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Fighting Writer's Block, Part I

Posted on Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 12:52 AM

Accept the challenge and let the words flow.

By Peter P. Jacobi

I've come to think December doesn't exist.

It comes and quickly goes without my having accomplished a December must-do: send Christmas cards. Christmas December 2015, I evaded the sending-of-the-cards until January. Not only that, I never finished the task. I sent wishes to about half of those on the list, maybe two-thirds, and then I stopped, not removing the remainder cards and addresses from the dining room table until November, when I realized I might as well forget about it and start sending my cards for December 2016.

Well, now as I write, it's late January and I haven't even started to write the cards for this just-past Christmas, not a one. December is all gone and January all but. The boxes are sitting on the dining room table again and the insert letters and the postage stamps. Mind you, the stuff is sitting there untouched and probably quite lonely, feeling forgotten.

So, you ask, what does that have to do in any way with Editors Only?

Self-Imposed Deadline Pressure

Quite a lot, I can tell you. This getting-nothing-done-with-my-holiday-cards thing is my version of writer's block. I convinced myself many years ago that I don't believe in writer's block. And when it comes to making deadlines when I used to meet (and still do) deadlines with news and feature stories for newspapers, with program material for radio and television, with putting together and out magazine issues, I always ended up following my belief that deadlines must be met. Journalistic media do not wait for deadlines, I realized; they must be there for a waiting public. Lateness wasn't an allowable practice. It wasn't. It isn't. I practiced what I preached for myself and for those who were on my staff, and -- across decades -- my students.

But I've come to realize that, actually, I've practiced a form of writer's block. Take my Christmas cards. I've built a mental block that has flawed my personal life. And take another Jacobi reality: to put off my writing assignments until I can no longer put them off. Almost all I write is done so under the self-imposed pressure brought on by delay. The column you're here reading is being written on the 29th of the month, and it probably wouldn't have been started until tomorrow or the day after, if I weren't scheduled for cataract surgery tomorrow, which has led me to the realization I better get this column done pronto.

I can tell you about book deadlines, too, these met but barely because of dangerously put-off starts.

Fill Block Time with Research

My problem is that I love to write but do not like it. Truly. I'm compelled to write but resist the labor involved as long as possible. I much prefer the allied task of gathering material. Both researching and writing are loved activities, but the gathering is so much more pleasant. I've been known to hold off the writing by extending the research a bit more here and a bit more there, lying to myself that the extra gathering is a necessity when it really isn't.

Of course, when the writing begins, the more interesting I find the gathered information to be, the more easily and even lustily I find the writing to be. The richer the material, the better is the likelihood that the writing will result in a really good story or article.

Meaning: here's a possibility for you if writer's block lurks. Fill the block time with non-writing aspects of your writing project: locate material that knocks you for a mental loop. Fall in love with your details; search for content that will cause you to want to set it in prose.

What's next? Read it in Part II.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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