until I looked at the responses she was getting.
But you know what – I will take questions about writer’s block, time management, procrastination, effectiveness and the like. And about anything else you find on my site.
Published on November 3, 2006 at 9:43 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/improv-writing.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: NaBloPoMo
For those who don’t have the time or whatever else you think it takes to spend November writing a novel, there’s also National Blog Posting Month. I admit I’m tempted. I want to do NaNoWriMo again, AND as usual I have many other commitments including my second research project into the experience of NaNo participants. But I’m tempted. Definitely can’t do both. Hmmm. Suggestions?
Published on October 31, 2006 at 2:06 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/noblopomo.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Blogging as performance art
I just wrote this for an upcoming book. Not for Writer’s Block: An Owner’s Guide. For an academic book. I’m telling you that as an apology for the style being rather stuffy. Hey, it’s a first draft, and I know you understand about those.
Anyway, I’m seeking your thoughts on the content.
You still think I’m talking to all the others, don’t you. If you think that, then you’re the one I mean.
“A recently developed form of publication is the blog (originally web log). The blog is simply a web page whose owner chooses to publish regular or occasional musings. It may be created using traditional web editing methods, but writers typically employ the readily-available purpose-designed software. In this way anyone with access to the internet can make a diary available to the public with no outlay whatever by author or reader.
“Over the past three years while researching writer’s block I have used a blog as a way of recording and developing my own thoughts on that subject. In my personal experience the blog offers several advantages over traditional writing.
“It is a performance art: it is neither writing not printing. Typically the audience is small if not entirely imaginary, but that can change in an instant: one casual mention by a more popular blogger can introduce hundreds of readers.
“Two differences from traditional performance art are that new readers can explore the blogger’s previous performances, and that she has the power to revise and improve them. (One thinks of the freedom Shakespeare had to improve his published work edition by edition, a freedom that writers today do not claim. Their changed expectation may have been caused by the technological shift from hand-set letterpress to lithography, but in the digital age re-setting has become easy again. What keeps the expectation alive is the general assumption that a novel, once released to readers, is no longer something the author is working on. No wonder writers hesitate to commit their thoughts to paper.)
The blogger may type freely for his public, knowing that he can correct inaccuracies and infelicities at any future time. The perception of an audience of regular readers, however hypothetical, lends a useful urgency. At the same time, most bloggers seem to feel they have permission to take breaks or write off their usual topics: there is a sense of control of one’s work.
“Popular blogs attract many comments from readers. This immediate feedback is published and can become a discussion with and among the readers: but the blog is not regarded as a collaborative work.
“The typical blog, then, stands somewhere between a scratchpad and a published work, and is in fact both. It benefits the writer in various ways including that it reduces the risk of loneliness, it invites regular work and it tolerates short and other unconventional postings. But above all, perhaps, it gives one the certainty of being both an active and a published writer. Should that certainty ever begin to fade it can be recovered in five easy minutes.
“The success of blogging gives support to the theory that printing intimidates us by crystallizing our imperfect writings. It also supports my theory that writer’s block is cognitive dissonance. It is also consistent with the notion that writers are paralyzed by the excellence of their predecessors, for bloggers have the unusual privilege of rewriting their published work. Finally it is not inconsistent with the concept of block as a fashion or self-fulfilling prediction among novelists and poets, for the blogger is neither of those. And so blogging is of no feckin use at all for our purpose and I just wrote 536 words that I can’t use.”
That last paragraph may not appear in the book in exactly the same words. Of course I can use ‘em. I’m a recovering lawyer and I’m a solution-focused therapist. I can justify anything.
Published on October 9, 2006 at 12:38 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/blogging-as-performance-art.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Still I write
Yes, it’s going slower, for perfectly good reasons that regular readers know about. But here’s the thing: there are now almost 32,000 words on this web site, and I have put very little effort into putting them here over the last 15 or 16 months. Blogging works as a way of building up a body of work. And it works as a way of thinking aloud and figuring out what I wish I had been intending to write about when I sat down.
None of this should be taken to mean that I think even a quarter of the stuff on this site is worth reorganising into, say, a book. But by god it’ll be so much easier to use this as the core of some eventual Writer’s Block Book and to edit it until it’s unrecognizable, than it would be to start with a pile of white paper staring at me. If you don’t know that in your heart and spirit already, you are not the kind of person I have been writing for.
Published on October 14, 2005 at 12:15 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/still-i-write.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Blogging for writers
A man who knows me rather well – and whose book, which I’ve read and benefited from, is coming out in a few weeks – sent me a letter this week about my “need to go back and rewrite your writings posted on the web in order to make them better, and the web allows you to do this. While the benefits of this are obvious, the downside is that it creates an environment for [perfectionism]. When does it end? When is something ready for publication? Let yourself be flawed…”
His reasoning is correct. If you’re using a weblog as a place to develop a book, that’s a perfect place to go on playing with your material forever, and never to freeze it into a final version that you’re willing to see in print.
But you could say the same about a word processor. That’s a perfect place to go on playing with your material forever, and never to freeze it into a final version that you’re willing to see in print.
So I don’t think that’s a valid criticism of my choice to blog. But I do think I should take this opportunity to justify my choice.
What I get out of blogging, as a way to develop material that I want to include in a book one day, is this:
1. you, my reader – and these days I know from computer logs that there actually are humans out there who read this stuff regularly – you give me accountability. On days when I publish nothing, I worry about you and whether you will lose interest and remove my site from your my.yahoo. That helps me to keep writing. When I run out of things to say on one subject, your presence spurs me to move sideways to another. Thank you.
