I'm Still Alive, Only Very Badly Blocked

Oh, my darlings, I didn’t mean to worry you! Several of you lately have expressed concern. I should have put a note up explaining I’d be away for a bit.

Some writers like to pretend there’s no such thing as writer’s block. For some writers, happily, that’s even true. For this writer, alas, being blocked is a sad reality. Usually, only my fictional or non-fictional well goes dry, not both at the same instant, which means I can continue drawing from one whilst the other refills. In this case, both of the buggers have gone bone-dry. And so I decided to stop trying to put one word in front of another for a bit. Then a bit longer. Now it’s been long enough people have started to wonder what became of me, and that’s no way to treat you.

However, until I’ve tracked down this Muse of mine and dragged her blind-drunk self out of whatever Mexican cantina she’s managed to lodge herself in, words will be scarce. It shouldn’t last much longer. I’m taking the cure: stuffing myself with other people’s words. I’ve just finished Volume I of the Complete Sherlock Holmes, and am about to finish the second volume, and have watched endless hours of shows that manage to be both clever and occasionally profound, and if all of that doesn’t break something loose soon, I’ve got shelves’ worth of books and movies that will eventually break through the water table and fill the wells once more.

While doing such drilling, I’ll probably remain scarce round the internets. But I’ll try not to be so silent that you begin to fear for my safety, or the health of my relatives, again.

Pray excuse the somewhat Victorian and formal tone of this missive. I’ve started thinking and dreaming in Victorian prose. Over 1,000 pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will do that to a person. But believe me when I say this particular cure was necessary. Those of you who have seen the new movie which purports to be Sherlock Holmes and would be more faithfully described as a steampunk version of James Bond will know what I mean. Avoid it at all costs, and if you cannot, have your Complete Novels and Stories handy to effect a remedy.

I’ll see you soon, my darlings! Love and hugs to you.

I'm Still Alive, Only Very Badly Blocked

27 thoughts on “I'm Still Alive, Only Very Badly Blocked

  1. 1

    Steampunk James Bond? the best of two worlds; I’m in!
    I’ve got the Complete Novels and Stories on hand just in case- thanks for the heads up.
    Welcome back

  2. 5

    I enjoy your science posts, but a special thank you for featuring your sweet cat. Ours is a huge double-pawed black kitty named Ives, and he either has inflammatory bowel disease (treatable) or cancer (not). Your posts have cheered me up so thanks.

  3. 6

    It’s more like a creativity block for me. It’s a process of going into my own head, doing more research, seeing if I’m inspired, and then sitting down and writing anyway. I’ll hate what I write and then want to delete it. But on the other hand, they say to strike when the metal is hot. Some weeks, zero words, some weeks 10,000.

  4. 7

    Good luck – the blank can be a bad demon to beat. Figures that you have your dearth at the same time I actually have a bit of free time to read though.

    When it happens to me I have to kick start myself by writing dumb stuff – like a description of what I am staring at (look at the lovely blue chair with ratty wooden legs …) so eventually my brain has to kick in in self defence.

    At the end of each semester I read a bunch of kids books – Danny Dragonbreath is awesome! – that helps. Can’t read Sherlock right now, too close to the work I am doing right now (forensic geoscience). The thought of the upcoming semester is still making me hyperventilate.

  5. 8

    There’s nothing sweet about that creature. She is cute and, for the most part unintentionally, she can be a source of amusement. Which, I think, are the traits that allow most cats to survive, now that they don’t make their livings outdoors anymore.

    Here’s hoping your cat has inflammatory bowels, at least if cancer is the only alternative.

  6. 9

    Whew! I was afraid and the imagination kicked into overdrive. But all will be well, as you will.

    Try the 4 volumes of Mycroft Holmes books by Quinn Fawcett, imprimatur by Dame Jean. You might enjoy them.

  7. 10

    What do you think about the BBC series ‘Sherlock Holmes’? Transported to today and full of texting, blogs and other modern stuff.
    Dr Watson is played by the ever brilliant Martin Freeman. Definitely my favorite character on the show.

    It also suffers from James Bond influences to be honest, but other than that pretty good.
    The writer is Steve Moffet from Dr Who fame btw.

  8. 11

    Although I heard you when you aid that you have a seni-infinite number of books right there to-hand, it’s possible that Neal Stephenson might help unblock your output channels.

    I’ve recently read his “Anathem”, “Cryptonomicon”, “The Diamond Age” and “Snow Crash” – and loved them — but his prose style, of course is why I’m recommending him.

    You can read an example(s) here: http://www.amazon.com/Reamde-Novel-Neal-Stephenson/dp/0061977969/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1/182-0663253-5677145#reader_0061977969

  9. 12

    Seconded, Snow Crash is vivid. I also really enjoy reading Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog is hugely funny when I am bummed and she really enjoys language – the flow and ebb of words.

  10. 13

    I agree that when in doubt you can always post pictures of your master (the cat). After all I am convinced that cats domesticated humans not the other way around. Having found a good slave, the cat has accomplished it purpose in life, now it can sleep eat and do things cats do, including amusing the slave every so often to keep the slave happy.

  11. 14

    It’s good to hear that you’re still with us, Dana. Enjoy all your reading, and come back when you’re refreshed.

