Staring at a blank page and not knowing what to write is one of the scariest feelings a writer can have. A looming deadline amplifies that feeling. The anxiety of having to run a filler piece, a photo, or even a “best of” column instead of a new and original piece of material is terrifying.
Writer’s Block at any time is frustration personified. Maybe Creator’s Block is a better term for this, as it can afflict anyone tasked with creating something. Artists stare at a blank canvas or lump of clay waiting for inspiration to do something – anything. So too will photographers, chefs, woodworkers, or anyone who creates anything – whether for fun or for trade.
Creative types, I moderately affiliate myself in that category, do these things for many reasons. For some it is a job, a calling, or it is for the sake of creating. Many create out of the need for validation. That feedback – regardless if it is positive or negative – tells the creator that someone looked at what they did and maybe saw value in what was done. In many cases just knowing it was seen is enough. For others, there needs to be more engagement.
Rik was a guy I knew 20 years ago. He was a great artist who could illustrate, airbrush, design and draw – a real creative type. One of the lessons I learned from him was something he had learnt from his brief time in art school. Art is only art if some people like it and some people don’t. His rationale was if 100 per cent of people like or dislike something, there is no clash of ideas and opinions from the creation of that art. The purpose of creating something is to spur more creativity. If some like your photograph of purple lupines in Prince Edward Island and others think it’s dumb to take a photo of a weed in the ditches – congratulations, you’ve made art (or at least I did that time). But to create art, or to write, you need the Creator’s Block to go away.
Creator’s Block is a cruel thing, so is taming your ideas into one focused piece of work. Sitting at the computer with 10 ideas competing for your attention and a 600 word space to fill is (for me) as difficult of a challenge as Creative’s Block. My column is called “Wanderings” for a reason. When dealing with the feast or famine of ideas, I remember a quote from one of the most important books I’ve ever read – “reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
That quote is from Stephen King’s book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft. I am not a fan of King’s horror fiction: vengeful cars and murderous clowns are not my thing. But I love his non-horror fiction. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is among my favourites to re-read.
Reading other work, not related to what I have to write about, is a good way of fixing any idea blockage. I read a lot of books and magazines – fiction, non-fiction, even how-to books from time-to-time..
A recent go-to has been the online Substack platform. After that Tesla guy bought Twitter, I discovered Substack. Many downsized journalists and columnists, and many creative types are on the platform. Some sites are subscription-based, some are not. I can pay for what I like to read, no different than going to the store and buying a magazine. Among my favourites are former Maclean’s Magazine columnist Paul Wells, Benjamin Errett’s “Get Wit Quick” site, and Andy Adams’ “Flak Photo” site. These creative types are unshackled by the confines of traditional printed page sizes. It’s similar to podcasts, but different. I can read content on Substack, but I can rarely get through a podcast.
Audio is a different process and unless the podcast is produced by a former radio person, it is too long. Working in journalism, radio, TV, or print is an exercise in brevity. Present the facts as quickly as possible, the most important ones at the top. Most podcasts are long-winded audio mush.
I work better with the rigidity of deadlines and a set printed space most of time – except when Creator’s Block sets in.
Another King quote that holds true is “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Practice makes perfect. It sounds cliché but it does work, although I think “perfect” is an un-achievable goal. Regardless of the validation received, a writer must soldier on.
This leads me to my favourite King quote, “the work is always accomplished one word at a time.” Or in my case, 700 words.
Column originally published in the December 28, 2022 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.