Funny how a question about something that seems as mysterious and complex as writer’s block can come down to one word. Fear. From Marie through Solomon and all the Liars in between, it’s pretty clear that writer’s block is a manifestation of our own fears or, as Merry terms it, angst. Equally interesting, I think, is that “writer’s” block is in truth a paralysis brought on by fear that is felt by any of us that take a piece of ourselves and stick it out there for all the world to see, critique, laud, ridicule, be inspired by, or dismiss.
The first year of my acting training involved connecting to my visceral humanity within to create living, breathing characters. During the grueling exercises designed to get us “out of our head,” our acting teacher, a diminutive man with a goatee and glasses that made his eyes look disturbingly large would gaze, unflinching, watching as we would struggle through our scenes. Quietly penetrating to the truth and seeing through any and all deception. And yet we would try to deceive.
Desperately trying to connect to our inner humanity as we would do our improvised scenes, he would watch and finally wave his hand to stop the scene and say, with no small tinge of disgust in his voice, “What are you doing there?” And then the fear would set in and we would throw out reasons, rationalizations, theories, epithets, sad stories of personal woe, and finally a bit of indignation at his having missed our brilliance. And all through it he would stare, and wait, until we would finally run out of steam. Then he would shake his head dismissing all the excuses and say, “That’s horseshit what you’re doing there…Just do your work.”
“Just do your work.” I’ve used that mantra as I’ve stood in front of classrooms, on stages in front of a thousand people, in front of the camera lens, and in front of the computer screen with the small, insistent blinking curser and a deadline looming over my shoulder. It resonates in my head and pushes me past the paralysis caused by fear.
From Kelly’s “uu + L,” to Greg’s “B-I-C,” to Merry’s lists, to Marie and Solomon saying “dive in, plow forward” and “write,” the advice all points to the same reality. It’s the work that vanquishes the fear and breaks the “block.” It’s the work that sets us free.
Keith Strunk is the author of Prallsville Mills and Stockton of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America Series. He is co-founder of River Union Stage, a professional Equity theater based in Frenchtown, NJ.