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On Writers Block

Every time I sit down to face a blank computer screen, the thought flits through my mind that “Today, I’m not going to be able to do this.” What “this” is doesn’t matter; it can be as simple as a Christmas letter for family and friends.

And I am not alone.

I have talked to many writers over many years, and when I get to know them well, nearly all will admit to the big fear – that the ability to write, to communicate, to amuse or to inform may disappear. I laugh when I remember a New Yorker cartoon showing a disheveled man sitting at a typewriter, and the caption reads, “Chapter 1, page 1.” I laugh, but it is a hollow laugh.

Partly, I think the fear, at least for me, comes from the fact that readers tell me how much they enjoy my writing, how entertaining, how funny, how educational they find it to be. So the onus is on me to produce the same, over and over and over. Writers with books already published may fear that their next one won’t measure up and their readers will be disappointed.

Regardless of the feeling of impending doom, I’ve never let the big fear stop me. I might sit before my computer a couple of minutes and then, hands on the keyboard, I begin. What comes out of my brain, through my arms and fingers to the keys may not be anything like a finished product, but it will be something. And that is the key. Something with a little “s” can be turned into Something with a capital “S.” But that is a job for later, during the rewrite phase.

I first learned how to keep going no matter what when I worked as a reporter at The Indianapolis Star. When you have a deadline, there’s no time for writer’s block or giving in to the fear. You have before you the notes for the story you must write by 5 p.m. that day. You may spend five minutes figuring out the who, what, where, when and why of the story, and then the writing must begin. There can be no delay, no turning back, no saying, “I can’t.”

Although it would be easy to give in to the fear now that I am sitting in my quiet office post retirement, I remind myself that I used to write – and meet my deadlines – in a newsroom with the police radio and a TV blaring in the background, the constant ringing of telephones, and two of my deskmates arguing about some aspect of the Civil War.

Writing: that’s what we do. So let’s begin.

Carol Elrod