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Interpreting a Malady

Charles M. Schultz, Snoopy, Peanuts

Writer’s block is a malady experienced not only by writers, but by anyone who has ever put quill to parchment, pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, stylus to clay tablet or iPad.

I’ve done extensive research on the subject while I was supposed to be writing this blog post. The word block, it turns out, is the appropriate word for this affliction.

block noun \ˈbläk\

a stump or wooden structure on which a condemned person is beheaded (The visualization of writer’s block.)

ban obstacle, obstruction, or hindrance the state or condition of being obstructed (such as the beckoning internet, interruptions by children, spouses, co-workers, and pets, or a screwed up computer.)

c : interruption or cessation especially of train of thought by competing thoughts or psychological suppression (“I got the kids dinner last night. Do they really need to eat again tonight?” or “I cannot miss this episode of Dancing With the Stars” or “Avoid the adverbs. Avoid the adverbs.”)

d :  interruption of normal physiological function (as of a tissue or organ) (“I need to stop writing. My bladder is going to burst.”)

e : local anesthesia (as by injection) produced by interruption of the flow of impulses along a nerve (The sensation produced when the “Write drunk, edit sober” technique is employed.)

Writer’s block can be overcome. The secret spell can be found in a oft-repeated and oft-overlooked quote by Ernest Hemingway:

 ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’
Ernest Hemingway

I was wrestling with writer’s block (it was winning) when that quote came to mind. Couldn’t hurt, I decided. And without thinking, ruminating, or procrastinating, I jotted down the truest sentence I knew. It was like an ice block had melted, liberating the words that had been hidden behind it. Wow, that Hemingway guy knew what he was talking about.

Those true sentences aren’t solely for the writer. They’re for the reader as well because they reach inside and echo through the soul. If a sentence jumps off the page at me, I know something from the heart of the writer has touched me. Twice in my life, sentences that rang true have brought me to tears. Not the emotional tears that good writing can evoke from sadness, happiness, or rage. These tears were for the beauty of the words themselves.

This line from Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “A Temporary Matter,” struck me as the truest thing I’d ever read:

The doctor explained that these things happen. He smiled in the kindest way it was possible to smile at people known only professionally.

Looking at it now, it seems such a simple sentence of mundane words, yet it made me cry. Simplicity makes truth easier to grasp.

The dedication below still brings tears to my eyes. I can’t explain why, even to myself, except to say maybe it’s a love letter from a writer to his craft.  It’s John Steinbeck’s East of Eden dedication to his editor, Pascal Covici:

John Steinbeck, East of Eden dedication

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6 comments on “Interpreting a Malady

  1. Great post, Dawne. I wonder…what one true sentence released you? Of course, if it is too personal, forget I asked.

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  2. Actually, every time I work on something, (the novel I’m working on, a blog post, etc.) I try to begin with one true sentence. I’ve done it so often that I don’t remember what the first one was. So, it wasn’t one sentence that “released” me. It’s a new sentence each time I write.

    For example, I was at a point where I needed to write about one of the secondary characters. I asked myself what was one true thing about her and jotted down, “She loved her dad more than anyone else in the world.” Simple sentence, but so much came out of it. Why did she love him? What happened to him? Etc. etc.

    Kind of a rambling answer, but I hope it answered your question. 😉

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  3. I agree about the one true sentence thing, of course, but my mind was filled with snoopy dog, if I’ve got his name right, because his air of bewildered perplexity when faced with the creative process mirrors my own

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  4. Now I understand, as I survey the ocean of current literary efforts, why I see one common theme over and over. Apparently, most of today’s authors have the same truest sentence: “Sex sells.”

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  5. I appreciate your opinion, but I’m not sure if I agree. “Sex sells” has always been a motivator in everything from fiction to movies to marketing shampoo, but many (not all) of the books I’ve read over the past few years don’t rely on sex to sell.

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