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Writer’s Block

Lately, I have been struggling with a moderate case of writer’s block.

Some of the problem stems from a growing weariness of returning time and again to limited number of subjects.  I admire those who can drill a very narrow topical field day in a day out , but to me that feels like a rut and a rut soon leads to boredom.  Consequently, I now find myself staring at a computer screen rather more often than typing away at the keyboard and not enjoying it.

A second problem, I suspect, is too often trying to persevere in writing in an unsuitable, chaotic, environment full of distractions. As anyone who writes with seriousness knows, loved ones will ignore you for hours on end, but should you sit down to write anything you will suddenly become a magnet for children, the dog, your spouse, phone calls from old friends and neighbors at the door . Stringing words coherently becomes difficult because writing is an art, not a component of multitasking.

So today, I did something different.

Instead of sitting at my desk, I went outside and sat at the patio table in the sun and fresh air. The electronic devices were left inside, but I brought a long, yellow legal pad and a medium thickness blue sharpie ( I’d have preferred black). I lit a Cohiba and had an ice cold beer with me and a couple of books, in case I felt like reading ( The Makers of Strategy and Everitt’s bio of  Hadrian). It was unusually quiet.

And then I began to write. Bullet points, notes, phrases, diagrams interspersed with some sketching. Some notes were connected to others with arrows. Ideas were flowing (some were crossed out later) and the rough approximation of an argument took shape. It was’t a moment of epiphany – just a solid, uninterrupted, focused, productive hour of writing and deep reflection that filled a couple of pages on my legal pad. How uncommon that has become.

And after that, I felt much better.

7 Responses to “Writer’s Block”

  1. Moon Says:

    I do the same, sometimes, with code.  I print off a few methods, functions or routines, or a few pages of code snippets, and I take them and a few blank pieces of paper to some place quiet where I can recline, inside or out.  That’s when I get some good analysis, connecting, and synthesis done; the mechanical encoding of the work can come later back at the machine.  (I’ve also done it with natural language writing as well, as you describe above.)

  2. Dave Schuler Says:

    Kind of thought that John Keegan’s death might have gotten your creative juices flowing.

  3. zen Says:

    Hi Moon,
    I don’t know much about coding per se but it too is a creative process and problem solving and active thinking.
    Hi Dave,
    You would think, however I became interested in military affairs much later in life, in my thirties, only after studying diplo and economic history. As a result, Keegan is not the formative influence for me that he is for many ppl who often report his The Mask of Command or The Face of Battle being their “first” mil history book. I also have not read enough of Keegan’s works to do a proper retrospective like I did with Kennan or others.

  4. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Zen,
    Know the feeling. The second half of my book has been the most frustrating thing I’ve ever attempted. This week has been a bit better, but I’m still barely sputtering along.
    Sometimes drawing helps, and I’ve been using bullets in a few recent blog posts at TBTD.
    Best of luck! 

  5. Bob Morris Says:

    My wife half-jokes that I have ADHD. Which is actually perfect for a 24/7, always on, constantly interrupted lifestyle of writing articles about politics as well as computer code.

    “Embrace the chaos” 🙂

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    Just so long as the sun doesn’t roast you!

  7. larrydunbar Says:

    “It was’t a moment of epiphany – just a solid,uninterrupted, focused, productive hour of writing and deep reflection that filled a couple of pages on my legal pad.”

    Exactly. The problem is not that you don’t have anything to write about, or that your not a writer, so you need to take advantage of both. Most likely your problem is time. You’re stingy about your time and don’t want to neither waste what you have to say, nor your effort in performing the process. So your strategy should be to start wasting time and free-write. While I was neither a writer nor did I have anything to write about, I was cured 10-years ago and the disease hasn’t been back. 

    If you can’t write paragraphs, write sentences. If you can’t write sentences, write words. If you got to go down to writing characters, you have a long way to go.

    Just start free-writing without putting any thought into it. Start wasting a bunch of time filling up notebooks with nothing that makes sense or structured according to time or effort, writing as fast as possible. Write like you’re Cobain, except without the depression. If you are thinking about what you are writing then you are not wasting your time enough.

    I don’t think it will take over several 100-page notebook or so before you are “cured”. 

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