I was all set to write a sparkling bit of prose for you today, to entertain and delight.
And then I sat down, with my fingers poised above the keyboard in asdf..jkl; formation and….nothing. Not even a few half-hearted attempts at typing, interspersed with dejected backspacing. Nothing.
Normally, I sneer at the concept of writer’s block. As I’ve written about a hundred times before, I used to be a reporter at a daily newspaper. You didn’t have the luxury of being able to succumb to writer’s block. And that’s exactly what it is: a luxury. At a daily paper, you always have a deadline hanging over you, the proverbial Sword of Damocles. You have to write. Have to. Your editor expects 500 words or 12 column inches, and he or she will laugh in your face if you just turn up your palms and say, “Sorry, I got nothin’.” Or worse, she might stare silently at you and then turn around and walk away. You sit down at your computer, and you write.
That’s not to say that what you write on a tight deadline is always great copy. Often, it’s the complete opposite of stellar writing. But I have always taken heart in what veteran journalist Tom Hallman once told a group of participants at a Poynter Institute seminar at Cal State Fullerton a few years ago: lower your standards at first. Sit down, look at the blank screen, and just start writing. It doesn’t have to be great. Just get started. You can come back later and polish it or revise it or delete it.
That’s advice that I’ve passed along to various friends who’ve found themselves frozen in front of the glare of a blank screen. And of course, that’s one of the beauties about writing on a computer: you can write and delete, write and delete, all you want. It’s not such great advice, I guess, when it comes to hand-writing your thank-you notes on your nice stationery after Christmas (you did write thank-you notes, didn’t you?). But I guess even in that situation, it’s just better to write something, anything, than nothing at all.
Writing is about discipline. Oh sure, you need some inspiration or some information, too. You can’t write a news article about the city council voting to spend X number of dollars on a new city hall building if you haven’t interviewed the council members or read through the environmental impact report. You can’t write a blog post about resdiscovering your old Trixie Belden books if you don’t actually have the idea and some thoughts about what to write first. But the process of writing ultimately is about making yourself sit down and do it. Even if it starts out pretty lousy.
So here you go. I’ve just written nearly 500 words when I thought I was all fresh out of words. I don’t know if I’ve said anything meaningful or not, but it was worth the exercise for me, if nothing else.
Write. Don’t just say you’re going to.