Tag Archives: writer’s block

Block and blog

Just this morning, the phrase “writer’s blog” entered my mind, which, naturally, in my mind anyway, evoked the more common phrase “writer’s block.” The latter is a concern to just about every writer I know, denoting those times when nothing comes to the head or nothing gets down on paper anyway. Countless articles and books have been devoted to this phenomenon, but it’s not my concern here.

Snoopy is probably just thinking too hard.
Up on the rooftop, he’s also in the doghouse.

Probably because, at this age or stage of my life, said block is not a problem for me. Rather just the opposite, as those who know me, the way my wife knows me, for example, must surmise. Writer’s blog — sometimes blah or meh as it is — is, rather, a condition of full-bore verbal excess, or logorrhea, where the words rush out pell-mell, impelled by word associations or sound klangs, as we have here (block blog → bug: whatever spills out of the cornucopia of sound, you use it). I drive my wife crazy, true, by singing constantly, snatches of this, that, or the other song from years ago, usually pop songs or classical Lieder, it doesn’t matter, and this material, like the material in the mind of a psychoanalyst’s patient, or analysand, must be worked through.

What I’m getting at is that the apparently formless or meaningless sounds of our language, its klangs or music, can form a large if usually unexamined part of what impels the writer to write. These are unconscious or half-conscious motive forces, it can be, but where can they lead us?

Before he or she can make much sense of these sounds, I suggest, he’d better be prepared to make nonsense — no sense for the time being — or risk making no sense ever. Isn’t the best way to loosen up for your on-stage performance, the finished product, just to get way down and loosey-goosey to begin with? If we’re talking student essays, more than a few of which I’ve shepherded through to completion, we may be talking what writing teachers like to call “pre-writing” or “brainstorming.” Before the brain can be productive, it has to be awake, even if it’s awake in a muggy way. So the writer starts humming, or singing, or committing nonsense to paper. He babbles like a child, the child he is. And refuses to censor himself before he’s gotten going.

At a recent session of a writer’s group with which I’m associated, one of the other writers brought in a tremendously detailed outline of the novel she plans to write. All this work followed the prescripts of one or another of the literary gurus out there in the self-help writer’s market. (Gurus who may or may not ever have produced a work of creative genius.) Page after page of outline and character background and analysis were poured forth. It was exhausting just listening, or looking, at this pre-production. “Now all you have to do,” I remarked, “is write the book.”

Poets, of course, aren’t held to the same high, and foolish, regard for what passes all too easily for truth as fiction writers and factual writers. There could be far worse ways to get going than babbling. Or blogging.

Blog → block → blah. And, as Webster’s gives by way of “blah” synonyms: “bunkum, humbug, hooey, eyewash, twaddle, bosh.” Be willing to risk ’em, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, all the rich and various ways to make no sense before you make perhaps too much. As my fourth grade nun, old Sister Peter, would say, back in the day, “Bunk! Rubbish! Fiddlesticks! Nonsense!”

Punctuation lets not let it stop us

Read an Ian Parker profile in The New Yorker, on the “public intellectual” Christopher Hitchens, a Brit who lived in the US for many years and died in 2011 of cancer. (He was addicted to both booze and cigarettes, at one time a three-pack-a-day man.)

Hitchens is known for a couple of things primarily: 1) his shift from socialist to right-wing hawk (he became an advocate for Bush II’s Iraq war) and 2) the blazing speed with which he wrote his columns.

As for his celerity, Parker puts it this way:

He writes a single draft, at a speed that caused his New Statesman colleagues to place bets on how long it would take him to finish an editorial. What emerges is ready for publication, except for one weakness: he’s not an expert punctuator, which reinforces the notion that he is in the business of transcribing a lecture he can hear himself giving.

We can all envy the man’s speed, and sureness — even his obliviousness to punctuation.

It occurs to me — I taught English writing and grammar for many years and became a pretty expert “punctuator” — that there might be bliss in this kind of forgetting. Rather than worrying the bone of punctuation, and punctilio, Hitchens blazed through his essays and reviews with the sureness of conviction and the rightness of genius. Why let the niceties of punctuation, for gods’ sake, slow us down? Why interrupt the phosphorescent flash of thinking and so risk missing a deadline?

Roman copy of a Greek sculpture of Hermes. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Roman copy of a Greek sculpture of Hermes, in the Vatican museum. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Hermes must have been Hitchens’ patron, the god of speed, desire, and, yes, trickiness. Like lightning, Hermes flew between the gods and men, carrying messages. Like a fox, he tricked whoever would be tricked. And isn’t it some kind of trick to spurn the civilized niceties of punctuation — and all that it implies about structure and behavior — to let our thoughts fly, like arrows from a bow, or notes from a lyre (Hermes invented the instrument)?

To let our thoughts, like a brand, press, hissing, on the cattle of mere pecuniary considerations, as Hermes branded the cattle he stole from his brother Apollo, the rationalist, the calculator.

Hermes was here! the singed brand says, hissing still. He beat you to it, slave of reason, beast of proper form!

For any of us suffering from writer’s block, or insufferable slowness, I can recommend, on the example of Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P., a certain ignorance or disdain of punctuation. Damn, it slows the quick thinker! (Isn’t there always time later, sober and repentant, to crawl back and proofread our blazing sheets?)