    I’ve come to believe that writer’s blocks are common, but the reasons behind them are myriad. If you know they Why of yours, you’re ahead of the game.

    Take care of yourself, obey your overlordcat, and we will see you later.

  12. 15

    If you have not already done so I suggest reading Lyells principals of Geology, as it was the book that defined geology in the 1830s. It also inspired Darwin and introduces the basic theories of geology. I since it is sufficiently old, you can find copies of the book online for free.

  13. 16

    Ha- well even little monsters can be cute sometimes……

    Thank you so much for the good wishes – I will pass that note along to Ives. :)

  14. 18

    I’m one of those who never ever ever has writer’s block. I procrastinate, sure, but block? Nope.

    Sometimes, when I’m just getting myself settled and haven’t decided on the theme or the lead, I’ll just let my fingers wander on the keyboard.

    skdkdkdkdkdkdalslskdkdkfjjdkslslakldjkflaldkdkd… and pretty soon real words start to appear on the page.

    It’s not quite “automatic writing”, but it does tend to get me going.

    And remember, not everything needs to be Pulitzer quality. A post about your shitty day or your nice day is fine. Even a “me too” pile-on can get you going.

    Drat — it is tough to type when you’ve burned the tip of your index finger.

  15. 19

    I procrastinate because I’m blocked. And I’m blocked because I haven’t worked out all the details of my plot. Therein is my problem. Figure out the plot details, my block disappears, the muse starts singing.


    And stop dunking your fingers into your coffee! :)

  16. 20

    My writer wife likes to ‘walk’ her stories — to set computer and pen aside and just go out for a long walk in the countryside. By the time she’s done, often the story will be clear to her, and she just has to write it down and flesh it out a bit.

    Maybe a hike will help knock out the block.

  17. 21

    We should be drinking cheap tequila
    In the Playa Escondida,
    And it sure is good to see the sea again.

    For some reason your description of where your muse went just sent me to that musical place.

    Combining that with the above comments, we find that the solution is to take your laptop outside and, while walking about (with your cat), just start typing while reading Connie Willis and Neal Stephenson, not watching anything by Guy Ritchie, and listening to Carbon Leaf.

    And good luck!

  18. 23

    God it’s like having the hiccups. Everyone starts offering helpful suggestions and the damn things get painful enough that you are willing to try almost anything

    walking about with your cat and your laptop, reading Connie Wills, Conan Doyle and Neal Stephenson, and just typing while upside down, with a spoonful of sugar on your tongue holding your breath

    just to make it STOP!

    Good luck :)

  19. 24

    Know both sides of the writing experience in the last week. I knew I needed a chapter set around New Year as a penultimate chapter, but didn’t know why, so I lefta space and for it and worked on other parts (I write out of order – when I get an idea, it goes down in roughly the right place, then I connect it all together)

    Then about a week ago I realised I needed to tie up a loose end, which meant introducing a character late in to the book (I know, not usually thought of as a good thing, but it would screw the theme, the UST part of the B ‘arc’, and the part of the plot that relates to the theme). Damn I thought.

    I emailed my friend/collegue who I bounce bits of writing and ideas off – “Do I need ?”

    “What’s he like”

    Then I has a quick peek at NYE – and there fully formed, waiting to talk to was Greg (later called Toby, as I already have a Gabe and a Gary, too many ‘G’ names otherwise).

    I immediately was able to describe him – where he went to Uni, when, what he studied, etc etc. I was able to just pour out 4200 words, made easier because he turned out to be so friendly, plus the Lead Character told him (and Lead’s best friend) something THAT I DIDN’T KNOW! I was literallyabout to start the next paragraph when Gabe said . I said ‘Cheers thanks for warning me’ and started a hrried rewrite to get the stuff in! Additionally I wrote another 1700 as part of this chapter that ties up the loose end, made possible by Toby being there. 6000 words with little effort apart from the editing/getting it on the page bit (and I’m assured, a tear jerker)

    Now 5 days later – Nothing. Sweet Fanny Adams. I know what bits I have, but the characters aren’t talking to me – my performers are having a tea break. So I’m tidying the rest of teh MS, waiting for something to pop up.

  20. 25


    Oh, good grief…you have to work out all the details before you write? That is seriously messed up. No kidding…obsessive-compulsive behavior that is best dealt with by heavy doses of antidepressant medications.

    Every bit of fiction I’ve attempted has been better when the characters do something completely and total unexpected. Not that I’ve published any of it — fiction is my hobby. My nonfiction writing has been paying my mortgage one way or another for 35 years. It ain’t sexy, but it beats bartending.

    Hot stove, thinner-than-required oven mitt. Burned finger. Hurt like crap. And it wasn’t even anything sexy in the oven. Tater tots. Freakin’ tater tots.

  21. 26

    I don’t work out all the details before I write. Sometimes a scene or conversation just comes to me as I type. Those irruptions are glorious fun.

    But if I’m blocked – seriously blocked (as in weeks or months at a time) – I have to look at the holes in my plot and make something fit in them. Then the block goes away. I usually have to have some kind of path in front of me, or a close destination. Otherwise, nothing comes to me.

    There’s no one right way to write, just as there’s no one right way to paint or create music. We do what works for us, and it’s a learning process. It’s not good form to diss someone else’s process.

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