2. And accountability is not just about posting weblog entries, it’s also about keeping my word in other areas. When the workshop in Southern California was postponed I wondered about how You, my readers in Britain and Malaysia, would respond to that. When I write about publishing a hardcopy book in the future it’s not because I expect you to buy it (why would you when you were right here with me on this journey of developing it?) but because I wonder what you would think of me if I failed. So one of the weblog’s various purposes is as a carefully planned self-manipulation to make me get things done.
3. The weblog allows me to try things out without their being crystallized; it’s a scratchpad, a playground where everything is flexible, where no mistake is un-fixable, where there is nothing to fear except silence. Print is different.
Since the very beginning of this weblog last July, I’ve been meaning to publish a list of the ways it benefits my writing. Today at last I’ve described some of them. I hope I’ll come back to the subject because I think what we have here is not even half of the list.
All the same, because this is a weblog, I can publish what I have and can invite you to comment (please comment, don’t be shy: the response form is right down there, look) and I can respond to you, and from our dialogue will grow wisdom, knowledge and cheap laughs.
Published on April 28, 2005 at 6:54 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/blogging-for-writers.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: A passion for writer’s block
A hundred years ago I thought I was gonna become a doctoral student one day – after my kids grew up (in Northern Europe this actually happens), I’d live for two or three years on a romantically small research grant, write a thesis and then return to real life.
Then one day in 1999 I woke up in Southern California. So much for real life!
Ladies and gentlemen, getting a doctorate is different in America. It involves going to classes, writing papers, all that… student stuff. Really. Years of it. Feck that! So I changed my plan and I did something else.
Five years later, here I am in the thick of a Californian doctoral program, taking class after class, racking up these strange American “units” and “GPAs” an’ that. Why? Because I love what I’m doing. I’d be reading the same books anyway. Doing it this way, I get to interact with world-class people who have already hacked paths through the same territory. It doesn’t just reduce wear on my machete, although that’s important and saves time: it makes me better informed, gives me new tools and inspirations, gives me membership of… wait, I was just about to write a boilerplate statement I hadn’t really thought about. Well, membership of some community or other that I can’t name right now.
The point? I had one around here somewhere. Let’s see.
While you’re waiting, here’s a point that was not in my mind when I fired up the computer. Being in this program supports me in my writing. It gives me deadlines and it gives me an audience. Otherwise I would not write so much or so soon or at all. Writing it down is essential – without recording it, and without making room in my head, I can’t move on. Writing it down allows me to think the next thing, the more advanced thing, the thing that might touch you dear reader in some new way that you might otherwise never be touched.
The point? Yeah, ok. The reason I opened the blogging software this morning was to type an excuse, an apology. I wanted to whine at you that I’ve been working hard; I’ve completed two and a half of those school papers in the last few days and I have another one and a half on the stocks right now. Why not be typing them at this moment? Well, why should I, everything is under control. Also, because I have to use Windows for a couple hours and the papers are in the Linux partition, like you care about how my laptop is set up. And the apology is for not being here with you, not adding material to Today I Write, and I just wanted to let you know it’s not because I’m not writing, it’s because I am. The blog is still serving its purpose for me, still liberating me from my head.
And a third point, which also wasn’t in my mind at the start. I’m duplicating this post into a separate journal which is specifically about my experience of writing about creativity. That’s kinda three levels removed from the real world. Next thing you know I’ll be writing about the experience of writing about the experience of… y’know. It’s a school requirement and (not by coincidence) it’s directly about what I care about and what I want to share with whoever you are.
So the point of all that was that I’m still here taking responsibility for Today I Write and I’m still writing what I need to be writing and these two things are not always the same thing.
Published on October 11, 2004 at 8:33 am. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/a-passion-for-writers-block.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Writer’s block; sealions
Did you notice, imaginary reader, that I’ve been quiet for a few days? (1) I’m trying to summarize Kellogg’s “Psychology of Writing” for you, and it’s overwhelming (2) I don’t believe you’re reading this anyway, certainly my web logs still show that most of my readers are spiders, so if any humans are following along you must be using a non-html feed and I’d welcome your feedback (3) but mostly, real life got in the way. How can a Scottish boy write seriously when the sealions are playing in the surf at Malibu?
The presence of an audience is not essential; the sense of an audience is, but I have that. The main effect of not having thousands of fans clicking on my sponsors’ ads is that it limits the hosting and the blog-software and the other geek-toys that I can buy, and that limits the time I can spend playing with them, and that’s a good thing.
The blog is still serving its various purposes. One of those is that when I spew my thoughts out of my head and onto “paper” I create a clear space where new thoughts can come. That’s one reason for writing before we know what we want to say.
And now I have to go do some counseling. Talk to you later!
Published on August 19, 2004 at 1:47 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/writers-block-sealions.html
Writer's block, an owner's guide: Writer’s block: the value of blogging
Bizarre – I wasn’t expecting this or even hoping for it. After only 48 hours of writing this thing, already something has happened in me. I feel a new vitality about writing that serious paper I was putting off. Maybe I’ll do that soon; maybe not; who knows. I did suspect that blogging was a way to break through procrastination; I didn’t know it would work so fast, or that it would work for projects I wasn’t blogging about. Good, let’s keep going.
Published on August 1, 2004 at 11:18 pm. Linking to this article? Thank you! The permanent address is http://www.todayiwrite.com/journal/writers-block-the-value-of-blogging.htmlNext Page »