Tag: writer's block

Writing Badly

John Mcphee

Writer’s block. That dreaded phrase. When it came time this past week for me to choose the topic for the next post I felt hesitant and uncertain. My last post ‘Marginalia’ got seven likes, my highest so far, which is a relative success (not that I’m counting) but about a day or two after posting it the block set in.

In Draft No.4: On The Writing Process John McPhee says “I think it’s totally rational for a writer, no matter how much experience he has, to go right down in confidence to almost zero when you sit down to start something. Why not? Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you.” Bear in mind this guy won the Pulitzer Prize.

Is there such a thing as writer’s block? Yes, but it’s not what you think. It’s no coincidence I felt blocked right after a relative success because now, it seems, there’s something at stake: my reputation. Seven likes on a blog post hardly makes a reputation but my Ego makes no such distinctions. Praise is praise and by god we’re not going to do anything to tarnish it. That’s when the thought of writing badly comes into the picture.

The thing about writing badly is I can only write bad when I’ve wrote good. Anything after a good piece of writing will be bad, or so it seems. But what makes good writing good? Is it really good or is my Ego so flattered by praise it can’t tell the difference?

Orwell wrote that sheer egoism was one of four motives for writing. E.B. White also wrote that “only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.” Sounds bad doesn’t it. But both writers only acknowledge that Ego is necessary to some degree for creative work. The issue is when it steps out of line and it will because there are no lines, so to speak, in my mind where I can cordon off my Ego. But that’s okay. I’ll keep writing.

It means more than reputation.

A Slip of Paper

Beneath my desk is a small box full of utility top-up receipts. Every once in a while I’ll reach down and use one for notes or scribbles and clip them together in a notebook or feed them to my paper shredder if they’re no good. (They were never meant for writing in the first place, so what’s the harm?)

The issue that never goes away for writers is our creator and our editor occupy the same space in our minds and more often than not it’s the editor who has the loudest voice. I think any writer who has stuck around long enough has found their own way to balance the two most of the time because otherwise we stay blocked.

In theory I use receipts to keep the inner editor asleep until I want its counsel. Receipts and other scraps of paper tip-toe past the editor because they’re not intended for writing. Notebooks and lined paper sound the alarm before I’ve even started to write because nothing says ‘writing’ like a notebook.

If it works, it works.