Blockhead: How to Avoid Writer’s Block | columnists

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Occasionally someone asks me about writer’s block. You may be someone who wants to write and isn’t sure how to start. You may be hoping for a story about strategies to overcome frustrating moments when a blank page intimidates you into doing nothing. They might be someone who doesn’t really know me and they’re trying to fill the air between us to keep a conversation going.

I’ve been writing for a long time and can’t remember a single instance where I was paralyzed with thoughtlessness. From fifth grade on, when our class had to write poetry as a kind of classroom exercise, I just plowed into it. I can’t remember what silly babble was contained between the green construction paper covers of my first book, but I’ll never forget the bold, all-caps title I emblazoned across the front—POMES—which might suggest the Labor didn’t compete with Auden or Donne.

There’s something about poetry that has always fascinated me, but I can’t tell iambic pentameter from a bag of IAMS dog food. I ended up forgoing the requisite beret and now only remember a few lines from a bawdy Limerick – which is an anapestic trimeter!

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Still, I managed to prop myself up with words and for the most part had a good time doing it.

For the past 25 years I’ve worked primarily as an editor, writing the succinct unsigned opinions in the top left corner of the editorial page several times a week. I have often explained how to do this. The editorial is the publication’s institutional voice, and while I may or may not agree with the position, it is my job to support the newspaper’s views. I liken it to being hired to paint a house. If the homeowners want the house to be bright yellow, it doesn’t matter if the painter thinks it should be blue. He only paints what the homeowner wants.

I like to write opinion comments. However, I try to write other things just to keep life interesting. I did some editing for a woman who ran a public relations firm in a northern state and ended up writing for some of her clients. It was a fascinating mix of stories. I learned a lot about LIDAR, the computer/laser guidance system that allows vehicles to move around without a driver. Another order related to a new procedure offered by a surgeon’s aesthetic plastic surgery practice. I was given the name and phone number of a woman who had the procedure and I called her and spent about an hour going over the intricacies of the Brazilian butt lift.

A few years ago, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, my boss asked me to write a weekly column about the impact of the changes in our daily lives. I was cautious, unsure of how to approach the assignment and, more importantly, how to find a topic each week. But I was working from home, settling into a card table on the patio, and had noticed a whole world of wildlife activity that I had never known existed and would never have seen had it not been for the virus exodus from our downtown office . So I wrote about the chipmunks and I wrote about the birds. I saw a rending ballet of a wasp’s death spasms in the prehistoric jaws of a blood-red skink. More than 100 weeks later I’ve still managed to find something to put on the virtual “site”.

A few weeks ago I returned to another form of writing that I’ve long enjoyed – stories of human interest. I had seen a post from a Facebook friend who was proud of her son’s accomplishments. I watched a video where he was the lead actor and was amazed by his skills. So I texted her and a few days later she and her son met me for coffee and the kid held me spellbound for about an hour and excitedly told me how his life had been since he was 6th Class. Boy and mother both seemed to enjoy the encounter, but I really think I got more out of it than she did, as I enjoyed both the visit and the time to write John McDonald’s story.

I was very lucky not to have experienced writer’s block. My only obstacle – if you can call it that – is taking the time to write the pieces I want to write. I don’t think I’ll ever finish.

What I read: “The Cartographers” by Peng Shepherd (autocorrect changed its name to penguin, which I think seems better); Ellen Jovin’s “Rebell With A Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian”; a collection of essays by Joan Didion whose name I do not remember.

What I stream: Lincoln Lawyer, Better Call Saul, The Indian Doctor, Vienna Blood, Gilmore Girls (don’t laugh; it’s very clever).

Bill Perkins is the Editor of the Dothan Eagle editorial page and can be reached at [email protected] or 334-712-7901. Support the work of Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription at dothaneagle.com today.

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