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\
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.’
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: