Straight from our Cameo archive, here are some tips on how to overcome writer’s block by Lydia Cornell.
In March, during the storms after my divorce, faced with looming book deadlines, I had been avoiding work, sitting in a catatonic state, staring at the TV, watching episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. I must have watched forty episodes in a row of the brilliant David Suchet and his mustache. Now I have to enter a 12-step program for addiction to this detective mystery that plants clues backwards and rarely has a linear plot. Poirot of all things!
“For the love of all that is holy,” my son said in his best imitation of Family Guy, “stop watching that boring show Mom. Aren’t you supposed to be writing your book?”
Teenagers are not nice people.
After a horrifying week of watching the Japanese nuclear reactor meltdown, our TV finally stopped working. The rainstorms had knocked out both internet and cable, and now I had no excuse not to write. It would have been a good thing if I had only used the storm properly. The day started out gray and cloudy and perfect! A wonderful, dark, rainy writing day. I was so excited, I kept repeating to myself: “I’m going to start writing in a minute… any minute now I’m going to start writing.”
“Okay, I’ll start after I get another cup of coffee.”
That’s when I accidentally wandered into the garage and found another set of unwatched Poirot DVDs buried inside a box of Christmas gifts I had forgotten to return.
“Okay, I’ll start writing after one more Poirot episode.
It was hours before I came out of the garage, having gone on a berserk treasure-hunting binge. We were out of red licorice (the 96 oz size) so I decided to go to Costco in Van Nuys, the end of the civilized world. I was so tired by the time I pulled into the parking lot that I climbed into the backseat of our minivan and took an hour-long nap.
Somehow, despite my son’s judgmental nagging, the writer’s block brought us closer. He actually hung out with me that week, did his homework in my room, and succumbed to the strange pull of Poirot. I think he liked the fact that I surrendered to TV-watching like a zombie, a droid, a neurosis-free blob of a mom.
It’s a good thing he didn’t know the truth: I was so deeply depressed and in such a dark place, I was losing faith in myself. What made it worse was that there were people in Japan who had lost everything, but they had more enthusiasm for life than I had.
At that moment, I sat up in bed and heard a voice, an inner voice, as if it was the most important question in the universe: What are you afraid of?
Writing is a spiritual process of letting go of fear of being judged. Embrace your defects; they are your greatest teachers. So now I view writer’s block as an important part of writing itself. Maybe we should rename it “gestation.” Thinking, going to the fridge, musing over ice cream flavors, watching Poirot— it’s all part of the birthing process.
But in the mortal realm, here is some practical advice: when you’re on a deadline, just sit down and turn on a kitchen timer. Set it for 20 minutes, and do not move until you’ve written a sentence, a paragraph or a page. Act as if a benevolent force of love exists that is always guiding you. Ask this force, the Universe, your Source, your loving higher Power, your inner-self, for the next indicated sentence. Write down the first thing that comes into your mind. This will help you to let go, face your writer’s block, and get back on track.
Heaven for writers must be a place where we get all our unfinished projects done in peace; a place where no ego exists, no burden of self, where we can write without worrying about selling our work. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? All the scripts, novels, plays, and children’s books left in closets and drawers that have been haunting us could be set free, if we could write without fear of being judged.
AFI Best Actress nominee and People's Choice Award winner Lydia Cornell is best known for her starring role on the hit ABC series Too Close for Comfort. She is currently working on a series of books, which will be out in 2011. She wrote, produced and directed the film Venus Conspiracy, a short version of her longer script, which will soon be a feature film. Recently seen on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and starring in the new Kelsey Grammer Comedy Hour, she has her own channel and live talk show. Cornell is an award-winning blogger, writer, comedienne, talk show host, teen mentor and inspirational speaker. Her articles have appeared in A&E Biography, Huffington Post, Editor & Publisher, Macon Daily, and Lone Star Icon.