Last fall, I had the opportunity to attend a writers’ conference for which the keynote speaker was bestselling author Tess Gerritsen. You might know her as the author behind the television series Rizzoli & Isles and several fairly brilliant medical thrillers that, if you are a fan of medical thrillers, you should probably read.
She is a wonderful speaker and had many insightful things to share, including this one bit I am holding onto particularly hard at the moment. Bestseller Tess Gerritsen confessed that during the course of reworking nearly every project she writes, there comes a time when she no longer believes the story is any good at all. Of course, her point in sharing this was that sometimes you just have to put your head down and keep forging ahead.
I find myself at this point with my current work-in-progress. I suppose I might call it writer’s block except I don’t think that’s really what it is. I’m not having trouble coming up with ideas or even getting words on a page. I mean, I am mostly working on short story and essay submissions and not my novel, but I am writing. I’m even writing some things I’m pretty proud of.
But when it comes to this historical novel, of which I have plowed my way through a terrible first draft and have completed a good portion of a hopefully somewhat less terrible second draft, I’m kind of just having a hard time finding traction.
Writer’s block of all forms has plagued mankind probably since the first cave dwellers agonized over whether a bow and arrow or an antelope would better communicate the inner transformative journey of the central stick figure. Fortunately, the condition has been widely studied.
And no one’s research has yielded more fruitful answers than that of Dennis Upper of Veterans Administration Hospital in Brockton, Massachusetts, whose findings were published in the Fall 1974 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. Dr. Upper titled his insightful paper “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of ‘Writer’s Block.’”
Other than the title, one footnote, and a single peer review response, the article is entirely blank. The footnote explains that findings in the paper had not been presented at a convention of the American Psychological Association. The review heaps praise on the concise nature of the article and recommends no changes, stating that the journal should find room for Dr. Upper’s fine work “perhaps on the edge of a blank page.”
The point of the “study,” of course, is that psychologists, if not always super helpful, are at least pretty funny.
But there is probably a lesson to be learned from the not-an-article, that really did appear in a respectable peer-reviewed journal, even taking up a full page, and not just the edge of one. The point, I suspect, is that leaving the page blank will clearly not solve the problem and, as Gerritsen suggests, there comes a time when you have to just put your head down and keep forging ahead.
Oh—I see what he did there. It turns out, psychologists, if not always super funny, are at least pretty helpful.
5 thoughts on “Oh—I See What He Did There”
Keep hacking at the coal face and eventually there will be enough for a fire! (For myself: I find that the minute I reveal to someone details of what I am writing the bubble bursts, the magic goes PUFF, and “writer’s block” becomes the reality. I seems to recall Plato saying something like: Never reveal to anyone anything until it is finished for fear the life will be drained from it.)
There’s probably some truth to that. The project always feels very grand when I tell someone about it, but on the page it’s not yet up my expectation. Perhaps I am just getting a little frustrated and impatient. I’ll keep at it and trust that someday it’ll have been worth it.
I always hate my books – especially when they first come out of my head! 🙂 I also hate them when I get rejection letters – which, I’ve gotten more than a few lately hahaha. Sometimes, I try journaling about my writer frustration and that always seems to help a little, it’s like it loosens things up in my head. At any rate, I always enjoy your posts! 🙂
Thank you! Rejection letters are no fun, but I think in most cases, it’s the persistent authors who find eventual success. Hang in there! I will be launching into that process again myself if I can ever get this book shaped up.
Will be looking forward to seeing you in the query trenches 🙂