Home Lifestyle COLUMN: Wrestling with writer’s block

COLUMN: Wrestling with writer’s block

Ernest Hemingway writing at campsite in Kenya. Photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hello friends. Since I’ve returned to the published word, I have had several people ask me how I come up with the topics that I write on.

I have no idea.

Back in my days as an educator, I would stand before my class, teach the students how to pick a topic, how to outline, pre-write, write a draft copy, proofread, edit, and submit the final product. I go over step-by-step how to perform the task. When I completed teaching the lesson(s) and I let the kids begin writing — I would inevitably get the four hands in the air…

“Mr. McDonald, I can’t think of nothing to write about.”

At this point, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, think of my happy place and then I say: “Of all the topics we have before us, pick one you like; then write one good sentence.”

Never mind the double negative.

Usually, after wrestling with the topics, the students come up with something.

However, what happens when we, as professional writers, run into the wall of writer’s block?

There is no true prescription on how to cure this wretched disease.

I’ve often wondered how artists come up with the amazing images they create on their canvases. Then, I thought of it. They paint what they feel. They let the ever-present muse control their paintbrushes. So, as a writer, what does that mean to us?

According to my literary hero, Ernest Hemingway, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Simple, right? Not necessarily.

I remember my wonderful 10th-grade English teacher Jeanette Martin who had us keep a journal that we wrote in daily. She gave us 10 minutes each day to write about something. No prompts, no hints…just writing.

She said, “If you run out of things to say or if you get stuck, rewrite the last sentence you wrote.”

By encouraging us to do this, it taught us how to work our way out of a case of writer’s block.

OK, McDonald. Writer’s block, what’s the point. The point is this…

Don’t give up.

No matter what life may throw at you, whatever you may encounter, whatever you may face — do not give up, do not give in.

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep trying.

I leave you with the following poem by North Carolina Poet Laureate Sam Ragan:

The Writer
They call it writer’s block,
And it is a terrible disease,
Which lasts for days, week, months, years.
I have had it several times.
There is nothing worse.
Than a blank sheet of paper
Staring at you, and no words coming.
I’ve had it, but came out of it,
Some times with a word, a nod of a head,
The touch of a hand.
But most of the time God only know
How or why.
I think I’m cured now.
The cure came when I decided
I didn’t have to be perfect.

Keep going, at your pace, but never give up.

Editor’s Note: Poem republished with permission from St. Andrews University Press.

Christopher McDonald is an accomplished educator and military veteran with experience in print and radio. Reach him at cmcdonald@richmondobserver.com.

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