This is unusual for me. I haven’t been seriously blocked about anything writer-ish since the late 1990s. That was when I accepted a job as a newspaper reporter. On my first day of work, I was told that in order to avoid getting fired I needed to crank out six researched stories every week (“And that’s the minimum,” my cantankerous editor, Jack Carle, would grumble). Writer’s block was a luxury I could no longer afford.
As a consequence, I developed an ability to find stories even when a story was barely there. In other words, I learned how to pull a story outta my butt.
This “everything’s a story” mindset soon trickled down to my independent writing, too. I’d crank stuff out at work and — still high on adrenaline (and six-to-eight cups of coffee) — I’d race home to crank something out for me.
But things change. I’m getting older. The Oh-My-God-I-Need-This-Job-So-I-Can-Move-Outta-My-Parents’-House level of urgency is gone. And my bossy, petulant lower intestine will no longer allow me to drink six cups of coffee.
So, writer’s block was bound to happen. And nothing makes me crabbier.
How could I not be crabby? I’ve been unfocused and adrift. I’ve started stories only to abandon them midway through a first draft. I come up with great ideas that seem a bit too similar to other people’s already-published great ideas. So I sit and flail about, pursue a few more false starts, utter a few choice words, and feel the crabbiness build.
When the words don’t come, I take some comfort in straightening the house. Ellen and Alex are fond of creating piles of stuff, so there’s always something to straighten somewhere.
And, through this incessant straightening, I found the means to get back on track.
One day, when I was dumping some of Alex’s many, many scattered papers into his desk, I found this little thing staring up at me.
It’s a story-generating flipbook for kids. Ellen bought it for Alex a few years ago in the hope it would spark an interest in writing. It didn’t. Not by a long shot.
But could it work for me?
Why yes. Yes it could.
As I flipped around at random, I could almost feel my brain yanking itself out of its stagnant oobleck. And while there’s little chance of getting a publisher interested in a pop ditty about a telepathic mall, that’s not really the point.
Writing for kids requires a bit silliness, I think. When I had my blockage I was anything but. But now, as I putter around writing stories about singing backpacks and hamburgers that can grant wishes, I can feel the silliness seeping back into my soul.
I don’t have a new PB manuscript yet, but I know I will soon. Things are gonna be OK.
So! How do you unblock your writers block?