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W is for Writer’s Block

November 25, 2012

From early on, I decided that W would be for Writer’s Block in this series. After all, what problem is more universal for writers than sitting down in front of a big white screen or piece of paper–and have no words come. It’s something all writers understand.

And then, when I sat down to write this…nothing. I was verbally impotent. I swear this has never happened before. Not to me. It’s kind of…you know…could we talk about something else?

The truth is, while writer’s block can be caused by a lot of different things, one of the chief causes is that the writer’s frame of reference has become too narrow. It’s all right. It happens to everyone. You shouldn’t feel bad.

The truth is, there are mountains of words to still be written about writer’s block. It’s just that my frame of reference was too narrow to consider them. I thought about all the other things I’ve considered before–writer’s block sucks, it means I need to research more, it means maybe I need to consider another genre, or maybe it’s time to put down my work.

But it call also mean that my–and I’m sorry to use this word–paradigm is too narrow. It’s something that can happen to all writers, especially when they are competent and have faith in their approach.

In baseball over the past ten or fifteen years, you’ll often see a team employ a shift against certain hitters. For instance, against a right-handed hitter, you’ll see the short stop move over about halfway between second and third and the second baseman play almost directly behind second base. The entire right side is open.

And more often than not, you’ll see the hitter pull the ball so the shortstop can field a grounder and throw him out. It would be easy to hit the ball the other way, where there’s a big opening between first and second. But the batter doesn’t do it. By hitting the ball between second and third, the hitter’s more likely to generate power and hit a double off the wall or a home run over it. Hitting the ball in that direction has always worked, so the hitter’s less likely to go the other way.

The same thing can happen to skilled writers. You see things one way and it always works. Then, sometime when it doesn’t work, it’s too hard to go another way. It’s too hard to reset your frame of reference to find another way to go.

Of such things, batting slumps are made.

And writer’s block.

  1. Suzanna Crean permalink
    November 25, 2012 10:50 am

    When making comparisons, why do so many people…read that “men”…use sports analogies?

    When I read what you said about baseball, I didn’t have the faintest notion what you were talking about. Guess what…many of us writers are female, and we know nothing about sports and couldn’t care less.

    I continually face this problem with the sports comparison thing. I find it…dare I say the word…SEXIST. No…I’m not being prissy…but seriously…I see this all the time and simply cannot relate to it.

  2. Chris Hamilton permalink
    November 25, 2012 11:28 am

    Any time you make a comparison, you’re going to miss some people. Nothing is completely universal except being born–which no one remembers–and dying–which hasn’t happened to the people around to write about it.

    I don’t think it’s sexist to use a sport analogy because that assumes that women can’t relate to sports. A lot of women don’t, but a lot of men don’t, too. Even within sports, that’s true. I spoke to a guy this week who said he knows nothing at all about baseball, but he knows Mixed Martial Arts.

    I think it’s maybe limiting, but not sexist. But it’s also what I know. I try not to overuse the sports comparisons. But they’re part of who I am, so they’ll periodically be there. I typically generate 6-7 posts of new material each week and not every post will appeal to every reader. I hope, on the balance, the material is worthwhile to you.

    Nothing I write is specifically intended to exclude anyone.

  3. November 25, 2012 5:34 pm

    I didn’t get the analogy but got your message.

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      November 25, 2012 5:43 pm

      Thanks, Claudia.

  4. November 25, 2012 7:11 pm

    I’m female, and I love baseball. I also love tennis, which is a lot like the way dialogue should work. Quick, quick, quick, long, quick… back and forth with the occasional jab or pass shot. Basketball is also interesting. But baseball – baseball is intellectual, a game of numbers. As for writer’s block, well, mine comes from obsessive perfectionism. If defining the problem is half the cure, I’ve been 50% for a long time now.

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      November 25, 2012 7:25 pm

      Now you have to get past 50%.

  5. November 26, 2012 5:58 am

    Hi Chris. There’s some great advice in this post. When I’ve had problems with writers block in the past, I find the best thing to do is to get out of the house and socialise. It really helps me to gain some perspective on the work, and interacting with people is a great release for tension tension. I find my whole mindset (which can related to the problem of writers block) changing. Allow others to stimulate your mind in different ways and then before you know it, you’ll be able to tackle the writing from a different angle. Maybe you’ll find a way to “unlock” the prose which you hadn’t seen before.

    Best wishes, Alex

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