Why Me

Who suffers such misery? What kinds of writers get blocked, and how long do you have to write before it stops happening, before you outgrow it? In chapter 1 I gave you some examples of the kind of trouble some great writers had. That was a while ago, so it's worth repeating. Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary) struggled for three days, threw a monumental tantrum, rolled on the floor, banged his head against the wall —all to produce a grand total of eight sentences. Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest) said, "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out." Joseph Heller took ten years to write the novel Catch-22. Tom Wolfe also worked for ten years to write A Man in Full. So, who gets blocked? Everybody. Some less than others, but it's unavoidable.

What does that tell us? First, you're in good company. Second, if it happens to everybody, it's part of the process, and you shouldn't be blaming and punishing yourself for it. True, but realizing that isn't going to stop you. You will get blocked. You will blame yourself. You will punish yourself. You can't stop that, but it's possible to minimize it, to learn to catch yourself quickly, so it doesn't take you ten years to write a novel. The goal is to get the most out of yourself with the least pain and the most pleasure.

When a new writer tells me, "I never get blocked," I usually say, "You have something to look forward to." What I would like to say, but don't, is: "You don't know enough yet." The more you know, the more possibilities there are for blocking yourself. The better you write—the more inventive and skillful and ingenious you become at ambushing yourself. You're never beyond it. You never outgrow it, because it grows with you.

So, if it happens to all writers, does it make sense to blame yourself when it happens to you? Could it be that something in the process makes blocking inevitable, something that has nothing to do with you personally and is in no way a reflection on you, your character, or your talent? It could be and it is. It's the process, not you. It's all part of the game of writing, and you can learn to master it just as you can learn to tell a compelling story.

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